The Art of Writing Language Readers

I’m going to dedicate this blog post to all teachers and learners of English around the world! I have written over 20 fiction readers since the year 2000. These have been published by Cambridge University Press and Cengage Learning. Twenty readers in 15 years may sound like a lot, but some of them are very short – only 5,000 words long. My women’s fiction is 90,000 words long!
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I love writing language readers. Telling an exciting story when you can only choose from a list of 200 words (for a starter level reader) is a real challenge. How do I do it? Well, I have to let the words on the list suggest the story. If I didn’t do that, if I decided I had to write a story about a dangerous crocodile when I wasn’t allowed to use the word crocodile – or bite, teeth, dangerous or any other words related to crocodiles – I think I’d go mad.
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But let me give you an example of how I work on a language reader, especially a lower level one aimed at beginners. Take for example, my story Gone! which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. On the list of words I was able to use were the words CAMERA, BIRTHDAY, FRIEND and COMPUTER. This gave me the idea of a boy, Tom. It’s his birthday, but his family and friends are all too busy to help him celebrate, so he’s feeling SAD (also on the list). He finds a camera, and discovers that it has magic powers. Tom decides to use the camera to help him to force his friends and family to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t end well…
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With a higher level book, it’s easier of course. My Intermediate Level story Kilimanjaro is currently short-listed to receive a Language Learner Literature Award – yippee!The judges said of it: “Good storyline and characterization. People are set against each other, the elements, and their own personal challenges as they struggle to reach the top. The simple, descriptive language and illustrations supporting the text will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.”

I hope the readers who are voting at the moment agree! I certainly enjoyed writing it very much, and with the longer list of words and a greater freedom with grammar, I was really able to express what I wanted to in the story.

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Kilimanjaro is published by Cengage Learning in their series called Page Turners, and that’s what I tried to do with the book – to make it really exciting so you wanted to know what happened next. Will the group all make it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain?So, over to you! If you’re learning to speak English, do you read readers like mine? And if you do, have you found they help your learning? And if you’re a teacher, do you use readers as part of your lessons? I hope you do, because that way I’ll get to write more of them!

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