Educating young readers

Both non-fiction and storybooks for children offer enormous scope to teach young readers about the world around them. The following is just a taste of what can be covered:

♦ conservation and ecological issues

♦ engineering

♦ information technology

♦ manufacturing

Bearing in mind the expertise required, the educational book market can be quite difficult to break into.

Harcourt Educational Publishers, the UK's leading publisher of educational materials, admits that very few of the hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts they receive each year are accepted. Almost all of the material they publish is specially commissioned from experienced educational authors.

However, if you really think you have something worth looking at, Harcourt has this advice for first-time authors:

♦ familiarise yourself with the publisher's catalogue - it's no good sending your best poetry collection to a publisher that specialises in non-fiction

♦ it may be worth talking to the publisher in advance, to find out their needs and current projects and see if what you propose fits in with their plans

♦ make sure you pitch your writing at the right level for the intended reader - remember that most educational publishers produce material for children to read themselves, not for adults to read to them

♦ think carefully about the age and interest levels of your reader, and choose the content of your writing accordingly

♦ demonstrate any experience you have of working with children, particularly if you have used the materials you want to publish

♦ this may sound obvious, but to get noticed, you need an original idea! (The 'orphan becomes heroic wizard' plot line has been taken!)

' The biggest problem with most of the proposals we receive is that the writer has not thought properly about the reader,' says one of Harcourt's Primary Literacy Publishers. 'Adults tend to make assumptions about what children like to read about, and they usually plump for the ''cutesy'' topics for very young children- bunnies, bears, families of elves at the bottom of the garden. Ifthe story is over 1,000 wordslong, the average reader will be about 7 or 8 years old - and unlikely to be interested in the adventures of Barney the Bunny.

Our other problem is that we publish mostly large, and carefully structured reading schemes. Individual story submissions, or ideas for a small series of books, very rarely fit into our portfolio. But we are open to good ideas and just occasionally a story comes in that demonstrates real talent-it's really pleasing when that happens.'

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