In my last post titled What Kind of Children’s Book? I explained that it’s important for writers of children’s literature to know what subgenre they want to write for. When presenting a proposal to an agent or editor, writers need to know where their book will fit in the market. I discussed three of the primary subgenres: boardbook, preschool picture book, and the standard 32-page picture book.
Another subgenre is the beginning reader. These books are specifically written and designed for children who are learning to read. The most popular beginning reader series is the I Can Read series which was first published by HarperCollins in 1957 with Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear. Since HarperCollins is the parent company to Zondervan, the series has recently branched out into the Christian market with both fiction and nonfiction titles.
Stories for beginning readers must be satisfying in order to get kids excited about reading. They need to be written with short, straightforward sentences using vocabulary words that can be sounded out easily. Kids are not going to read a book if the words are too challenging. The writer needs to have a good understanding of sight words and reading vocabulary levels. The stories are told primarily through action and dialogue.
Example: The rain stopped. “May I go out to play?” asked Jack.
Writers need to master dialogue. They have to know how kids talk and use natural language. Most of the descriptions are left to illustrations—let your nouns and verbs do the talking and let your illustrator fill in the details. Writers must combine good writing with engaging stories. The books are typically 32 pages but the word count varies widely depending on the level. Some series may have 3-4 different reading levels. A very helpful resource for vocabulary is The Children Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner (Writer’s Digest).
Other publishers also publish beginning reader books or learn-to-read titles. But before you submit your proposal, be sure the publishing house publishes this very specific genre. And remember—if you can write a good one, it will often lead to a series.
First chapter books are another subgenre in children’s literature. These stories are written for children who are reading independently. They have mastered the basics and are ready for longer stories with chapters. Some first chapter books have a few illustrations throughout the book, but many do not. The chapters are usually around 800-1000 words, and the book may have about 8-10 chapters. Since these young readers are still acquiring reading skills and comprehension, the stories need to be straightforward and told in chronological order. Action and silly humor work well for this genre. Nonfiction is also fine, but avoid subjects that are heavy or too serious. As with beginning readers, careful attention must be paid to vocabulary usage and natural language.
Writing for children is fun, but fun does not mean easy! If you are up for the challenge, just think of all the kids who will be improving their reading skills with your carefully chosen words!