Saturday, 6 October 2018

Writing for Children 5 The fully fluent reader

Who the child is

The reader is aged roughly 9-11 and often in the last two years of junior school. They are no longer dependent on the reading scheme and want to choose books that look like the ones adults and older children read.  They are firmly in Piaget's concrete operational stage; they can measure and calculate. However, they are not yet into abstract thought. They recognise make-believe for what it is. They understand and expect the normal patterns of story.   

What the books look like

They will usually have a thick spin and on average contain 45,000 – 60,000 words though there are many exceptions outside of this range. The text is usually blocked. The font is usually seriffed, with difficult 'a's and 'g's. There are few pictures though some may have decorative icons at the beginnings of chapters. Occasionally the font and the line-spacing may be a little larger than in books for adults and older children. The books certainly look like "proper" books for these readers.      

What to think about when producing the text for the fully fluent young reader

As these children know what to expect from a story you need to make sure your story has a firm structure.   
For all sorts of ideas on story shape, see my blog post Story Theory. You may find Christophe Booker's ideas particularly helpful here. Booker identifies seven story shapes:

Christopher Booker’s Story Theories

(Booker, Christopher. The Seven Basic Plots. London: Continuum, 2004.)

The Seven Plots

Overcoming the Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Overcoming the monster
The call
Initial success
Final Ordeal
Miraculous escape   
Rags to Riches
Initial wretchedness at home (call)
Out in the world – initial success
Central crisis
Independence and the final ordeal
Final union, completion and fulfilment
Problems encountered:
Deadly opposites
Journey to the underworld
Story arc:
Arrival and frustration
Final ordeals
Voyage and return
Dream stage
Frustrations stage
Nightmare stage
Thrilling escape and return
Often contains:
  • Characters dressing up in disguise or swapping clothes 
  • Men dressing up as women  or vice versa
  • Secret assignations when the wrong person turns up
  • Characters hastily concealed in cupboards etc. 
Types of comedy:
  • Burlesque
  • Dark figure is hero
  • No dark figures
Macbeth (and other tragedies) 
Act One - anticipation
Act Two – dream stage
Act Three – frustration stage
Act Four – nightmare stage  
Act Five – destruction stage 
Some archetypes
Good old man
Innocent young girl
Rival or “shadow”
Hero falls under shadow of dark power
Threat may seem to recede
Threat approaches with full force
Dark power seems to triumph
Miraculous recovery – some input form hero, though
Underlying shape
Booker also identifies an underlying shape in all stories:  
Initial phase
Opening out
Severe – constriction
Dark power dominant
Reversal and liberation
Dark figures
Other self 


Also for the first time we are likely to have a story with several sub-plots. The relationship between the main plot and the sub-plot is important.
Andrew Melrose argues that if you pile the plots up on top of each other in the order of which takes up most of the story, largest on the bottom, smallest on the top you get a pyramid if you keep a balanced ratio between them.
I further develop that argument and say that: The smallest subplot contains the crisis, climax, resolution and an ‘aha’ moment. Each sub-plot is actually part of the main plot and the next sub-plot.  
We can see this in Palacio's Wonder:  
Main plot: August gains acceptance
Sub-plot 1 – circle of friends
Sub-plot 2 – friendship with Jack
Sub-plot 3 – attitude of family
Sub-plot 4 – Amanda
Sub-plot 5 – hearing-aids   

Have a go

Now have a go at planning a story. You will find now that you will devote several chapters to each of :  
Inciting incident:
Growing complexities:
Crisis point:
Also similar arcs will be making their way through the sub-plots.
How will you set your plan out?
·         Mindmap
·         Spreadsheet
·         Filing cards
·         Writing software such as Scrivener.
If you really are a "panster" and can't be bothered with tis amount of detailed planning, try analysing a book for an early fluent reader instead.


Some books to study

Cross, Gillian. (2013) After Tomorrow. Oxford: OUP.  
Funke, Cornelia. (2005) Inkspell. Frome: Chicken House.
Kinney, Jeff. (2010) The Last Straw  London: Puffin  
Palicio, R.J. (2012) Wonder. London: Corgi.  
Saunders, Kate. (2014) Five Children on the Western Front. London: Faber & Faber 

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Writing for Children 4 The early fluent reader

Who the child is:

The reader is aged roughly 7-9 and is often in the first two classes of junior school. They read with some confidence and want to choose their own books but may be daunted by a full length novel. Often teachers will keep a selection of suitable books in the classroom. The child still feels as if s/he is choosing.


What the books look like:

The covers will have stylised pictures though some may be more three dimensional.  The colours will be bold. The pictures will include cartoon characters but may be busier than in emergent reader texts. There will also now be more experiments with fonts and layout of text. There may be some branding e.g. as with Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The blurb will be more complex.
However, the books will look more like "real" books to the new reader. They will have a fatter spine, be up to 30,000 words and 150 pages long. There will be more information on the cover than there was for younger readers. There will be fewer pictures and these will amuse and illustrate rather than adding more to the story.  Some elements of the emergent reader book remain. In most texts some are present. There may be a similar number of pictures. The pictures may be stylised. The text may be formatted ragged right. The font may large and the text may be double-spaced. Multiple text formats are still used to break up the texts.  Chapters and sections tend to be short. The texts, though, rarely contain all of these elements.  
Sometimes an individual text will contain mixed elements, for example:
         Blocked text and stylised pictures
         Ragged right but three dimensional pictures
         Short chapters and denser text
         Blocked text but high number of illustrations
         Huge amount of text and many illustrations.   


What to think about when producing a text for this early fluent reader:

Think about the characters – maybe keep the main ones to four: the hero (Cinderella), friend (Buttons), enemy (stepsisters and stepmother) and mentor (fairy godmother).  What are the tensions between them?
Then outline a simple plot:
Inciting incident: Cinders is sweeping the floor
Growing complexities:
·         Receives invitation to the ball but sisters / stepmother destroy her invitation
·          Fairy godmother gets her to the ball
·         She meets the prince and they fall in love
Crisis point: she leaves almost too late and loses her shoe
Climax: Will the shoe ever find the right foot? Point of no return for both Cinders and the prince.     
For more ideas on plot, see my blog post Story Theory   Later on in this series I'll be issuing exercises on various aspects of this.  
Each of the above plot points should have a chapter of its own in this type of text and each should end on a cliff-hanger.   
Now, plot out your story so that it has a similar shape. Choose one plot point and write it up as a chapter. Decide which elements, if any, of the emergent reader text you would include.   

Some books to study:

Roald Dahl, Roald.  Dirty Beasts.  
Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. The Promise.
Laird, Elizabeth: Crackers. 
Michael Morpurgo Tom’s Sausage Lion .
Mark Thiessen, with Glen Phelan.  Extreme Wild Fire.


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.