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Children’s Writers and the Common Core and What School Librarians and Book Store Owners Look For

Panel of school librarians and independent book seller
Recently I attended a program on the Common Core Standards (CCS) and how it relates to children’s writers. Not having a teaching background can make understanding the CCS a little more difficult. But with 45 states, the District of Columbia and four territories using the CCS, it’s something that children’s authors should be aware of. Here are a few things that I learned.

The purpose of the common core standards is to provide consistent and clear understanding of what students must learn. CCS are a ‘guide,’ and are not specific.

There are different requirements for different grade levels, but the anchor standards are reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. Reading is at the core of the CCS.

So how does this apply to us as writers of children’s literature? Ask yourself, where does your book fit into instruction? How does your book fit into the Common Core Standards taught in the schools? In other words, how can your book be used to reinforce what is being taught in schools.

What ways can you find in your book to connect to the Common Core Standards?
What is the grade level or reading level of your book? Books are made more marketable by using guided reading levels. For example, I can find the Flesch Kincaid reading level of my picture books by going to ‘Review’ in Word and clicking on ‘Spelling & Grammar.’ After it finishes the spell check, it will tell me the word count and readability, including passive sentences, Flesch reading ease, and Flesch-Kincaid grade level. If my picture book is a 2.9 reading level it might be included on the accelerated reading list for grade 2, which boosts sales to school libraries.

Teachers are concerned about having enough non-fiction for students. But your book doesn’t have to be non-fiction to have a connection to a historical event if there are facts within your story. Is there a math connection using counting, money, time? Does your story contain facts about plants, animals, planets? Is yours a book of poetry? The use of ‘language’ and ‘poetic form’ fits into the CCS.

Include how your book aligns to the CCS on your website. Post some book-related activities.

As part of the program, a panel of school librarians and an independent book store owner talked about how they choose the books that they buy. Big on the list was recommendations from sales reps, teachers and readers. Some other influences were—
books with good sales history
award-winning books
books with ‘kid’ appeal or ‘boy appeal’
books with kids as main characters
books requested by students

One librarian from an elementary school said she would like more books about animals and more multi-cultural books.

For non-fiction, in general, panelists wanted non-fiction that is not ‘text-heavy,’ good narrative, readability, and curriculum tie-ins. For biography, they look for non-fiction that reads like fiction. They also look for books about their state or about people from their state.

All agreed that their book purchasing budgets were down this year. All read reviews such as School Library Journal and Booklist, and they look for books with starred reviews. For some, they can only purchase books that have had three favorable reviews in the major publications, such as those above.

All looked for that curriculum tie-in. But—“Do not ‘write to’ the curriculum or the common core standards!” we were told. “Because whatever you write, is relative to someone.”  Read More 
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