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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Overview Chapter Books and Early Readers: Part Three: Subject Material

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

For this age group in particular the subject matter is timeless in that it always connects to the child’s heart, mind, soul, and experience. As you can see from the examples from last week, the situations can be presented in fantasy, historical, or contemporary, but each story needs to reach the heart.

Curiosity, adventure, and relationships, are key ingredients to this age. And for non-fiction authors their presentation may be the very first time a child has even heard of an animal or musical instrument or geography. Writers for this age category have both the ability and the responsibility to nugget truth to new readers without overwhelming them.

The subject matter is also timeless in that despite eras and technology, there is a growing season common to all children. When authors can tap into that stream their books are timeless. Below I’ve listed a few that children today are still attached to. Adults have been known to choke up at the Little Bear series as it touches all generations. Note how many years some have been in print. They last and meet each new generation because they connect. Note again the broad variety of subjects.

 Early Readers Samples

Coerr, Eleanor. Chang’s Paper Pony, 1988.
Evans, Eva Knox. Sleepy Time. 1962.
Laurence, Daniel. Captain and Matey Set Sail. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Levinson, Nancy Smiler. Snowshoe Thompson. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Lobel, Arnold. Mouse Tales.  1977.
Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear. 1957.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Day of the Dragon King. New York: Random House, 1998.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Vacation Under the Volcano. New York: Random House, 1998
Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea. 1994.
Sandin, Joan. The Long Way. 1989.

Action Steps:

1.     Time for another library visit, as you did for picture books, and pick out a random number of early readers. What do you notice about the titles and first lines that draw attention to potential readers?

2.     Read at least two or three in each category of fiction and non-fiction. What differences do you notice in presentation both verbally and visually?

3.     Be sure to include Little Bear if you are not familiar with it. Note the difference in language with the contemporary readers and yet the timeless heart connection to every reader.

4.     Again, choose one category that interests you the most and find five or six books to take home for study over the next few weeks.  Make a mini chart and note the similarities and differences among them.

Share: What stories in this category have you shared, or will share, with your own children in your life because of the heart content?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Overview Chapter Books and Early Readers: Part Two: Structural Decisions

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Sometimes the guidelines for this reading level seem restrictive to story and sometimes they present a challenge, like building a puzzle from scratch. The key to quality is still the story itself, the voice, and the connection to the reader.

First write the story you desire to share. Then examine the structure, much as in a picture book, and lay out, or adapt, your story to fit the category that is most relevant.

Here are some samples to help assess the differences. Also consider accessing spelling words for the earlier grades and incorporating a few for each story you tell. Some educational requests have been for an 8 line story or a 16 line story. Or for a story to only include specific sound words such as all ‘at’ words: bat, mat, cat, hat, sat, rat. Or perhaps ‘ap’ words: cap, map, tap, rap, gap, nap.

However, like any good writing the opening has to connect to the reader. Here are some opening lines as they are set up in different reading levels with different publishers. Also note that sentence and book lengths differ.

Biscuit Wants To Play by Alyssa Capucilli. Listed as a ‘My First’ or Pre-reader. 24 pages. 120 words.

“Woof, woof!
What’s in the basket,

All Aboard by Sonia Sander.  Lego City Adventures. Level One. 31 pages.  170 words.

“It is time for the train
to get to work.”

Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff. Level 1. 64 pages. (Didn’t count words)

“One day Danny went
to the museum.
He wanted to see what was inside.”

The following books are set in chapters.

Dragon’s Fat Cat by Dave Pilkey. 48 pages. 4 Chapters

“One snowy day in January,
Dragon heard a funny noise.
“That sounds like a cat,” said Dragon.

The Josefina Story Quilt, by Eleanor Coerr. Level 3. 62 pages. 6 Chapters

“It was May 1850.
Faith was excited.
They were going to California
In a covered wagon.
‘Please,’ Faith asked Ma,
‘can I bring Josefina?’”

Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest. 43 pages. 4 Chapters.

