Schools and school libraries are excellent places to market a middle grade novel. First of all, you won’t find a more enthusiastic and loyal group of supporters of middle grade literature than school librarians and teachers. They often make of their jobs to seek out good literature and pass it on to their students. Then there are summer reading lists—lists of required or recommended reading often composed by teachers or districts—which can be great exposure for an author and an excellent way to boost sales. Finally, and most importantly, if a teacher or a school chooses your book as required reading, you’ve got instant sales and an audience that is more likely to check out other works by you.
But how do you make your book marketable to schools and teachers and librarians? How do you get your book on a summer reading list, or even better, a required reading list?
In addition to writing books for young people, I’ve been a middle school language arts teacher for fifteen years. When my own kids were young, I was fortunate enough to take a leave from teaching and work from home as a curriculum developer for several major educational publishers. Because of my background in curriculum writing and teaching, I’ve had the benefit of writing Teacher’s Guides for my own novels. My first book, LOSING IT, has been chosen as a ONE SCHOOL, ONE BOOK novel for several middle schools. It’s shown up on several Summer Reading Lists, and even five years after its publication, it’s still being chosen for Battle of the Books competitions.
Teachers love books. We love introducing our students to books. But with Common Core and rigorous mandated assessments, we have limited time and increasingly difficult demands to meet. Anything that makes our jobs even a little easier is appealing.
By creating a Teacher’s Guide for your novel, a list of Story Response Questions, or a thoughtful Writing Prompt that connects your book to other media, you make it that much more likely that a teacher will somehow incorporate your book into his or her curriculum. Here are a few tips on how you might go about creating one.
Where do I begin?
First, decide what grade level(s) you think are appropriate for your book. Your publisher, a local librarian, or any teacher might be able to help you with this. Consider also that most young readers like to read about protagonists that are slightly older than they are. A great resource to help you find other books being read by students at various grade levels is the Accelerated Reader Collections site: http://www.arbookfind.com/collections.aspx. Click on the What Kids Are Reading link and explore.
Next, check out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) document, which you can access here: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/.
This is a long and complicated document that haunts teachers relentlessly. You’ll probably want to focus on the Reading Literature Standards for your chosen grade level. However, here are a few common standards you could address if you had a book targeting 4th through 6th grades:
--determine how point of view is developed and how it influences the telling of the story
--compare and contrast settings, characters, or points of view within the novel and pull specific passages from the text to support your answers
--explain how a particular scene fits into and contributes to the overall story
--determine the meaning and purpose of figurative language
--determine the theme or central idea, using specific details from the story to explain how it is conveyed
What Should I Include in My Guide?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on this. But here are a few sections you might consider including—though you may wish to focus on just one or two depending on your time constraints and comfort level.
--a Prior Knowledge or Before Your Read section. This section introduces the students to aspects of your story they may be unfamiliar with (the setting, certain themes, characters’ backgrounds) but that it might be helpful for them to know before reading. This is also a good time to help them make connections with your characters or the story itself, which gets them excited and motivated to read. For example, in the teacher’s guide for my novel, LOSING IT, I did a short preview lesson on teenage obesity, since that was a major theme of the novel.
--a Vocabulary section that includes words they may encounter in your novel that may be new to them. When I develop vocabulary sections for my Teacher’s Guides, I always create context clues activities, such as using the sentence the word appears in to help the reader decipher the meaning.
--a set of Story Response Questions. This is the meat of your guide and if you choose to create only one section for your novel, this should be it. You don’t need questions for every chapter, but your questions should focus on the standards; the major themes, conflicts, and literary elements of your book; and should include all levels of questioning from basic understanding through analysis and evaluation. Varying your questions is key; for example, ask readers to draw an image based on a simile or to write a mini-dialogue showing the perspective of another character.
--a Final Writing Task. Today, we often call these Performance Tasks. These are multi-paragraph writing assignments that use your novel to launch the students beyond the book and that tie your story (or a piece of it) into something in history, science, art, music, or current events. For example, the Performance Task for LOSING IT had students write a multi-paragraph essay on bullying, since that was something my main character experienced. I provided an informational article on bullying as well as a poem written from the perspective of a girl who’d been bullied. They had to use those sources in their writing.
To see examples of all of these sections, I have numerous Teacher’s Guides on my website that you can check out and model yours after: http://curriculumspecialists.weebly.com/our-guides.html
Is It Worth Spending My Time to Create a Teacher’s Guide?
That probably depends on your book. A more commercial book with superheroes defeating aliens or a series that will sell on its own probably doesn’t require a guide. But historical fiction, literary novels, novels with cultural connections and diverse characters, and those with meaningful and universal themes might get an extra boost by a well-thought-out teacher’s guide.
Books chosen for classroom reading lists and those that find their way into a teacher’s heart have a better shot at longevity since teachers tend to use them again and again. I hope you find a teacher out there who connects with your novel in that way.
Erin Fry is also the author of Losing It, Secrets of the Book, and The Benefactor. She has a fourth novel, a middle grade entitled, Undercover Chefs, coming out with 50/50 Press in February. When she’s not writing, Erin teaches at a middle school in southern California, where she also coaches cross country. She has worked in educational publishing, and writes book reviews for Publishers Weekly. You can find out more at her website: www.erinmfry.com or follow her on twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinMFry