Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Author Post: Linda Thieman author of Katie and Kimble series

The Budding Children’s Book Author: Choosing Your Level

by Linda Thieman

Back when I was preparing to write Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, I read everything I could get my hands on about how to write for children. The best advice I found was to go to a bookstore and look at the different books available to help you choose your level.

Choosing one’s level is the first essential step for any budding children’s book author. The level informs everything one does, from book length, chapter length, and number of chapters, to number and types of pictures, vocabulary choices and grammatical structure.

At the time, the level system was sketchy at best, but there was a definite difference between the level I chose for the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story series (RL3, or Reading Level 3, i.e., roughly third grade) and the next level up. For one thing, a word count showed me that the appropriate length of a chapter book at this level was about 15,000 words contained within 11 or 12 chapters. I also learned that line drawings were still popular at this level, so that would mean even though the Katie & Kimble books are not picture books, they would still need to be illustrated.

At that point, I purchased a couple of books at RL3, one being a childhood favorite called The Boxcar Children, and used that as my guide. I also got my hands on a book called Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner, so that I’d know which vocabulary words were easily third grade level (i.e., graveyard) and which words, if of a higher level, I’d have to make understood through context (i.e., cemetery).

Doing the above is still a great first step, but now several superior leveling systems have sprung up that can help you to not only define your target audience, but to achieve a more precise consistency of level during the writing process.

This last year, I decided to do a little experiment. I looked up my original template book, The Boxcar Children, over at lexile.com, where they have a framework for leveling children’s books created by MetaMetrics. The Lexile measure listed for the version of the book I’d used was 300L. Then, I paid a nominal fee to the company to have the first two Katie & Kimble books leveled. I thought this was appropriate since I was in the process of creating free, downloadable classroom materials based on national standards for third grade to go with the first two books. When the results came in, I was tickled to see that my books were so close to their target level using my hit-and-miss system. Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story leveled at 280L and Katie & Kimble: The Magic Wish leveled at 290L.

But now that I’m in the process of writing the third book in the series, Katie & Kimble: The Golden Door, I can completely take the guesswork out of trying to achieve the desired level. Lexile.com now offers a free leveling system for books that are in progress, so before you set that book in stone, you can determine the precise level and make adjustments, if need be.

Leveling comes in handy not just as a writing tool but it also helps one to market children’s books to the correct target audience. Since a typical third grade classroom is filled with readers of all different levels, knowing the level of a book in advance can help teachers and parents choose books that will work with each child’s own reading ability.

Children’s book author Linda Thieman writes the Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story series and runs the interactive website, the Katie & Kimble Blog. She is a former English language teacher, a freelance writer, and she lives in Sioux City, Iowa.

1 comment:

Linda Thieman said...

Thanks for posting this, Book Maniac. There's been a lot of reaction from your review of Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story, posted on January 5, 2009.

Your readers can now download the first 6 chapters of Katie & Kimble: A Ghost Story for free over at the Katie & Kimble blog (right sidebar).

http://tinyurl.com/kimble