Having a beautiful new book in the world is only part of the job of connecting with readers. Another important way to connect is by making it easy for teachers and librarians to use your work as part of their classroom or independent reading programs.
But what does that look like if you’re making these materials yourself? And what are the most popular types of materials that teachers are looking for?
To find out, I spoke to Kathleen O’Rourke, Executive Director of Educational Sales and Marketing at Candlewick Press. She confirmed what I’ve learned over the last ten years. “Teachers have limited time to teach all that is required… so providing them with materials that are simple, accessible, and effective are your best bet.”
Top three picks
1. A discussion guide: Not every title on a publisher’s list will get a discussion guide designed in-house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t design one yourself using the principles your publisher uses.
“A good discussion guide can be used to start a class discussion, assign written responses, or encourage a librarian to use your title with a book group,” says O’Rourke. “[You want] thoughtful discussion questions that a teacher can either provide the students before they read the book to help guide their reading or that can be used after the book has been read to help the students think critically about the story.”
When I’ve designed my own discussion guides, I’ve included the cover of my book and the synopsis – usually the one written by the publisher. Then I ask one pre-reading question, along with four or five questions that get at the major themes or ideas about the book. Personally, I like questions that ask kids to connect the story to things in their own lives, rather than questions that only get at event recall of the book.
Make sure your discussion guide has been copyedited for any spelling or punctuation mistakes. When it’s ready, make sure it’s on your website and easily downloadable as a pdf.
2. Video: This used to mean making a one-minute trailer on i-movie or paying someone to do it for you. I have a soft spot for trailers, even the home-made ones that look sketchy, like the one I did for Mango, Abuela and Me, but they are time-consuming – and not as polished as the ones the pros do for you. Just look at the difference between mine and the one Candlewick did for Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away.
Luckily, O’Rourke points to new ways of incorporating simpler, author-made videos in the time of Covid. “In this time of remote learning, teachers need all of the support they can get. Providing them with simple videos that have a call to action based on your work or your process are immensely helpful, especially since teachers can assign these videos during asynchronous learning times.”
You want your videos brief, no more than about 5 minutes. Introduce yourself and talk about one specific thing about your book – or about something that students would find interesting to know about how you wrote this book. You can end by asking kids to engage after the video. Here are a couple of call-to-action suggestions from O’Rourke: Draw a character with specific traits and then write a story about him/her. Make a drawing of what you think a particular character looks like from the book.
3. Activities: I like to see kids read and then do some sort of project or activity, but I do have a few rules.
- Be age appropriate: When I make materials to accompany any of my books book, I keep in mind their age group. It helps that I was a teacher, but if you don’t have that background, ask a teacher friend or parent to audit your idea. Is it simple? Will the child be able to work on most of this independently?
- Require things found mostly at home: To help, I troll Pinterest for ideas and maintain a little-known page for myself of craft ideas. Here are some things I found for my books.
- Be cross curricular: Are there other skills beyond reading that your book can reinforce? I like to incorporate those ideas to fuel cross-curriculum use of my titles. This is a simple idea card I did for Tia Isa Wants a Car years to build on basic economic terms for kindergarten students as well as arts and crafts that have to do with cars and transportation.
- Mirror what happens in the book: In the activities packet that Candlewick designed for Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away, you can see that the activities spring directly from some of the activities the girls played in the book. (Sign up for the pledge, and you’ll see all the activities and support materials on a special page.)
- Build on skills they’re learning in school. Here are templates of a memory match game I made based on Tía Isa Wants a Car. Kids in the early grades are learning literacy words like “character.” They’re studying concepts like “same and different.” They’re working on developing observation skills. I keep a printed and laminated set of these cards that I can play with students in small groups.
Things you might want to avoid for now
“In-depth lesson plans based on one book probably don’t get used as often as we would like,” O’Rourke says, pointing to the fact that teachers are tasked with sticking fairly close to their school’s set curriculum and state standards. As such, it’s unlikely that they can devote a large amount of time to teaching your book – unless it’s a classic, award winner, or the story directly aligns to their curriculum.
Swag is another area I’ve cut back. I used to budget a couple of hundred dollars per title for giveaway items, such as bookmarks or computer laptop stickers. It will be a while before we see in-person conferences and school visits, though, so I’d hold off on the expense. If you already have these items, consider sharing some with your local indies to insert inside copies of your books that are sold in their shop, or else use them to accompany giveaways of your arcs or copies of your book.
Looking for teaching materials for Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away?