Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing for the Transitional Reader

by Susan Berger

I attended Bonnie Bader's breakout session, Writing for the Transitional Reader. Early Chapter Books at the SCBWI Summer Conference because I wanted to know more about them. 

I find it a confusing subject.

Bonnie clarified many things for me. I did some internet research to try fill in the gaps. As best I can figure out, this information varies by house, so take it with a grain of salt.

Leveled readers: Usually 32-48 pages. Leveled readers have a structured vocabulary.

The best known structured vocabulary list is is the Dolch List I've linked to the one that is alphabetical by grade.

Beginning Readers:
This is taken from Mary Koles's Kid

Early readers are the earliest “chapter” stories that a kid can get. They’re very short in terms of manuscript length (1,500 words max) but are broken up into either chapters or vignettes that will give the reader the feeling of reading a book with real chapters in it. Your target audience for these is kids ages 4 to 8. Early readers feature a smaller trim size, some the size of or slightly bigger than a paperback novel, and can go from about 32 to 60 pages. The font size is smaller and they feature spot illustrations in either color or black and white instead of full color throughout, like a picture book.  Even if you think you have a great early reader idea, it has to be a very precise fit for a publisher’s established vocab/sentence/word count guidelines.

Some examples of early readers: LING AND TING: NOT EXACTLY THE SAME by Grace Lin and Good Night Good Knight by Shelly Moore Thomas.

If you use the "look inside me" feature, you can get a very good idea of this format.

Bonnie's example was Young Cam Jensen, (a level three book) 4 chapters. Color illustrations Probably under 48 pages. But, I believe more words than Ting and Ling

Easy Chapter Books

The Princess Posy series:
These books have 10 chapters, and black and white illustrations. They run 96 pages, 2400-3000 words per book - approximately 300 words a chapter. If you go to the link, you can see how the illustrations meld with the text, making some description unnecessary. "She slipped a spoonfull of green peas into Danny's mouth." (Yes you can add an art note to your manuscript Mom feeding Danny in High Chair.) The illustrations shows a mom feeding a baby in a high chair.

Bonnie said this type of book requires simple plot lines,memorable characters with a short hook, and familiar settings. We need to know who the character is and what their problem is right from the beginning. The sentences are shorter in these books. You have to figure out your chapter breaks carefully so that you reader is left with a hook and a sense of accomplishment in finishing the chapter.

Henry and Mudge, by Cynthia Rylant. Color illustrations Seven chapters. 100 words per chapter. Average 25 words per page)
The ever popular Captain Underpants series
These are longer books. 29 chapters LOTS of black and white cartoon illustrations. about 185 pages long.
Boys and girls love this series.

You may have noticed these books are all series books. That's what publishers prefer. Is there room for a single book? Why, yes. Deborah Underwood's Pirate Mom is a stand alone level three reader published by Random House (Three chapters 48 pages color illustrations) I bought a copy at the SCBWI Summer Conference and I think it's hilarious and very accessible to young readers.

Early Chapter Books

These are aimed at ages 7-9, Grades 2-4, depending on the level of reading competence. They run around 128 pages and 10,000 words. The illustrations are black and white and the number of them seem to vary by series. The characters are usually aged 8-10

Bonnie says George Brown Class Clown is about 10,000 words. Take a look at the layout.

The Author, Nancy Krulik, also writes the very popular Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo  Katie looks to be a bit more word dense than George Brown,(smaller print. I counted 100 words on on page and 10 pages in the chapter.) but they are both listed for the same reading level.
My current favorite early chapter books is Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee. This one breaks some rules. There is no Chapter 2. It goes from chapter 1 to chapter 3. I believe it is seven chapters for the days of her "not so good of a week. " I love the humor and the wonderful first person voice.

Another popular early chapter books is Judy Moody  This one had 141 pages but many full page illustrations.

My friend and fellow author Nancy Stewart's blog post Early Chapter Books for Young Readers.  mentions several books I want to check out. 

I hope this clarifies a few things. If you want to look further for information on leveled readers, the best place I found was Here's a link to their criteria for Early emergent readers, Level aa to Z. (phew!!) and here is the list of books that match their criteria. If you click on the books. you will see a picture and a word count. Levels aa-books have 17-24 word. Levels A-C seem to average 50 words and use a High frequency word list.

Happy writing and researching.


  1. Thanks, Sue. All very interesting information. My three books are more in line with what used to be called Children's Storybooks. Lots of pictures with the story, no chapters, but over the PB length.

  2. Sue,

    Great info, thanks for the post.

    Nicole Weaver
    award-winning children's author

    1. You're welcome, Nicole. I think a tri lingual easy reader would be wonderful!!

  3. I think it is interesting how they have been adapting (kind-of) older books into the Easy Reader (Step into Reading) categories. I tried to buy a Frog and Toad book the other day, and it was a Step into Reading book. :)

    Thanks for all the info!

    1. I'm glad they're adapting ones like Frog and Toad. There is a Berenstein Bears book that ought to be in that category. it starts out, "Out the Window" Great pictures and repetition. If your are a just beginning to rea, that helps a lot.

  4. Sue - This has to be the hardest genre to nail! You've done a great job here. I appreciate all the titles, too. I'm sending folks who enter our SCBWI CenCal Writers Day contest here as a resource. We have such a hard time getting good entries in this category.

    1. Thanks, Alexis
      I hope it helps someone to try a book in one of those genres.

  5. This was a fabulous post, and chock full of usable info. Thank you!

  6. I agree with the above comments! You've done a fabulous job compiling and clarifying - thanks!

  7. This was a great post. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  8. Great post, Sue. This can be a confusing genre. For writers who really want to delve into it, my UCLA Extension course on "Introduction to Writing Easy Readers" begins next month :-).

  9. Thanks, we are happy you found it helpful.

  10. I kind of wondered Bout this age group myself. I didn't know where one began and the next started. thanks so much for taking us through it, with examples!!


  11. thanks for sharing..


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