Writing for Readers


I have been planning this post for some time, but several things (scanner down, computer down) conspired to keep it from going up until now. And I’m glad. Earlier today, I learned that Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator had been named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book by the American Library Association. The award recognizes authors and illustrators of beginning readers “for their literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.” Here’s the committee’s description of Wolfsnail: “An exciting nonfiction look at the carnivorous wolfsnail trapping and devouring its victim, this science book uses bold block type against a white background to enhance the ease of reading. The magnified, detailed photographs and playful, informative text will amaze and attract readers.”


The above picture shows a young reader, named Jackson S., who read Wolfsnail in the first months after it was published. He sent me my first (and only) fan letter. I will quote from it here, keeping his invented spellings:  “I like your book because the plot helps me learn about woulfsnails in a fun way! Are you going to write any more books? Maybe you could write about spiders or lizards. I would prefer lizards.” He also told me about the wolfsnail he and his older brother found in their yard. “I let go my wolfsnail because I was afraid it was goining to die. It ate about one snail evre two days. I got its food off our brick wall! It staid in its shell about an hour and then it would come out and search for food. We named it wolfy!”


I telephoned my editor, Andy Boyles, when I heard the award news and he suggested one of the reasons I won was the fact that I take children seriously. I do. The chair of the Geisel committee, Joan Atkinson, told me the panel liked the fact that the book had a story arc, that it included some suspense. Though some of the language seemed at first glance a little more advanced than in your typical beginning reader (“toothy tongue”), it was appropriate to the story and well supported by the photographs. The above photograph shows me signing my book for a beginning reader who at age four negotiated “toothy tongue” and the rest of the text just fine. (This photo was taken at the 2008 Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg. See previous post.) I am so glad these kids are diving into books like Wolfsnail and discovering the wonderful world of reading and the joys of nature.

Update I visited St. Therese Catholic School in the fall and the librarian wrote a tribute post today. I feel so honored.

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