By Ann Ingalls
The first word I ever read and made sense of was the word come. I sat alone at my parents’ dining room table and held my book. It occurred to me that C made a hard sound. M made a soothing sound. That was enough information to read the word. I was gob-smacked! A new world of reading had opened up to me!
If you want to write emergent readers, that’s the kind of child for whom you’ll write.
Your prospective audience is not yet reading but they are beginning to find connections between letter sounds (mostly consonants) and words. They begin to recognize words even though they can’t read an entire sentence. Connections between letters and words and spoken and written words happen over time and with experience.
Emergent readers are designed for children who may be reading alone. A teacher or parent might read a book to children before allowing them to study it independently. Children remember that first read and can guess at a few unfamiliar words.
How will you do it?
Don’t be fooled. Writing an emergent reader is harder than it looks. Before you begin, read as many of them as you can. Study them. Analyze them. I bought a bunch at a thrift store and on Amazon and deconstructed them. I highlighted high interest words, narration, and dialogue with different colored markers. This helped a lot. Study word lists (Here’s one for grades K-3): https://www.k12reader.com/subject/vocabulary/fry-words
Imagine you are telling your story to a young child. Keep the language simple. Think of words kindergarteners and first graders know. A few complex words can be added but limit that to about 8-10 per 100-word manuscript. You can repeat these words throughout the text. Don’t count them a second time. When I wrote Ice Cream Soup, the most difficult words were “soup” and “goop”, words clearly not on kindergarten and first grade word lists.
For a Level One reader, sit down and write the very best 60-100 word story you can. Make sure your story has a simple story arc and a clear beginning, middle and end. Nonfiction leveled readers can be circular. For example: a seed to a tree and back to seeds. Level One readers sell best. Publishers receive fewer of these. Each publisher has a slightly different idea of what these will look like. Study publishers’ websites often to get the best idea of exactly what they like.
Grab your reader’s attention with the first line or two. Do it with language that is familiar and interesting. Choose a topic has universal appeal to children. Would children rather read about cultivating lettuce or baboons?
For the very earliest readers, make suggestions in illustrator’s notes. It isn’t typical to do this but when you are limited with text, that may be the only means you have of communicating what is happening. Most editors with whom I have worked agree with this.
Read your book out loud, over and over again. Run it by your critique group to see if they stumble over any parts or find that the text drags. Work it and rework it until it sings.
If you like to write in rhyme as I do, see who publishes that. Random House, Scholastic, and some Children's Press books are done in rhyme. For emergent readers, rhyme provides an auditory clue to the next word.
When you are finished, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your work:
- Did the topic emerge early in the story?
- Did I use realistic age-appropriate language?
- Did I use simple sentences?
- Is my story character-based? This type of story appeals to very young children. For instance, a child can explain step by step how to make a potato battery.
- Did I use present tense, active verbs?
- Does my story have a surprise twist or unusual ending that will please children and editors alike?
If you’ve done all of that, your story is likely ready for submission. I’ll look for it on the shelves at my favorite books stores and libraries.
Give it a Try
Check out three emergent readers from the library (many have these in a separate section). Or search “Emergent Readers” on Amazon. Use the Look Inside feature on Amazon to get an overview of several Emergent Readers. Ask yourself the questions above related to one of the titles.
Meet the Author
When given the choice between educating or entertaining children, Ann chooses to do both. Before she was a children’s writer, Ann taught elementary and special education classes. Visit her at http://anningalls.com.
This is great information! I'm excited to try writing a book for emergent readers. Thanks, Ann.ReplyDelete
Happy to have share this with you! Keep me posted.
This is another area I never thought about writing, but looks quite interesting. I want to mention that neither link works, not the one in the text and not the link for the author's website.ReplyDelete
Second question: Do you query emerging readers to agents, or do you go directly to publishers? Thanks!Delete
How about these links?Delete
I have queried agents with leveled readers. Karen Grencik sold three fiction leveled readers. Some of my best selling books of all.
Terrific - both work now! But I did notice your website has this URL: https://anningallswrites.com. I do like the challenge of writing something engaging under these vocabulary restrictions.Delete
Now send me something. You sound serious. I drew your name.Delete
Ann, your post is great! I was wondering about how to submit easy readers. Do you go through agents?ReplyDelete
I have sent them to by agents to submit and I have submitted them on my own. I have also suggested to my agents to send completed work to particular houses where I thought my work would be a good fit. Try any and all. Good luck with it!Delete
I've never seriously considered writing for the ER market before, but this post is making me consider this interesting format...thanks, Ann!ReplyDelete
Hi Teresa! Writing leveled readers is a very fun, totally engaging proposition. And it pays! At about 25 cents/paperback copy of ICE CREAM SOUP (fiction), I've earned thousands of dollars. Let me know how you do.Delete
Great tips. Thanks for the post Ann.ReplyDelete
You are quite welcome, Pam!Delete
ANN: HOW BEAUTIFUL that you can SO VIVIDLY remember reading your first word and being "GOB-SMACKED!" And HOW INSPIRING to help us see just HOW IMPORTANT writing for emergent readers can be. I am EXCITED to delve into this format--one which I haven't written before. I TRULY APPRECIATE the guidelines and questions you shared. I will be returning to this post AGAIN and AGAIN for INSPIRATION!!! THANK YOU!!!ReplyDelete
YOU just MADE my DAY!
Let me know how this goes for you!
