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Fiction
Easy Readers
By Marjorie Allen
November, 2007, 14:59

As an easy reader author you help shape the minds of future generations of readers.
The Dick-and-Jane books of yore may have been the first easy readers, but their predictability rendered them nothing more than a tool wherein middle-class white children performed daily activities in a middle-class setting. Reading was more of a chore than a pleasure. Enter Theodore Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.

Geisel, a picture book author known for his edgy illustrations and zany verse, published his first book – And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street – in 1937. Twenty years later, in an effort to replace the homogeneous Dick and Jane, he wrote The Cat In The Hat as a supplemental reader. His editor gave him a list of 300 words, the first two of which were "cat" and "hat." The book Geisel penned was so popular that it was published both as a textbook and a trade book. Providing a stepping-stone between picture books and a child's commitment to read a whole book, the easy reader was born.
 
At first, most publishers limited the number of words in an easy reader. As story became more important than limited language, such bans were lifted. Today's easy reader is usually a 64-page book of no more than 2,000 words, divided into four or five short chapters that contain short sentences, simple vocabulary, repetitive words and phrases, and double-spread illustrations. Most major publishers have an easy reader publishing line. For example, Harper has I Can Read and Random House has Beginner Books.

Unlike the picture storybook, the text for an easy reader is typed only halfway across the page. The sentences are very short, with the period being the punctuation of choice. There are no paragraphs, the text is double-spaced, and there is no break at all until a new chapter appears. Each chapter builds the story to a climax, and the last chapter ends the story.
 
When I wrote my first easy reader, I submitted it as a regular 32-page picture book manuscript. The editor sent it back, retyped as an easy reader, and the book Farley, Are You For Real? was soon published as a Break-of-Day easy reader. One, Two, Three – Achoo! was almost immediately accepted when I presented it in an easy-reader format. Later, The Marble Cake Cat was published as a chapter book, with longer sentences and more complicated language.

The easy-reader format includes nonfiction as well as fiction. Vicki Cobb was the first to introduce science to children as a fun activity instead of a learning chore with Science Experiments You Can Eat (1972, rev. 1994).
 
Every children's book requires a different style of writing, depending on the intended age of the reader. Below is a sampling of different styles for various age groups illustrating the reading skill-appropriate variation. In this case, the common subject is cat.

  1. Pre-school picture book:
    Here, Kitty, Kitty.
    Come home with me.

  2. Picture storybook:
    Annabel sat on the floor of the pet shop. She looked at the kitten. And the kitten looked at her. Neither of them blinked. "Yes," Annabel finally said. "You're the one I want."

  3. Easy reader:
    Annabel walked into the pet store.
    She looked at the puppies.
    She looked at the tropical fish.
    She looked at the turtles and the hamsters.
    In a corner cage, she saw the kitten.
    "Muffin, you belong to me," she said.
    The kitten understood.
    It stood up on its hind legs.
    It hooked its tiny claws on the wire cage.
    It looked at Annabel.
    "Meow," it said.

The easy reader is an important part of a child's reading development. Done right, with well-developed characterizations and a gripping story line, these books can lead a child into chapter books and a lifetime love of reading.  IN Icon


Marjorie Allen is currently a freelance writer, editor, and journalist, whose children's book, Changes, was chosen as an outstanding science book for 1991 by the NCTA and CBC. She is the author of five picture books and two research books on children’s literature. Marjorie offers free editing at http://www.marjorienallen.com. Her email address is mna@marjorienallen.com.


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