Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Characteristics of Great Easy Readers

The first key aspect of a successful easy reader is well-written text. The writing must be both easy enough for its audience to read, and artistic enough to make the book interesting. This means that not only is an author limited in the vocabulary he or she can use, but he or she is also presented with the additional challenge of stringing few words together in a way that is not cliched, boring, or awkward.

An example of perfect easy reader text comes from the first page of Aggie Gets Lost by Lori Ries, wherein Ben walks his dog and the action is described as follows:

Left foot, right foot, two feet, four feet.
We walk to the park.
Aggie pulls hard.
She wants to play fetch.

Making an emotional connection to the reader is a second sign of easy reader excellence. Whether the mood of a story is silly, as in the Elephant & Piggie books or the Fly Guy series, sad, as in Aggie Gets Lost when Aggie is missing, or even scary, as in parts of Gus Gets Scared, the reader should feel that emotion along with the characters. Children can more easily relate to new characters and settings if they can recognize feelings and concepts they have experienced themselves.

Easy readers should also be told from a child's point of view. This means that the characters speak to the reader at his level, rather than at him in an adult tone. Even adult characters, like Mr. Putter, and adult-like animals like Dodsworth from Dodsworth in Rome, should embody child-like characteristics to which kids can relate. Revealing adult characters' anxieties and imperfections makes them interesting to read about, and giving them dilemmas similar to those found in childhood creates stories that really speak to their audience and keep the reader invested in their outcomes. Embodying a child's point of view also eliminates the urge to preach at kids, and makes the story, rather than the message, the central focus. Most kids aren't interested in morals, but they become quickly invested in the fate of a favorite character. 

It's also important for easy readers to focus on familiar themes. New readers like to read stories that reflect their real lives, and by keeping things close to home, authors can help kids find comfortable ways of learning new vocabulary and story structure. By beginning with those simple themes of family, friendship, school, and home, kids begin to build a strong foundation that will later help them tackle new genres and settings.

Finally, a truly great easy reader includes illustrations that are not only beautiful to look at, but also complement the text and assist the reader with understanding new vocabulary and new concepts. Illustrations in children's picture books and easy readers are an integral part of the story, not just the icing on the cake. Not only should the illustrations clearly depict what's happening in the text to provide context, they should, like those in Flip Flop and Dodsworth in Rome, also include other visual content that expands the story beyond the words and gives the reader a greater understanding of the setting, plot, and characters.

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