Anne Rooney writes short books for short people and longer books for longer people. Many are entirely true, and about exciting aspects of science or history, but some are entirely made up - a bunch of lies about imaginary characters.
Anne lives in Cambridge, England, with a collection of human, animal and vegetable associates and is a is Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newnham College, University of Cambridge.
Q&A with Anne Rooney
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
Reading provides such food for the imagination – whether it's stories or facts – reluctant readers have just as much right to be inspired as kids who can read fluently. All children deserve books tailored for their reading level so that they can feel the excitement of being grabbed by a book.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
Fear is the biggest. They need space to breathe in a book, so they can take it in small steps. Too much dense text on a page is scary. White space is good. Space around the text, space between lines and a font that is easy to follow. Sentences that say what they need to say and then stop, with no rambling. Punchy and quick! They also need to find just the right book for them – and that's true of every child. The more books there are to choose from, the easier it is to find one that sparks your interest – whoever you are.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that high-interest appeal that really engages young readers?
Discover masses of fascinating and quirky facts and cram in as many as possible! By keeping the writing punchy and quick, it's possible to bombard young brains with mind-blowing info that makes reading really worth the effort. No words are wasted, every word rewards the reader's effort. Exciting pictures and text in small blocks helps make a page look less scary. A variety of types of writing helps: captions, speech bubbles, labels – it's all reading, but each bit is tiny and easy to tackle.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
The world of difference! Books like these don't talk down to children, whatever their reading level. Children don't want to read books they think are for babies. Children who are a bit behind with reading are interested in the same things as other children their age, so they want to read about those things.
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
I always use the simplest possible word, but sometimes a harder word is needed. That's fine as long as it's explained. I'm not very strict about vocabulary. Reluctant readers can learn new words – that's what reading is all about. It's just a matter of taking it slowly. I'm more careful about keeping sentences short and simple than keeping words very simple. If you know where you are in a sentence, you'll be fine. It's getting lost that causes problems.
What is your favourite children's book?
That question is too hard! One of my favourites is a picture book by Mini Gray called Egg Drop. It's quite clever, and I don't really think it's for very small children at all. I love Chris Priestley's ghost stories, like his Tales of Terror books and The Dead Men Stood Together. But I change my mind all the time, as I'm reading new books all the time.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Keep reading! And write as much as you can. Writing is like a muscle that you need to exercise to keep it working and growing stronger. It's quite easy – a writer is someone who writes. If you don't write, you're not a writer! Books don't write themselves... Reading is important because it gives you ideas and it shows you how other writers have done it. You don't need to copy, but it's good to see what works and what doesn't work so well. Write the kind of books that you would like to read!
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