An Introduction to Writing for beginners

I recently did a session with a group of year 7 students and I shared some of my thoughts about getting into writing.


Also while I was in India this time, many asked me about writing and how to get started. I thought the content I created for the Year 7 group would be great for anyone who wants to begin to write.

So here is a slideshow on some key thoughts on writing, as I see it.

If you find this useful, do share it with others.


Look inside a Green Banana

Bananas can be green,  blue or red– if they are from Egmont. These are Egmont’s easy reader series for a range of readers from a child who has just started reading independently to newly fluent readers.

Ranging from 3 short stories for the first readers to chapter books for the fluent reader, the series aims to build confidence for young readers who are attempting reading on their own.

As a rule, they are full-colour and illustrated to ensure the contextual recognition of words is aided and speech bubbles to make it a bit more fun.

Search for Banana Books by clicking here.

As part of my research into easy readers, I decided to analyse them technically. How are they put together – pages, words, speech bubbles – is there a guideline I can use. I don’t have to follow the pattern exactly – but
there is no pointing in submitting a manuscript that’s too far off either.

I am still not sure if the writer has to recommend the speech bubbles too. Or perhaps the designer and illustrator would decide. In the books I read, the speech bubbles complement the story and do not act as substitutes for actual dialogue.

This week let’s look at a Green Banana – the youngest in the series.

Egmont says Green Bananas are three short stories for first readers.

I read two in this series

The Magic Footprint by Melissa Balfour and Russell Julian

And I can, you can, Toucan! By Sue Mayfield, Rochelle Padua

I analysed the title “The Magic Footprint” from a technical standpoint.

The book totally had 48 pages – that provided 22 spreads for the actual story.

There were three linked stories – with a simple beginning, middle and end. But the end was not like a finale, more like each story was by itself a beginning, middle and end of the book.

I think that encourages the child to read the next story, while giving the reader confidence and pride on finishing one story.

Eight of the pages across different spreads had speech bubbles.

Although the book has 22 spreads, the number of words were only 282. An average of 12 words per spread – some higher than that and some lower.

Each story is roughly 100 words – although I think that would depend on the story itself.

Each of the spreads had short sentences, nothing complex. And the words were repeated as much as possible.

The stories need to be simple but sustain interest. No complex plot, not too many characters. Looking at both the books in comparison  – 3 characters utmost.

It is a challenge to write a full story in 300 words. It is even bigger a challenge to break into 3 stories with its own complete beginning, middle and end. Now I am looking at some of my manuscripts to see which one can be a green banana.

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Reading Children’s Book Aloud on Video

Youtube seems to have an amazing collection of books read by their authors. I went looking and found several great ones.

While some are simple videos of the author reading, others are voice-overs like an audio-book. Some videos are created and published by the publishers and many are the authors’ own efforts at creating publicity. 

I have grown as an author, in the shadows of some great authors who promote their books and themselves as a brand so well – names that pop-up (pun entirely intended) – Candy Gourlay and Sarah McIntyre from SCBWI British Isles. I cannot match their creativity or their energy.  And I am not really a stage kind of person. But perhaps I could record using my webcam and the mike without stepping out of my house. There might not be any audience for it – perhaps someone will find it and then find the book.

So here are some picture books on YouTube, read by their authors. 

Brown Bear, Brown Bear  – Bill Martin

There Are Cats In This Book

Mr. Gloomingdale’s Downpour

Mike Artell reading his book LEGS

The Whale Who Ate Everything: Children’s Audio Books


Llama Llama Misses Mama – Anna Dewdney

Anna Dewdney and Penguin have posted videos of all of the books in the Llama Llama series too. 

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A Second Look at Easy Readers

A second look at easy readers

I am still circling around the US books before I start analysing the UK ones. Some of my favourite EasyReaders are from the “I Can Read” series. I even tracked down the editor and stalked her for many months I think.

