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Book Review – ‘The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t ‘ by John D. Fixx and James F. Fixx, illustrated by Abby Carter. Published 2016 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.
A title caught my eye while browsing in Embiggen Books on Little Lonsdale St (that’s Melbourne Australia for you out-of-towners). At the time I had a reluctant early reader at home. School journals with themes of ‘Playing Soccer’ or ‘Granny’s Lost Underpants’ were a struggle to read start to finish. “This is boring!” was the general response during that precious half hour of mother and son reader time. This book appeared to unlock the mystery of getting junior reader age seven to turn the page and enjoy the ride. Inside this simply covered book is far from ‘black and white’ subject matter all about curious tales of the things in life that need a little bit of explaining. Written in 26 parts for each letter of the alphabet, the reader gets to do the fun stuff of guessing the answer to what ‘thing’ the narrator is talking about. Each line of text hooks the reluctant reader into continuing on to the next line.
Things you can’t always touch, see, or hear – can you guess what they ARE?
This starts with the letter ‘A’, It doesn’t weigh anything. You can’t see it, but sometimes it has a smell. Animals walking on the ground, birds flying high, and some musical instruments use it. Everything living thing on Earth needs it. It is all around you – except under water. You prefer it fresh and you breathe it in. What is it?
It begins with ‘A’ for … I don’t want to spoil it! It’s fun for parent and child to read together or take turns reading and guessing what the object or action might be. The book is peppered with quirky line drawings by Abby Carter which hint at the answers.
A clever book for the thinking child written in Grade 1-2 vocabulary.
The pain staking selection of every single word, syllable and its age appropriation is a time consuming part of writing children's book. Its not to be rushed however. Every word matters. Each sound, syllable, sentence as important as the next. This process is especially challenging with picture books where word limits are only 600 words for the entire book. That's a mere 20 word per page average for a 32 page spread (excluding the cover pages). Each word so carefully selected.
Wouldn't it be great if someone produced an app that suggests words suitable for different reading levels or lists of synonyms? I haven't found an app yet but I did discover this excellent book called simply Children's Writer's Word Book, 2nd edition written by Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner. While writing or editing your picture book or early reader draft, you can search for words that relate to your target audience's reading level. The book has synonyms for words at each level and are presented by a child's grade ie Kinder, Grade 1, 2 etc. It includes guidelines on sentence length, structure and word usage for each level as well as how to (or not to!) tackle sensitive topics of diversity, racism, religion and appropriate work usage. There is a section on the US National Reading Standards which is still useful here in Australia.
I bought my copy off Amazon in January 2017 for less than $30 (incl shipping) and its dog eared already. As much as an app would be more mobile, I discover more flicking through the pages and I can sticky note the pages I refer to most.
Highly recommended resource for new picture book writers.