Q&A with Jenni Spangler
What inspired you to write for reluctant readers?
Watching my daughter learn to read, and seeing the world of possibilities that opened up for her. Being a confident reader makes life easier in all sorts of ways. I wanted to play a small part in making sure reluctant readers don't get left behind.
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
The struggle starts before the book is opened – even choosing a book is difficult. Easier books are often babyish and dull, books for older people are frustrating and hard to follow. It's hard to sit back and enjoy a story, or learn new information if you have to work to decode each word. Equally, you don't want to be reading about fluffy bunny's bedtime when your mates are reading about the zombie apocalypse.
What is your favourite type of character to create?
People with big ideas and big problems. Villains who think they're the good guy. Unreliable narrators.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High-Interest appeal that really engages young readers?
I think it's really important not to talk down to young readers. They don't want or need to be sheltered from big issues. Shorter sentences and simple structure means the words don't get in the way of the story.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
The books don't look childish, and don't stand out from what others are reading – they aren't embarrassing and don't advertise who is struggling with reading. They're also grown up and exciting in content, which makes reading practice a bit less of a chore.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect in your upcoming TWO SIDES title?
Stop is about the unfairness of being judged on the colour of your skin by someone in power.
What are the major themes of your work?
Finding the strength to be yourself and standing up for what you believe in.
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
I don't stop myself from using longer or more unusual words – sometimes only a fancy word will do! I just try not to cram too many in at once. A new word should be presented with enough clues to work out the meaning. No one wants to stop every two lines to find out what a word means.
What is your favourite children's book?
Roald Dahl's Matilda, Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Place and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Be brave. It takes courage to create something new. Sometimes we worry so much about being perfect, it stops us from trying. You can't get better without writing lots, and a story that didn't quite turn out right is always better than a blank page.