'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 6 August 2010

Guest Post: On Writing the Perfectly Balanced Reader

Sheryl in San Francisco, researching chilli for her latest book

How fortunate are we to have talented and profilic author Sheryl Gwyther on Kids Book Review with this fabulous guest post on writing chapter book readers? Enjoy every priceless word.

About Chapter Books

Junior Fiction, those books for 9 to 13-year-olds, is usually what I write. But over the past nine months, I have added another genre to my work – chapter books. Chapter books hold a special place in my heart (speaking as an Early Childhood teacher in a previous life) and I also enjoy writing them! My latest chapter book (just released) Princess Clown, is for 7-8 year olds and my second chapter book, Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper will be out in early August 2010.

Chapter books are stories designed especially for children who are beginning to grow in confidence with their reading ability. Their vocabulary knowledge is expanding and they are at that special age where they want to do things like the older kids – including reading books with chapters all by themselves.

They are the right age to be excited and enthused by their new reading skills. They are also ripe to capture for a lifelong love of reading, and chapter books cater for these developing readers. They are often called ‘easy readers or bridging books’ - for obvious reasons.

• fast paced
• interesting, with lively writing
• simple, with clear plots
• heavily illustrated

• lots of dialogue to show characterisation
• shorter sentences – unnecessary words are left out
• short paragraphs
• chapters with numbers and titles
• word length can vary from 500 words – 2500 words

Chapter Books are usually told through the viewpoint of a single character/or about the adventures of a single character who is generally around the same age as the reader, not younger.

It’s fun imagining stories that might suit the chapter book market – especially when they involve funny situations and interesting characters. Humour rules in chapter books! If you can make kids laugh, they will keep reading and come back for more.

Kids this age also love mysteries, adventure tales and funny mishaps at home with the family or squabbles between friends at school.

Writing Princess Clown

Princess Clown began as a challenge… to write a short story using two nouns unrelated to each other. Well, more than unrelated! They had to clash, because that brings conflict. Conflict is the story. CONFLICT RULES!

With 'princess' and 'clown', obviously my main character would be a princess who loves clowning so much that is all she wants to do – forever.

Then I ‘upped-the-ante’. This princess, we’ll call her Belle, is the heir to the throne – there is no chance she can follow her dream. But will she stop? Of course not!

When Belle practises her clowning tricks around the castle – from her schoolroom to the royal kitchens, she creates havoc. The King insists she act like the Princess Royal she is. After all, when he was her age, he wanted to be an inventor but he had to become the King. Of course, in the end, things work out perfectly for Princess Belle.

The original drafts were much longer. I got everything down on paper and then pruned the story. Out went the filler words, while keeping the rhythm of the story flowing. A dozen re-writes later, I was happy with the manuscript and sent it to publishers.

Blake Publishing accepted Princess Clown. As usual, when editors edit, stories lose even more words. The editor at Blake managed to keep the story’s lively pace.

Princess Clown is in Blake’s Gigglers Blue 2 series – a set of 8 books especially designed as high-interest chapter books for 7-8 year olds. They are very popular with both children and teachers, so naturally schools buy most of them. Princess Clown is also available online or from educational retail outlets.

There is another little thrill if your chapter book becomes a reality – a top illustrator commissioned by the publisher will illustrate it. Princess Clown was very lucky a wonderful artist, Sian Naylor, got the job. All her illustrations are in full colour. Sian captures the spirited and energetic Belle so well, and her depiction of all the other characters went beyond even what I imagined. I only saw one illustration before the book was published. When I got my first author’s copy of the book – what a thrill to see the King and Queen of Danzania as African royalty - très chic!

I have another Chapter Book for 8-9 year olds coming out very soon. It’s called Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper – with Pearson Education in their new Chapters series. This story is about a young girl following her passion (mmm, sound familiar?!). Charlie’s passion is growing chillies and entering her town’s annual Flaming Hot Chilli Competition. Of course, obstacles are standing in her way!

I love this story – it gave me full rein to add some dashes of Habanero Humour, some Tabasco Tension, some Jalapeño Joviality and... you get the picture! I also loved writing the character of Charlie. You can read more about Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper here.

Newsflash: Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper has just been released - get your copy here!

Who publishes CHAPTER BOOKS in Australia?

Want to approach publishers with your own chapter book manuscripts? Try:

Blake Publishing

Penguin Books Australia (Aussie Nibbles series)

Pearson Education Pearson Education do not seek submissions for their literacy series (i.e. readers and chapter books) and have no permanent series. They commission from authors on their database as they develop new series. Should you wish to submit your name as a writer for their literacy series, send them a CV and a sample of your writing. Place ‘Primary author CV’ in the subject line of your email. primary.publishing@pearson.com.au

All the best with your writing!

Sheryl Gwyther