“When Iris and Iris’s family moved
from the big city to the country,
Iris was sad.”

Action Steps:

1.     Take a story you’ve been working on and divide up the sentences according to two or three of the excerpts above.

2.     Note how your version compares.

3.     Download a spelling page for a grade that you are interested in and from that word page write first an 8 line and then a 16 line sentence story.

4.     Have fun experimenting!

Share: What has surprised you in this age category so far?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Overview Chapter Books and Early Readers: Part One: Publisher Requirements

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“I don’t bother with reading levels when I’m writing. I just try to write a good, entertaining story.” Doug Cushman

Easy Readers, Early Readers, Beginning Readers, I Can Read, and Chapter Books are categories often used to describe books for grades kindergarten to fourth grade. Or sometimes they are under the description emergent, early, transitional, and fluent.

These same level categories overlap the same age categories so it sometimes becomes quite confusing. To add to the confusion some publishers group the reading ability into three levels and some into five. Often the levels are geared to correspond to grades, but they too will overlap.

One common ground, says Tracey E. Dils, is that “Their vocabulary and readability are controlled so that they offer the appropriate challenge for children who are learning to read.” Like the quote above she recommends story first and then see where the literacy levels land.

Some overview characteristics include:

Easy Readers: ages 7-9, 1,000-1,500 words.
Pre-school-1st grade: repetition and simple concepts.
            2nd –3rd grades: develop plots, more complex sentences

Chapter Books: ages 7-10, 40-80 pages, 1,500-10,000 words, usually 8-10 short chapters.

They begin with simple concepts, simple plots, simple words, and consistently expand more in complication as readers become more and more fluent.

Action Steps:

1.     Choose an educational publisher for libraries and schools and take a look at their category levels and subjects.

2.     Pick a subject that interests you and trace the levels for that one concept or plot.

3.     Choose the level that interests you the most and using their guidelines write a few pages on a similar topic that you are already familiar with.

Some Sample Publishers

            ABDO, Scholastic, Lerner Publishing Group, Albert Whitman & Company, Zonderkids, DK Publishing, Penguin Young Readers, Capstone, Lee & Low Books, Boyds Mill Press.

            Share: Did you find it easy or difficult? Boring or challenging?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Picture Books Mini Workshop: Part Four:Layouts

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Furthermore, the words don’t repeat what is in the picture and vice versa; their relationship is contrapuntal, they complement and complete each other.” Uri Shulevitz


Whether or not you are an illustrator, or perhaps especially if you are not an illustrator, it’s a good idea to do a preliminary layout of your story in order to examine the focus of each scene. The best time is after your first/second drafts before you prepare to do the final polish.

Stick figures are the only level of art skill needed, and/or write the word down that answers the questions.

Scene-by-scene draw the picture.

Answer questions box by box.
1.    What happens first? 2. What happens next? 3. Then what happens? 4. What happens? Repeated 5 throughout until, The End.

Questions each box needs to answer.

1. What is the dominant emotion in each scene?
2. Who’s in the picture?
3. Are there transitions?
4. Does each square change emotion?


1   No matter how solid the plot is if emotions don’t change then the story remains flat.
2   Depending on who shows up in each square may indicate the need to change the main character. And who exactly is telling the story? Also note that if an adult is included it should be the child who solves the problem.
3   The transitions will show the movement of the action.

Text Box:  oneText Box: two
Text Box: three

                         1. What happens?               2. What happens next?        3.Then what happens?
                                            Emotion                              Emotion                           Emotion     

Text Box:  four
Text Box: endText Box: last

                               And next…                       What happens now?            The End           
                                        Emotion                            Emotion                               Emotion

 Action Steps:

1.     Type up one published picture book to see how long the text is.

2.     Put squares on a sheet of paper.

3.     Practice laying out six to eight squares on the practice grid working only from your typed version and not looking at the book illustrations.

Share: What did you notice? Did emotions or actions change square to square?

Read deep, marcy

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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