I’ve been asked to be on a panel at the AFCC to chat about “Books Teachers Wish Authors Would Write” from a teacher / librarian perspective. So I put the question out on one of my teacher-librarian networks (an international one) and these were the responses I received:
  • World war 2 in Asia- novel for 8-10 year olds (NF / NNF)
  • big shortage of narrative nonfiction that is NOT about the holocaust, slavery, the American great depression or US civil rights. Also shortage of intra-Asia migration stories not Asia to Europe / north America (NF / NNF)
  • Third culture kids as main characters (CD)
  • More stories about our present/ early future stories that include digital tools and behaviour (D)
  • I’m looking for things like “lego ideas / lego play” but in small manageable books that kids can take out without breaking their backs / the book
  • nonfiction – updated human rights / millennial goals / NGOs / Poverty etc. for G4 level (9 year old) mixed format, good graphic design, mix of narrative and fact (NF)
  • Middle school nonfiction – life in different economic / political systems – communist, socialist, social democracy etc. with a world wide unbiased view of positives and negatives with personal stories and data (NNF)
  • Books on gaming or from the creators of games like Minecraft, Roblox, etc. (D)
  • Conflicts over resources around the world – case studies that are elementary friendly (NF)
  • The next “The Outsiders.” Something to appeal to the teens who fall in love with it in class, and are looking for something like it.
  • Decent Biographies that are at elementary aged level & middle school level without being dumbed down – with more Asian protagonists! (CD / NF)
  • Books purposely written for upper ES that has appropriate content and reading “level” (ELL)
  • More ES novels featuring multicultural characters that are not related to war or historical events (CD)
  • Books about world topics that are appropriate for kinder/g2 (NF)
  • Modern urban indigenous stories – universal experiences in all first nations people. (CD)
  • Easy read stories that are well written & not dumbed down for teens. – yes! especially for our ELL students! And that don’t portray just the…..dark side of life? I feel like when I was purchasing for xxx, the high interest/low level books all were about gang members/drug dealers in the US. (ELL)
  • Science fiction for Elementary kids. (SF)
  • Middle Grade fiction with a Korean protagonist (My Name Was Keoko style) (CD)
  • Books with culturally diverse characters. I still remember teaching a boy could Yousef who threw the book down in disgust and said ‘Why can’t they give them normal names?’……the character was called Joseph. Which really isn’t that out there, unless you’re an Arab boy. Then it’s just weird. (CD)
  • LGBT books for tweens (G)
  • Definitely more emigration/immigration stories that are intra-Asia. There are so many diaspora stories to be told that have nothing to do with Europe or North America. (NF / NNF)
  • Does anyone want war stories set in Asia – like Japanese invasion/ Korean War / American or Vietnam war with perspective from the non-western side – or is that too sensitive? (NF / NNF)
  • My teachers want more World War 1 fiction for grades 6-8 and social justice books for middle schoolers.(NF / NFF)
  • My middle school girls want more heroes that are NOT princesses. (G)
  • My boys want fiction that has video game elements like Minecraft stories.(D)
  • All of my high schoolers want “classics” with better covers.
  • what about this: teachers, school, parents do not compare my score with others, do not give me homework, I want to play. (C)

I’ve tried to code the answers as follows:

  • NF / NNF: narrative nonfiction – 10x
  • CD: cultural diversity – 6x
  • D: digital / gaming element – 3x
  • G: Gender related – 2x
  • ELL: hi lo / books for English Language Learners – 2x
  • SF: Science fiction – 1x
  • C: cultural issue – 1x

Looking at these I think that the theme is a general frustration with a lack of books with an Asian context.  Particularly historical fiction / narrative nonfiction and culturally diverse characters. We all know that the USA dominates publishing, followed by the UK. Australia has some good stuff out but limits itself by its steep pricing, expensive shipping costs and insular publishing industry. China is a late entrant into children’s books and is making great inroads – but mainly in translation into Chinese. What is particularly commendable is that they are not just translating the (North) American staples but many of the brilliant and wonderful European offerings.

Then I did a similar exercise with the BWB (Blokes with Books) yesterday. I asked them to go in groups of 2-4 students and tell me what kind of book they were missing in their lives. Books they wish authors would write.   They were amazing – a couple of groups even started writing the books they wish were written (a nice outcome given the fact that teachers are now complaining that we’ve got them reading but their writing is still poor).

