Tuesday, March 2, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Checking Reading Guides for Balance

I just sent out a reading guide for the first book in a fun new series. I was happy to be a part of this project but also nervous because I know the author is excited about this series and I wanted to be sure to do justice to this book and those that will follow.

So, although I finished writing the guide this past Friday, I did not send it out. Instead, I put it away for the weekend. Today, I opened up the file and looked for what I call "balance" in the piece. Here are some questions I asked myself:

1. Am I happy with the number of discussion questions? Do they flow together meaningfully? Have I included all of the major characters, plot elements and themes in one way or another? Do I feel that I have encouraged readers to see the elements in the story that the author is excited about exploring?

2. Are my activities balanced in terms of writing exercises, research, creative/arts-based activities, debate/interactive activities, etc.? As I look at each activity, can I imagine one real, specific kid who might enjoy it (another reason I recommend working in classrooms!) or one situation in which it might be useful?

3. Do I feel that the guide is practical for use by educators and by parents? Will students find some questions or activities interesting and appealing without adult guidance? Are there some easy, quick things to do as well as more complex suggestions?

After I tweak the material to satisfy the above, I print out a hard copy of the guide. Note that this is the same thing I would do for a draft of my own fiction. I take a look at the shape of the text on the page. Do some activity descriptions look too long? Do some questions look too short? And, of course, I do a red pencil line edit.

Finally, I type in my corrections, drink a cup of tea, wait a half an hour and take one final look. Just like any piece of writing, part of knowing when you are "finished" is a gut feeling. However, this is writing not just for myself but in support of someone else's hard work and ideas, so instinct has to be just a part of the equation. Examining the guide for balance gives me a metric for checking that I am honoring the objectives of the author and the publishing program.

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