Thursday, 19 July 2018

Writing for Children 3 The emergent reader text

Girl Book School Reading Learning Happy Bo

Who the child is:

This reader is aged roughly 7 -10. In the UK we call this Key Stage 1 and the child goes to Infant School.
This child becomes aware that make believe is a representational activity, becomes aware of concepts, begins to replace belief in magic with explanations for how things are and can distinguish reality from pretence but will still suspend disbelief.   

Imaginative play

Piaget’s view: often used as a rehearsal – the child plays the part of the adult. However, Piaget’s view now considered rather narrow. More recent studies suggest that make believe helps develop:
     Sustained attention
     Logical reasoning

The preoperational stage

Piaget defines this as:
         They can’t yet quite work out how things work.
         Children at this stage are still quite egocentric.
         They often think inanimate objects behave like humans and animals.
         They cannot conserve shapes and quantities e.g. the tall thin glass seems bigger even though the short fat glass contains exactly the same amount of liquid.  
         They can only process one aspect of a situation at a time.
         They often cannot reverse a situation – e.g. if something is built with Lego, they can’t take it down again and put the pieces in the right part of the box.
         At the end of this period this is reverses.
         With some Vygotskyian scaffolding they CAN do all of this.   

Andrew Melrose's view of this group:

Melrose describes this age as “running”.  For this reader there are longer, more language-rich picture books. There is slightly more sophisticated text. Books will be about 6,000 words. The story must start promptly. The book may well be read aloud – but the child is generally off the reading scheme and beginning to select their own books to red for pleasure. The book moves forward quickly. There are lots of cliff-hangers “and suddenlies” (though often avoiding the word "suddenly". There may be short chapters – hence sometimes called “Chapter books”. They are often filmic. These books use dialogue engagingly.  Very occasionally a first person narrative is used but more often a close third person.  The story has a clear structure – beginning, middle, end. It may have some sub-plots but not as many as an adult book or one for older children. There won’t be too many characters. The story will be “shown” more than it is “told”. The pages turn quickly.  

What the books are actually like:

Children are off the reading scheme but books still go through stages – e.g. Oxford Reading Tree Green, Blue, Red Bananas
          Pictures illustrate the text and sometimes also tell a separate story.
         The text is simple.  
         The font is clear.
         The formatting is ragged right – this helps the child to keep their place on the page.
         There are frequent line breaks.
         The print is larger than in books for older readers.  


Some books to study:

Stan and Jan Berenstain The Search for Naughty Ned
Jeff  Brown. Flat Stanley Plays Ball
Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Storm
Dick King-Smith All Pigs Are Beautiful  
James Marshall’s Miss Nelson is Missing
Andrew Melrose Write for Children
Joanna Nadin’s The Stepmonster
Richard Scarry's The Early Bird   
Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room
Jacqueline Wilson’s My Brother Bernadette


What to think about when producing a text for emergent readers

Choose a theme.
Plan your story.
It needs:
  • A beginning, middle and end
  • To start promptly
  • To move quickly
  • To show, not tell
  • Use dialogue convincingly
Consider whether you want to include a sub-plot.
Consider the point of view (third person close is common in this type of book)
Keep your language simple. Use simple sentences and not too many with clauses except those joined with “and” and “but”. Take care that there are not too many difficult words.  
Think about line breaks.

Writing with restrictions

Each level of these various schemes has certain restrictions. This is often to do with the type of language used, word count, number of pages, number of chapters and amount and type of illustration.  Study one in detail and use this to give yourself some restrictions for what you will produce.
Often our creativity is really challenged when we write with restrictions.      
However, this is possibly the hardest type of children's book to write. It involves writing that is almost technical. Often well-known writers are asked to produce the story and the editors then deal with the more technical issues. It is nevertheless useful for us to try and write to this brief – especially if we also teach young children.        


Thursday, 21 June 2018

Writing for Children 2 Pre-school / Picture Books

Read, Child, Picture Book, Book, Boy

Picture books for pre-schoolers are usually read by adults to the child. They are often landscape so that the child and parent can share the book. Even households that have few books will often have some picture books.    

Even today picture books are expensive to produce so they must be easily translatable into other languages. Therefore, rhyming texts are not usually accepted. There are of course exceptions, including Julia Donaldson's work. 

For practical reasons to do with printing, picture books are usually 32 or 28 pages long, including endpapers. That is, 24 or 28 pages - or 12 or 14 double spreads.

The story must be contained in this quite rigid format.   

There will be a lot of repetition.

There is a change in pace / rhythm about 2/3 to 4/5 of the way through the story – rarely exactly ¾ of the way through. 

