Tuesday 7 May 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "The Importance of Early Readers - bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books"

Paula Harrison, Author of "The Rescue Princesses" for Nosy Crow
We're kicking off this week's #ReaditMD13 theme - a look at Early Readers / Early Chapter books with a guest blog post from none other than Paula Harrison, author of a particular ReadItDaddy EY favourite series - The Rescue Princesses! Nosy Crow have just published Paula's 7th Rescue Princesses book, "The Lost Gold" and Paula is busily working on another series for NC - Faerie Tribes.

Over to you, Paula!

I came to writing young series the long way round. I was a teacher. I taught children aged 9 to 11. I was inspired by their enjoyment of stories to have a go at writing for older children myself. Then I had my own children and at around ages 5 or 6 years my kids began to be fascinated with longer books – chapter books. I wondered how long it would be before they were reading these books to themselves. I wasn’t willing to give up my role of bedtime storyteller altogether, but at the same time I was excited by the thought of them journeying into the story world by themselves. I was sure they would love the sense of independence gained from reading by themselves.

So I tried writing a young chapter book myself and eventually I settled on a story about Rescue Princesses. These princesses were partly inspired by the way my kids and their friends played. Their princess role play games were very active and generally involved running round the garden shrieking at high volume before pretend-fighting with sticks. Who wants to live trapped in a high tower like Rapunzel? Or fall asleep for a hundred years like Sleeping Beauty? Not them!

So my ideas became more concrete. In the first book, The Secret Promise (which was Charlotte and Mummy's Book of the Week a while back), the girls find a wounded deer in the forest and take it back to the castle to nurse it back to health. After solving the mystery of how it got hurt, they promise each other that they will always help an animal in trouble no matter how dangerous it is. They become an animal rescue team.

The Rescue Princesses - The Secret Promise. A ReadItDaddy Book of the Week!

Planning out new stories in The Rescue Princesses series is one of my favourite things. I start by developing the personality of the leading princess and go from there. Her temperament dictates the direction of the story and the challenges she needs to overcome. The girls are very different and the way they relate to each other makes the story more fun to write. Clarabel and Lulu, for example, are almost opposites: one is timid and the other headstrong. But they can overcome their instincts in the story. The moment in The Wishing Pearl where a timid Clarabel stands her ground against the impulsive and feisty Lulu, is as important to the book as the animal rescue itself.

Clarabel from "The Wishing Pearl"


The series travels the world, which is also great fun to plan. By the end of the 9th book, the princesses will have had adventures on five continents! I research the animals I’m writing about and their habitats, even though I’m not putting huge amounts of scientific detail in the story.

It’s important to me that children who love a good adventure story should be able to read the books and get absorbed in them. When that happens they don’t even realise that they’re actually spending time working on their reading – that’s my aim! Early chapter books are great for an adult and child to share, but they’re also where most children make those first tentative steps into reading alone and when they do a whole new world opens up to them. It’s a HUGE moment! Better rates of literacy can help combat all kinds of social ills so we must support our children with their reading. To me, that makes early chapter books more important in some ways than any other category of books. We need to value the category more (I’m trying not to get on my soap box here!). It should become an even richer area full of diverse story ideas and writing talent. We should reward chapter books which are almost always ignored in literary prizes. (I’m not saying give me a prize but do give rewards in this category!) I feel lucky! I know of children who have taken their first steps as an independent reader with one of the Rescue Princesses books and that’s such a great honour.

The Rescue Princesses - The Lost Gold

Paula Harrison writes The Rescue Princesses series published by Nosy Crow. The 7th Rescue Princesses book, The Lost Gold, came out on the 2nd May. She has recently launched a series for older readers and Faerie Tribes: The Crystal Mirror is now available, also published by Nosy Crow