Jonny Zucker was born in 1966 and was among the first to ever write for Badger Learning. He sadly passed away in 2016. Jonny grew up in London and wrote his first full length book – The Revenge of Caprir – when he was ten. When he was at primary school he wanted to be a professional footballer (he played for his school team and a local Sunday league team as a right winger), a pop star (his favourite band was The Jam lead by Paul Weller) or a children's author (he devoured football novels and anything by Roald Dahl).At secondary school he played a lot of football, was in a couple of bands and enjoyed creative writing miles more than any other subject. As part of a school project he did youth work with disadvantaged children, which he enjoyed. This made him think that one day he might want to be a teacher.
After school he studied politics, education & psychology at Manchester University followed by a postgraduate diploma in broadcasting at Lancashire Polytechnic (now the University of Central Lancashire). He did a few part-time jobs in radio broadcasting but decided this wasn't the right career for him.
He then went to Roehampton University where he trained to be a primary school teacher. He spent eight years teaching (he taught from Year 2 - Year 6) and had the opportunity to teach some amazing pupils with all sorts of personalities and attitudes. It was when reading stories to his class that he remembered how much he'd loved writing at school, so he began writing stories for his class.
Soon after, Jonny started writing a funny book about teaching with David Parker, a friend from teacher-training college. The book was called A Class Act and they set up a small publishing company to bring it out. Miraculously, it was chosen as a 'Book of the Week' for the TES (Times Educational Supplement).
A short time later Jonny bumped into old friend, Ivor Baddiel, who remarkably, was teaching and writing as well. Ivor knew an editor at Scholastic and discovered she was looking for books for Scholastic's The Knowledge series. Together they pitched Mystical Magic to her and she agreed to publish it. That was Jonny's first 'proper' children's book and since then he has written over 70. These range from picture books to novels for teenage readers. Jonny's best known series are Monster Swap with Horrid Henry illustrator, Tony Ross (Hodder), Danny Sharp (Scholastic) Max Flash (Stripes Publishing) Striker Boy (Frances Lincoln) and Venus Spring - Stunt Girl (Piccadilly Press). He also wrote the popular James King of England (Meadowside Children's Books) which was illustrated by Dennis the Menace artist - Barrie Appleby.
Along the way Jonny's books have been longlisted and shortlisted for many book awards. The first Monster Swap book – Voxy and Robbie - was selected for the Richard and Judy Children's Reading Club and the second Max Flash – Supersonic - won the Nottingham Mega Read Award. His work has been translated into 15 languages.
Jonny wrote for Badger Publishing for 10 years, acting as Series Editor and writer for most of the Full Flight series as well as its spin-offs, like First Flight, Dark Flight, Runway and Ignite. He also wrote the 8-book, accessible hero series, Rex Jones. As an author who went on lots of school visits each year to inspire children to write, Badger Publishing was the perfect match for him. Badger's 'reluctant reader' books look fantastic and get the balance between reading age and interest age just right. Through speaking to hundreds of teachers, he saw first-hand that these books make a very real difference to children's confidence and ability as readers.
Q&A with Jonny Zucker
What challenges do struggling readers face when they open a book?
For a start they might not be able to decode the words and thus they won't be able to make sense of the text. Many books are too long and too wordy for reluctant readers and they can be put off on page one. Writers and publishers need to be sensitive to these issues as so many children and adults find reading hard.
What features and methods do you use to ensure that your books have that High Interest appeal that really engages young readers?
I think short chunks of text are very important, as are illustrations and text boxes. Any way to break up text is good. Subject matter is of course vital and I find it helps to talk to pupils to see what really interests them. Sometimes their answers surprise you, which is a good thing. Authors need to be kept on their toes!
What controls do you place on the vocabulary you use and how important is this?
When writing for this readership I'm always very careful about word levels. I have a sort of in-built difficult-word-detector which will sound an alarm if I'm getting too verbose or using complicated language. You get into a rhythm when writing these books and it's important to stick with that. And you must never use language as an excuse for not telling a good story. Early cave people had very little language but they still told each other cracking stories.
What difference do books like these make to children who are in need of literacy support?
In my opinion, these books can be the difference between a reluctant reader mastering the skill of reading and one who is put off forever. These readers must be made to feel comfortable and OK about their reading level. Not being 'as good' as some other kids is not important as everyone experiences their own reading journey. If pupils find books that they like and are willing to read then they have a great chance of making progress.
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