There is sometimes a joke for adults – but not at the expense of the child. 

The pictures contain more of the story.

The font is adult-friendly e.g. Times new Roman which is actually nightmare for new readers; the serifs are confusing and the 'a' and 'g' are difficult.

The language may be surprisingly sophisticated. 

Take a look at some picture books.  You might also like to study some well-known ones:
Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom
Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Eric Carle's The Hungry Caterpillar
Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are

Look at:
Change of pace
How the pictures work. Look as well at the balance of pictures. Do some have no text? Which are on single spreads and which on double?  Why? Are there multiple pictures on some pages? Why? How effective is this?   
Look at how white space is used? What leads the eye from one page to the next?
Is there a joke for the adults?
What about the language and the font?

 Now your turn

Have a go at producing a picture book text. First write it as a continuous story. Then spread it across the 24 or 28 pages. Think about how the pictures will work.            

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Writing for Children 1 Which age group do I feel most comfortable with?

Child Animals Children Play Nature School
This first session will help you to decide who you want to write for. 

Think of a time in your childhood when you were very happy. Now tell the story of why you were so happy that day to a child.  Imagine the specific child to whom you are speaking. It is not you the adult speaking, but rather the child you were then or perhaps even a good friend of the child to whom you tell the story. 

Write for about twenty minutes or until you have finished the story, whichever you prefer.
Now read it back. 

Who is narrating the story? How old is s/he? 

Who is listening? How old is s/he?

If the two children are different ages, which one appeals to you most? That may well be the child for whom you should write.

However, it may be a good idea to try out all of the exercises in the following posts. You may yet be surprised by another idea. 

Now start reading a lot of children's books. Join your local library. Follow the hash tag #introtochildrenslit on Twitter for lots more ideas.  

Think of a book that was a favourite when you were a child. What can you tell us about the characters? The setting? The plot? What made you like it? What can you learn as a writer from that?            

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Creative Writing in Other Languages Workshop 6 Using another language to enhance your own

If you speak another language quite fluently, perhaps if you've lived in another country for a while, if you're European level B2 or above or maybe you have A-level or an IB that contains a strong element, try this:

Write in your chosen language for twenty minutes. Give yourself a topic but if you can’t think of one, write about where you are, or about a happy memory or retell a favourite story. Do not look up words you do not know. If you can’t find the right word, skirt round it, being ungrammatical if you have to.  

You may also use words from another language you know.

Then, translate what you have written into English. You will notice that you have written much more simply and probably also more effectively than if you had gone straight into English. Less is more. If you used a language in which you are fluent, you may have imported some interesting idioms, euphemisms or phrases that are clichés in the foreign language but are pleasingly fresh in your own.   

A bit of fun:


A bilingual dictionary in your chosen language.


Spend ten minutes doing this every so often – once a week, once in a blue moon, once a month. 
Choose a letter of the alphabet. Read through the dictionary looking for idiomatic and eccentric words. Collect some words and try to get them into your writing. 

German is a particularly good language for this. For instance, a helicopter is a “hopping screwdiver”, a nurse is an “ill-person’s sister”, an ambulance is “rescue car” and a mole is a “gob throw”.  French has some beauties as well: rat poison is “death to the rats”, bungee jumping is “jump on elastic”, a bat is “bald mouse” and the word for dustbin sounds like “smells beautiful (female)”.

Use these new expressions in your writing.

Here is a piece of such writing I’ve used in a novel. I was in Holland when I wrote it. Dutch has similar “building-block” words to German.

‘May I call eye-baller Thomant, who says the blamed watched Old Mother Gossipen struggle up the penty-slope from the provisions centre. He did indeed carry her holdy-all, but only as far as their path followed the same direction aim. He should have gone the extra mile to her living-in.’ (The Prophecy 229)             



Collect these words whilst in a country where people speak your chosen language.
Collect them also, as you work on other exercises. Once you’re aware of them, you’ll keep on seeing them.      


As collecting the words and phrases becomes a habit, you might consider also looking for proverbs and sayings from other languages. They are clichés in their own language but can sound fresh in another one. 

For example, when everybody suddenly stops talking, the French say “It’s an angel passing over”. In German, interfering people may be accused of putting their mustard on somebody else’s sausage and rather than treading on people’s toes, they tread on others’ ties. A clever pun exists in Spanish because “to be superior” to someone is to “lie on top of them” and many a Spanish husband is very proud of being superior to his wife. But let’s hope they didn’t also eat the soup before mid-day because that leads to pregnancy before marriage. The Greeks rather charmingly tell us that one swallow does not mean that spring has arrived.