Children learning to read may start off with picture books, often because that is what they are accustomed to and that's what is lying around the house. However, as they progress, their self-confidence is heightened. They are proud of their “big kid” abilities and start to look down on “baby books.” This is where early readers step in.
Because children learn so quickly, not much time is spent in this transitional phase of reading. However, this does not diminish the importance of early readers. These books are valuable stepping stones that will promote a child's enthusiasm and comprehension.
Early readers are books designed specifically for children who are learning to read. The books are usually taller and not as wide as picture books. They have a more grown-up, sophisticated feel that children love. But they aren't so sophisticated that they overwhelm a child. The books normally use large type and the spacing between the lines is increased to allow for more white space on a page.
A few publishing companies have word lists that need to be used by authors for their books. If you admire a particular publisher of early readers and are determined to be published by that company, you should check its website for submission guidelines, in case there is a vocabulary list you must use.
Although not classified as picture books, early readers do have illustrations. Whereas picture books rely on the illustrations to help the viewer capture the story, early readers focus on the words to secure the story, using illustrations to provide prompts for the reader while enhancing the entertainment.
These books vary in page lengths and word counts. Typically an early reader is forty-eight to sixty-four pages long, with some of the simpler books being thirty-two pages. The word counts are comparable to picture books, though they normally shoot for the higher end of around 1,500 words.
Writing Early Readers
When writing early readers you must keep in mind that while they are for older children, the text can't be as complex as some picture books. Picture books are most often read by adults to children and can make use of an extended vocabulary and sentence structure. Although early readers should have simple text, this does not mean that you should avoid big words. Children are smart and crave knowledge. If you fill an early reader with very simple words, a child may feel that her intelligence is insulted.
Don't be afraid to throw in a big word here and there if it helps promote the story. However, if you do use a word that children may not have heard before, try to use it again somewhere in the story. Of course you don't want to go overboard and have that same word on every page, nor do you want to riddle the story with complicated vocabulary. Find a good balance that will help a child to learn but not frustrate and discourage her.
While early readers can help strengthen a child's vocabulary, this is not the time or place to delve into advanced sentence structures. Keep the sentences simple and concise. Short and snappy text will give the book a rhythm and progression that a child can handle.
The plot, also, must be simple. Use a single, uncomplicated concept or problem and focus on its development. Avoid unnecessary detail. Like picture books, the story must be constantly moving. Use action, dialogue, and rich language to keep the story going. If you allow the story to idle for too long, a child will get bored and put down the book. Children can be unmerciful critics, and if you don't keep their attention at all times, you may lose their favor.
EXAMPLES OF EARLY READERS
Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik
Chester by Syd Hoff
Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Arthur's Prize Reader by Lillian Hoban