Children's Book Publishers and Young Readers - How to Wow Them With Your Story
Let's face it: some kids just don't like to read. Increasingly, parents, teachers,
librarians, and editors are looking for books that will appeal to reluctant readers. When
I was researching a book about selecting material for reluctant readers , I read hundreds
of children's books, old and new, that I thought would fit the bill. I discovered that
there are eight qualities possessed by great books for reluctant readers, and to my
surprise some of my childhood favorites didn't pass the test. If you can work at least
three of the elements listed below into your book, it will have a good chance of being
loved by all kids, even those to whom reading is a chore.
Making kids laugh is essential to building a pleasant association with reading. But you
need to understand what tickles kids' funny bones at different ages. The humor in picture
books is broad and very visual. Easy readers (and some picture books for ages 6 and up)
begin to introduce verbal humor: wordplay, puns, double meanings. As kids move into the
chapter book arena they can handle jokes that need a setup and a payoff that's played out
over several scenes. Dialogue, how characters react to each other, or the situation in
which a character finds himself may be innately humorous.
Many kids want to identify strongly with the characters in their books; for reluctant
readers, this is essential. It doesn't matter what the character looks like on the outside
(be it space alien, a clown or a talking frog), on the inside this character needs to
embody the perspective of the reader. This means the character is dealing with issues the
reader might face, or seeing the world in a childlike way. Book characters must have
multidimensional personalities with strengths and weaknesses in order for the reader to
care about them and want to stick with them for the entire story. In nonfiction such as
biographies, authors who find an element of their subject's life that is relevant to the
target audience have a better chance of reaching reluctant readers.
Kids who love to read don't mind a story that takes a few chapters to unfold, but
reluctant readers don't have that much patience. The action needs to start in the first
paragraph, and by the end of the first chapter the reader should know quite a bit about
the main character and have a good idea about the conflict or problem that character will
face. Subplots are fine for chapter books and up, but too many will get in the way of the
forward movement of story. Keep the pages turning.
Ideally, each chapter should contain one clear event (or one specific point in
nonfiction), and have an arc of its own (a beginning, middle and end). This makes reading
even one chapter a satisfying experience. Chapters that end on a high note in the action
will make the reader want to see what happens next. Episodic novels (where each chapter
stands alone as a short story) are also good bets for reluctant readers. Richard Peck's A
Long Way from Chicago and Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School are two
middle grade examples.
This applies to the themes and ideas that form the basis for plots or how an author
approaches a nonfiction topic. These ideas should be relevant, meaningful, and applicable
to the reader's life. Instead of conveying a lesson your adult perspective tells you the
reader needs to know, try using the reader's frame of reference as a starting point. Write
to your audience, not at them. And remember, books can be just for fun.