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.
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.
- 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.