Author Spotlight

Reader Guides — Pick Your Pleasure

A few months ago a debut author contacted me requesting that I create a companion Reader Guide for his middle-grade novel, per his editor’s request. The author had nary a clue what was being asked of him or how a guide would benefit the sale of the new novel. “Why bother?” he asked. “What difference can a guide make, anyway?” I explained that, once he knew the type of guide he or his editor/agent wanted created, it can serve as a solid investment in the longevity of the book’s shelf life.

While some publishers employ their art department to create visually appealing works of art, most authors and illustrators are encouraged to seek out an experienced free-lancer, such as myself, for support.  Reader’s Guides vary in size, shape, functionality, purpose, and in production price range.  There are three guide basic formats to choose from — the Discussion, Activity, or Academic Guide.

Whether crafted to compliment the most simplistic of picture books or deeply complex YA, quality Discussion Guides contain interesting, probing, and enlightening questions. Verbal discussion validates a reader’s personal perspective of various literary elements through multi-faceted questions, thus leading to a personal connection between the illustrations, text, and reader. Guides created with an emphasis such as this keep kids, teachers, and librarians talk-talk-talking about a book–an author’s dream come true.

For example, the companion Reader’s Discussion Guide for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006) is a beautifully designed four-page downloadable .pdf comprised of a letter written by the author explaining the inspiration for the series, a long list of praise for these incredible books, and an insightful collection of discussion questions corresponding to Volume I and II. Though created with a strong eye toward market appeal, the discussion questions are thought-provoking and reader-centric.  Case in point, with regard to Volume II, Kingdom of the Waves, discussion question number 5 reads, A rumination in Josiah Gitney’s diary (p. 545) questions “whether Man is a Reasonable Creature hamper’d by Passions, or a Passionate Creature hamper’d by Reason.” Which side are you on?  Not only do the semantics of this question reflect the voice and tone of the book, a page reference has been included and the reader has been invited to join in act of reasoning through personal reflection. Well done.

Activity Guides provide opportunities for sensory experiences, manipulative learning, interactive play and a bit memory-making fun! Whether as a stand-alone one-lesson activity or as components to larger, more encompassing Book Guides activities such as Reader’s Theatre productions, card games, puzzles, word searches, folder games, manipulative games, science projects, recipes, arts and crafts, Activity Guides can, possibly, be the glue stick that keeps a book in the hands of a gatekeeper and the heart of a child for a long, long time.

For instance, the eight-page Activity Guide created for the charming Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match  by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Children’s Book Press, 2011)  opens with a plethora of lesson suggestions, each highlighting an aspect of plot, theme, characterization, or a specific multi-cultural aspect of the story. The following pages are filled with lively, vividly colored print outs of activities such as personal puzzle-making, Spanish to English vocabulary matching, recipe card creating, and paper doll dressing. Activities such as these help make the perils of Marisol MacDonald unforgettable!

Lastly, Academic Guides are designed to lead the reader to a deep understanding of the book as demonstrated through project-based learning, tests, and/or performance evaluation rubrics of some kind. Guides such as these tend to be crafted with a more scholarly approach, written to support the educator’s measurement of a reader’s comprehension, cross-curricular understanding, and/or thinking skills. The page count for Academic Guides can run from 15 pages to well over 200. Quite often, the lessons in these guides are annotated with either State Academic Standards or Core National Standards, thus proving that the lessons presented are documented as being academically sound components of coursework.  Academic Guides can be designed with as in-depth study focus as the author/illustrator pleases.

Consider the companion guide created for Janet Fox’s Forgiven (Penguin, 2010), as it possesses many of the factors of an Academic Guide. In it, the book has been divided into six sections, each listed on a printable book mark which serves to facilitate reading group assignments. Discussion topics originate from quotes, taken directly from the book, and are pondered upon in a thoughtful literary and personal manner. At the book’s mid-point, the reader is guided through a deep analysis of the protagonist’s developing character arch through the contemplation of the character’s affirmation statements. In conclusion, the reader demonstrates understanding of the novel through the creation of a form poem based on Forgiven’s fascinating, multi-layered plot.

Finally, regarding my befuddled debut author, I was able to shed some light on the basic formats of a companion Reader’s Guide. He has reviewed the variety of guides posted on my website as well as those linked to The ToolBox  found on www.readerkidz.com and now knows the difference between a Discussion, Activity, and Academic Guide. Most importantly, he understands that a companion reader’s guide of some kind benefits the potential shelf life of his book by through active literary connectivity with young readers and those adults who care for them.

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Our guest blogger today is Debbie Gonzales. Debbie is the author of eight “transitional” readers for Giltedge. A Montessori teacher, former school administrator, and curriculum consultant specializing in academic standards annotation, Debbie now devotes her time to teaching at St. Edwards University and with BadgerDog Publishing and various freelance projects, regularly contributing to ReaderKidZ.com, as well as serving the Austin SCBWI community as RA. She can be found at www.debbiegonzales.com.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

One comment

  1. Bethany Hegedus

    What a wonderful tutorial on what Discussion Guides can do. Debbie Gonzales is a tried and true professional and her guides are entertaining and provide such wonderful supplemental materials. I am thrilled with the guide she did for my novel Truth with a Capital T.

    Debbie also wrote another wonderful article on Discussion Guides for Hunger Mountain. See here: http://www.hungermtn.org/the-anatomy-of-a-teacher-guide/

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