My First I can Read Book – simple concepts and stories, told in familiar, easy to recognise words for the emergent reader.
Level 1 – Short, simple stories for the early reader
Level 2 – high interest stories with longer plots and language play for the developing reader
Level 3 – short chapters and more complicated plots for the newly independent reader
Then the last level of I Can Read Chapter Books – more challenging chapters for the fully independent readers.
These books also have class grading for teachers to use in classrooms.

Let’s look at a First I Can Read Book in more detail.

I am looking at Sid and Sam by Nola Buck and G Brian Karas.

The book has 12 spreads. But in the last 4 spreads, text appears on only one page. This book has almost a thin story thread that runs linear in time. There is no complication to the story. It is not only rhythmic to read out, but the editors have perhaps prescribed a specific set of words.

The book is written in 119 words. But the unique words in the book are much less than that. There are only 28 unique words and somehow the book manages to introduce word-play as well.

I am not really sure when read independently, the kids can get this humour. But if someone reads with intonation, this book would crack the class up.  Of course, it lends itself to skits and interactive reading in the class too.

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Analysing Easy Readers

I was mad about easy readers and beginning readers a few years ago. I bought a handful of books from every publishing house, I counted the words, I checked the sentences, I verified the readability statistics and researched the market as thoroughly as I could.
I eventually got two books published from A-Z Reading and then I haven’t yet been able to crack the market.

One thing I did discover while I was researching the market was that this particular genre, especially in its lower age ranges are increasingly being written by editors themselves or commissioned in-house.  I tried various routes, I found multiple editors who would review my material, but there was no biting the bait. Most of the houses publishing this was big corporate and mostly didn’t accept from unagented writers. In many cases, these books were commissioned from illustrious names and there is no competing with that. 

I had almost given up, until recently. I have been working on some stories that are not picture books. They are simple stories – more board book if I still want to stick with one format – but more intended towards reading aloud and for new readers. I decided to join a critique group and restart my efforts at cracking the market. 

First thing I noticed was – one of the early reading series that is doing really well in the UK, is again commissioned mostly, and from big names. But I am not going to be easily discouraged this time. I have now started researching again – word counts, sentence counts, readability levels, publishing houses, levels, brands, writing guidelines – the works.

This week I’d like to share some research and analysis from ALL ABOARD READING – GROSSET AND DUNLAP.

In their introduction, they say that this series is specially designed for beginning readers. Books that excite imagination, expand interests, make them laugh and support their feelings. They do mention that they use well-known names to write and illustrate these books. 

The other characteristic is these books can be both fiction and non-fiction. When they are non-fiction, they are often curriculum related. 

They have 4 levels in this series

Picture Readers – super-simple texts, many nouns appearing as rebus pictures. Books come with flash cards at the back.

Station Stop 1 – This level is for children who have just begun to read. Simple words in big type. Picture clues to help identify the word and lots of repetition to help word recognition and reinforcement.

Station Stop 2 – These are for kids who are reading with help. Short sentences. Simple plots, simple dialogue.

Station Stop 3 – These are for readers who doing it on their own. Longer text, harder words and complex stories. A small challenge to conquer and something to be proud of.

So, who’s ready for some statistics?

I analysed this book – Benny’s Big Bubble – Jane O’Connor and Tomi DePaola
 Picture Reader Level.

In  10.5 spreads, where only one page of the spread has words, there are 11 pages of text
There were around 190 words (so let’s say up to 200 words).
Each sentence had at least one word in rebus picture format.
There were 24 sentences – averaging just about 2 sentences per page.

The story itself is 

  • told simply, 
  • with lots of scenes that enables illustrations in every page. 
  • It has a fun ending and 
  • it is a topic that kids would love to read about and relate to.

So can you write a story with a beginning, middle and end in less than 200 words, with at least one noun in each sentence, that changes scene every 2 sentences and is fun to read?
It is quite a challenge to write such a book and I would love to start writing this format again.

Next week we look at Ready To Read series by Simon & Schuster.