Thursday, March 1, 2007

Easy Readers: The Bridge to Successful Reading

Okay folks, I’m warning you—I’m getting on my soapbox about easy readers (which I will refer to as EZs, because...well, I don’t feel like typing it out).

EZ readers are that little genre of book where you learned to read. Remember, “See Spot run.” (I know I just dated myself). These books carry children over the bridge from dependent reading (having picture books read to them) to independent reading (reading chapter books on their own). I believe this is the MOST important genre in literature because it is here that children learn to either embrace or avoid reading. It’s also the most overlooked and endangered genre in children’s literature, in this author’s opinion.

How? Sadly, the industry itself often overlooks this genre. The next time you come across a children’s writing contest, look at the categories. They’re typically: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Book, and either Poetry or Non-Fiction. I say “typically” because I’m fortunate that my regional SCBWI chapter includes an “Easy Reader/Chapter Book” category in their annual writing contest for our regional Writer’s Day. Many children’s writing contests do not.

What about awards for published books? Again, the categories are usually the same. With the exception of the ALA's Theodore Geisel Award, and the Gryphon Award, EZs are generally not recognized in the awards arena—even though this is what most K-2 children are reading. Have we forgotten to honor books for this age group? Are these books any less important?

Getting to the matter of endangerment, let’s look at what’s happening to the genre itself. In today’s trade market, more and more of these books are about licensed characters (I could wallpaper my office with rejection letters that say, “We are moving our easy reader line toward licensed characters.”). Now, don’t get me wrong—I like Mickey Mouse just as much as the next girl. However, when an editor turns down a carefully crafted manuscript (one that considers a child’s reading needs according to his age, grade and ability) to leave room for yet another version of Spiderman or Sponge Bob Square Pants, I have to question what's happening.

Many licensed character books don't seem to be written with a child’s reading needs in mind. This is just wrong. In fact, often children’s writers do not write these books at all. Rather, they’re written “in-house,” meaning editorial staff determines the storyline and the staff then assigns the project to a regular (in-house) writer or an editor. I have no problem with this process--IF the books are well written. Too many times, I’ve picked up licensed character books and found words that are too difficult for a child to read, difficult words that don’t match the illustrations, or too much text for a young child to tackle.

The bottom line for publishing houses may mean big sales (we do live in a pop-culture society), but for the child, the result can be frustration. And when a child is frustrated, he often gives up. Is this really what we want? Of course not. We want children to love reading. As children's literature professionals, it is our duty and our responsibility to create books that will help children cross the EZ reader bridge with success.

(Please scroll down to see my recommended reading list for Easy Readers--on the right side)

1 comment:

Lorna said...

Terry-

I totally agree with you. My 6 year old is a very good reader and often stumbles on those "licensed character" books. He loves to check out the EZ's at our public library, and just breezes through those. The problem is, as you said, there aren't the quantity of them out there, and we are running out of new and fresh EZ's that he hasn't already read several times before. Now he's attempting the chapter books that his 9 year old brother is reading, which I don't think he is quite ready for.