Great post, Ann. I've been thinking of trying to do a NF early reader. Now you've got me psychedReplyDelete
Give it a try, Sue! Check out Jill Esbaum's leveled readers at National Geographic. Nicely done.Delete
This is a great post. Never really thought of gearing my writing specifically toward emergent readers. I will give it a try now. And, others have asked-how do you present/submit the emergent readers. Thank you Ann for all your words of wisdom.ReplyDelete
I spend a lot of time at the library and online looking at new formats/ideas and then decide what I'd like to try. Not all of these go somewhere but some of them do.
As a former teacher, I would love to write at this level.ReplyDelete
You are especially well positioned since you have the experience with children and you know how to introduce that to children in a child-friendly way. Good luck!
I was under the impression that these were done through packagers or in house for the most part as some are part of phonics series o sets of leveled text that build from emergent to proficient. So interesting that they can be sent in. Great info to have.ReplyDelete
You are correct in thinking that many of these are done through packagers or in house, but certainly not all of them. Best of luck with this!
As a former reading specialist who worked extensively with the youngest readers, this post warmed my heart. It's so important to give those young readers the very best words and language and topics and themes. Now I'm excited to try it myself! Thank you for your work and your inspiration, Ann.ReplyDelete
You have completely nailed it by saying, "the very best words and language and topics and themes" I'll be looking for your work on endcaps and online.
Now send me something. I drew your name.Delete
Looking forward to seeing it.
Ohhhh! Exciting! Thank you. I'm going to do this.ReplyDelete
Have you started already? Actually, just writing that post got me excited about doing another leveled reader or series.Delete
When we give, we get back in return.
Thank you Ann for sharing this post. I was also a special educator in the Boston suburbs. I am now fascinated with these emergent readers that you've introduced in this blog post. I would love to ask you more questions about them. Would it be okay to reach out to you? My email: MBTgroupCB@gmail.com Thanks again for sharing this!ReplyDelete
Sorry to be so slow in responding. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can chat there.
This gave me quite a bit to think about. I used to read the dictionary for fun in elementary school. Think I'll try it again. Fun post.ReplyDelete
Like you, I love dictionaries! Choose a couple of topics and build your word banks around them. Give this a go.
Thanks Ann! As a media specialist who worked with groups of first graders before the official start of the school day I used to wonder, "Who writes these things?" Now I know! Thanks for your very usable information!ReplyDelete
Why, we do. That's who!Delete
Now send me something.
Sharing some additional information.ReplyDelete
As a certified Reading Recovery® Educator my emergent readers (students) are introduced to early reader books specifically designed to support reading independance.
Each book includes a word to know (high frequency words),such as: the, a, and, to, I, etc., and illustrations to support the text. These early readers are written for ages 5–6; Kindergarten–First Grade, begining with a single line of text and repetition.
The word count for Kindergarten is in the range of 20-35 (levels A and B or level 1 and 2). First grade word count is approximately 50-65 (beginning with level C or 3) with two to three lines of text.
Thank you, Suzy, for sharing what you know to be true.Delete
Are you ready to write your own? Hope so.
I love when new worlds are opened for me--like writing for ER. Thank you!ReplyDelete
Like you, I see new places to submit, new ideas, new writer friends all the time.
Hey, now we're friends!
Thanks Ann, great advice!!ReplyDelete
So happy to see you here! Tell me about your writing journey. Covid has slowed everything down. I hope we can get back in touch.
Thanks for a great post, Ann. This is something I have wanted to try. I appreciate all your good advice. Nice to see you!ReplyDelete
How nice to see you here!! What's up with you and your writing life? Mine has stalled with Covid. Here's hoping with herd immunity that we'll see a few more opportunities.
Ann, thank you for your step-by-step guide on how to write an emergent reader. You rock!ReplyDelete
If I rock, you roll!! Let's do that together. Okay?
love to you,
I've wanted to write an emergent reader and it never crossed my mind that it could be nonfiction. Thanks for all the tips!ReplyDelete
So happy to help! I've got my fingers crossed for you.
Thank you, Ann, for this look into emergent readers. I appreciate your insights and tips!ReplyDelete
So happy it was worth your while to read this article! I hope your foray into writing in the genre satisfies on all counts.
Thank you this was great.ReplyDelete
So glad you liked it. This advice has served me well. I hope it will do the same for you!
Great post, Ann. I loved your Writing Barn course and this is such a great referesher and reminder that I wanted to try writing an emergent reader. Thanks!ReplyDelete
I'm so glad I could be of help. I've leaned on so many writers for good advice. Happy to share. Enjoy the process!Delete
Thank you for sharing these tips. I will definitely check out the books in this section next time I am at the libraryReplyDelete
I hope these tips will help when writing your own leveled readers. Libraries are our friends, right?
Thanks for the helpful insight into emergent readers!ReplyDelete
Glad you thought this was of benefit! Keep me posted on how your journey goes.
Thanks for your insight and wisdom about emergent readers! As an educator, I believe this is such an important stepping stone for so many readers. Will be fun to try :)ReplyDelete
Ahhhhh. You and I have spent time in the trenches with children. This is a great path to publication. You can walk their walk, and talk their talk. Keep me posted on how this goes for you!Delete
Dear Ann, Thanks for your post. I had never heard of this sort of book. Now I will look for them, especially Ice Cream Soup. Looks fun.ReplyDelete
I am definitely excited about writing emergent readers after reading this post. Thank you for the links to more information.ReplyDelete
Thanks for these helpful tips! I appreciate the question checklist you offered at the end!ReplyDelete
I especially appreciate your list of Questions To Ask. Thanks.ReplyDelete
what a great introduction for tackling early readers.ReplyDelete
Your post is perfect to help me with a story I am working on right now. Thank you!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Ann for this great post. I agree that it is so important to read mentor texts!ReplyDelete