Friday 9 August 2019

Writing your own reading scheme - Anne Rooney

I spend a lot of time with my grand-daughter (MB). She is five, so I'm being re-exposed to reading scheme books as a consumer rather than a producer. Whatever we think of the merits or demerits of phonics, it is a truth universally acknowledged that reading scheme books can be a bit dull.

Coming out in September, from Big Cat
There's a good reason for this. It's very difficult, at the lower stages, to stick to a small set of phonemes and follow a lot of rules about what will make a book accessible and acceptable to young readers of all nationalities, religions and backgrounds. Writing non-fiction for reading schemes is, arguably, even harder than writing fiction because of the vocabulary constraints. I'm sure lots of five-year-olds would like a book about cars, but have you tried writing about cars without using words such as wheel, engine, tyre, gear, headlight, seatbelt, speed, brake...? That's why there are no/few reading scheme books at lower levels about cars. To write it', you'd have to make the content of lower interest level than the chronological age of the reader, and that makes it dull. I have a reading scheme book coming out later this year that was commissioned to tie in with the healthy eating part of the curriculum. Words it couldn't use include: healthy, eat, vegetable, green, fruit, sweet, sugar, rice, potato, milk, cheese, meat... and so on. And on. I love the challenge of writing these, and most schemes have enough choice that a careful teacher can find something that will appeal to or be acceptable to every child. Having a reader to hand has really helped me see the problem of the interest age/reading age gap.

MB is very enthusiastic about books, yet hadn't managed a year at school before expressing disappointment that her book bag contained another reading scheme book rather than 'a real book'. So I said we'd write our own reading scheme over the summer, with books on topics she is interested in and will want to read. To be fair, she's beyond the lowest level, so I won't have to stick to quite the same limits as I have to professionally (writing Red B books). My hope is that with books tailored to her interests, she will progress in leaps and bounds and can whizz through the reading scheme at school and onto 'real books' much more quickly.

I know this isn't an avenue open to everyone by a long way. I know her interests won't be shared by all other children. But it will be fun trying. I also know that the slowest part of the process is sourcing/commissioning illustrations so we're stealing a trick from the comics she loves: she can draw or complete the pictures as she reads. She has already asked if we can print copies for all her friends and we haven't even done the first one yet. She's made a start with the cover, though:

In case you can't read that, the title is 'The Story of the Terror Birds'  (with esoteric spelling). And beneath it says 'written by' and then she has put her own name. Sarah McIntyre (Pictures Mean Business) would be proud of her, claiming all the credit for the book as illustrator. And in case you are not quite as well up on terror birds as MB is, they were giant birds that lived in South America (mostly) after the dinosuars and until about two million years ago.

Anne Rooney

Also coming out in September:
The Story of Life, illustrated by Nat Hues; Arcturus


Penny Dolan said...

How charming an idea and good luck to you both. I'd certainly want to read - or hide under a cushion from - "Terror Birds". What a great title!

I occasionally write early independent readers which are a far easier task, but I often find the process like one of those tiles-in-a-square games, where you move one letter along only to find another slides in the way.

Only the small tiles are the words and the square is the logic of the sentence construction. Word arithmetic, in fact. Makes my brain hurt after a while.

Alex English said...

This is lovely, Anne! My 5yo also loves making his own books and would definitely want to read about the terror birds.

catdownunder said...

I wish I'd had you for a grandmother Anne! I tried to write my own without any help and my mother kept throwing the "rubbish" away. This sounds marvellous - a best seller coming up!

Paul May said...

Very good, Anne! I don't know if you saw this on my slightly neglected blog?