Their suggestions could also be broadly grouped:

  • Two groups wanted Harry Potter extensions or back stories – one wanted the parallel books that focused on the other houses, not just Gryffindor Tower. Another group was fascinated by the horcruxes and wanted a book on that.
  • One group wanted an elaborate Pokemon book that inverted some of the characters with unexpected twists.
  • One group combined the ideas of the three group members into a fantasy / reality mixture involving video games and rugby with a wimpy gaming protagonist being forced to play rugby by an over-zealous parent and learning tricks and manouvers in video games that led him to dominate on the real life rugby pitch.
  • One group wanted (and started outlining the chapters) of a Roblox user manual.
  • Quite a few of them agreed they’d like fiction books with colour pictures inside

I’d like to add a note to the above list – the students are not yet familiar with fan fiction, and I’m not sure they’ve looked into the Harry Potter wikis. In a sense that makes me happy that they’re still at that wonderful age where this type of magical immersive reading stuff is to be found in books rather than online. They are aware that there are user forums on these games and chat rooms etc. BUT THEY WANT TO READ ABOUT IT IN A BOOK. This is a GOOD thing. Whenever they ask for books about Minecraft and Roblox and video games and I tell them we have some of the storybook series, the Minecraft “how to” and “surely you can just ask online” they say “but we want a book”.  There are few Roblox books and they all seem to be eBook editions (publishing haste?). The Minecraft adventure books are not what they’re looking for – remember the colour pictures comment? They want more graphics! I think also as adults we see their online/offline selves as separate, whereas they don’t, and they want to see that new normal reflected in what they read. They’re all avid fantasy readers, and that I think is partially meeting their need for that online/offline fantasy/reality integration.

A caveat to all the comments (and a personal gripe) – above all children want a well written story. They don’t want to be preached to. They’re sophisticated and well- and globally read. And they can spot the fakes. As a teacher-librarian I get immensely frustrated by wanna-be and self-published authors who keep trying to foist their wares on me when it’s immediately apparent that they’re poorly written, even more badly illustrated, not edited and horribly and cheaply published. Writers need to read. They need to read a lot, they need to read widely. They need to research not just their topic but also who else has written about it, tangentially to it, similarly to it. If you want to self-publish, unless you’re a designer, pay someone to do your design for you. Unless you’re an author-illustrator find the best illustrator you can afford. And everyone, join a writing / critique group (like SCWBI) – honestly, other authors are not out to steal your ideas – they’re too busy working on their own passions. And when you think you’re done, get a good and critical editor. All authors need good editors, even great authors. Do yourself a favour and look at the interactive TS Eliot “The Wasteland” and see all the handwritten edits by Ezra Pound.

To come back to the forum and the original question that started all this:

“Creators can step into the shoes of a teacher for one hour and learn what makes a book a treasured find. From beautiful illustrations to didactic language, speakers discuss their views on relevant and useful books children need and love.”

What a huge question. Relevant is not always pedagogically useful. Useful for whom? Relevant to what?  I’d like to end with the most relevant and useful and just plain wonderful book I’ve encountered this year – Stormy seas: stories of young boat refugees. 

31213610 Well done Annick Press (that does a lot of amazing things – particularly in nonfiction) It has become the new gold standard to which I will hold all nonfiction. The elements that make it so special:

  • Great graphics – combination of good design elements with original primary source photos
  • Easy to navigate blocks of text
  • Personal stories
  • Historical facts
  • Timelines
  • Maps

It is not out yet (April 2017) and I got a preview copy through Netgalley (sign up if you’re a teacher / librarian), I showed it to a couple of classes from G3-G6 and all were clamouring for a copy afterwards – something unusual for nonfiction. And when I couldn’t give them I copy I managed to “sell” some of my otherwise untouched narrative nonfiction / historic fiction books on WW2 etc.

Another surprising (but not really because it’s so absolutely wonderful) hit has been Echo. It’s a huge book but every child and adult whose hand I’ve put 22749539it into  has just loved it – depite the fact that it takes a while to get through. Why – I suspect that the range and diversity of the characters and settings is satisfying to my international audience. But it is also great storytelling. And then they go on to read all the other Pam Muñoz Ryan books, which is also an excellent outcome.

 

What would you like to see more of that is “relevant and useful”?

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2 thoughts on “Books I wish would be published

  1. I love this list, & I agree with so much of it, especially LGBT books for tweens, gaming books, nonprincess heroes, & updated nonfiction. I am always on the lookout for books for kids that only want to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid

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  2. We like your wishlist–and many of the themes on your list are books we are trying to commission! Especially the conflict zone stories–where we are always looking for new books.
    Meanwhile, at your talk, you mentioned that you wanted funny books–and perhaps books featuring farts–so we would point you gently in the direction of ‘Phiss Phuss Boom’ by Jerry Pinto, Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu.

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