Thursday, January 23, 2014

Common Core's Impact on Children's Books: an AUTHOR'S VIEW

How will Common Core's impact books for children? Recently, I was asked to be on a panel to discuss the impact that Common Core will have on the future of children's books as seen from the point of view of an author of nonfiction books for children.  As I researched the topic, this is what I came up with:

1.  The Common Core emphasis on reading outside the textbook will hopefully lead to a wider use of trade books in the classroom.  This should be good for children’s book authors.
    And the emphasis on reading in all subject areas–science, math, social studies, the arts–opens all sorts of possibilities for topics to write about.
    Cautionary note: Common Core material refers to “texts” not “books” so it isn’t completely clear to me that all the extra reading will be in books. "Texts" can also be newspaper and magazine articles, pieces on the internet, diaries, interviews, video and all kinds of visual materials including maps, photographs and illustrations. 

2.  The shift to a greater emphasis on nonfiction–50% in the early grades and more as the students grow older–suggests a boon for nonfiction writers.
    My agent reports that she has seen a huge increase in nonfiction sales over the last year.
    In particular, I think there will be a demand for more informational texts for primary age children–both to read alone, and to listen to an adult read aloud.  While children just learning to read need texts that are short with limited vocabulary, they can listen to material much more complex.  Even so, the challenge for authors is that writing short is much harder than writing long.

3.  So what’s new?
    Primary sources: students are being asked to pay much more attention to primary sources, which means that as authors we must show the links to primary sources when we can.
    Back matter –maps, glossary, further reading, bibliographies, fun facts.
    When I asked the art director at my publisher if Core Curriculum had changed the way they designed books she said that the main thing is that they feel freer to have “the kind of back matter that makes a non-specialist reviewer understand the wonderful things the author has done.”
    Teacher guides: Many authors and  publishers are producing detailed guides for their books with questions and topics to discuss that are linked to particular curriculum areas.
    Many publishers are now including in their catalog copy all the relevant Common Core standards for each new book.
    Book proposals: I was asked if I still have to write query letters and proposals for new books.  Yes. The difference is that now, when proposing a new book to publisher, I include a section listing the relevant standards by grade level.
   
4.  Authors still have to write the best books possible.  Common Core won’t change that.
    But the emphasis on quality will reinforce the need to meet the highest standards.
    According to Common Core, the books must
         be worth reading and re-reading
         be well-written
         richly illustrated
    Students and teachers are going to be looking at text and pictures closely, so as authors and illustrators we have to be sure that our books and illustrations are worth a second look.

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