Writing for Younger Readers

When I agreed to write Investigating Fossil Fuel Pollution, I said yes because I welcome the opportunity to write STEM for younger readers. But I hadn’t considered what it would mean to write on a science topic for readers in second and third grade.

The majority of books that I write for the school library market are for tweens and teens. The Ancient Maya, Cancel Culture, and The Assassination of John F. Kennedy are just three of the books that I’ve worked on for readers in 8th grade and older. These books are 15,000 words long and from eight to ten chapters. That sounds like a fairly significant word count but I always make certain to pack in as much information as possible

Fossil Fuel Pollution was only 2,200 words. It is only five chapters long but includes information on oil spills, solid waste, water pollution, air pollution, and what readers can do to help. That doesn’t seem like much but the book is 17 manuscript pages long.

As always, I made a list of everything wanted to include. At this point, I was mentally thinking about it as everything I needed to include. When I started drafting the manuscript, I immediately realized that most chapters were running long and not just a little bit long. Some where over twice as long as I could make them.

This meant that I had to quit thinking about what I wanted to include. Instead, I had to contemplate what I could not, under any circumstances, leave out. What would I fight tooth and nail to keep in that book?

For the most part, I wasn’t cutting a word or two hear and a sentence there. I was removing paragraphs at a time. In part, this is why I don’t get into “slaying my precious words.” Sometimes something has to go to reach the target word count. That’s just that.

But the easiest way to bring myself to do this is to cut it and paste it into a file. Each book I work on is sorted into a separate Word folder. Many of these folders include a document called “stuff.” If I cut something that I later need, there it is. If my editor wants me to replace a sidebar and leaves the topic up to me, I go into this folder.

Once I got the hang of what I could fit into a chapter, rewriting went quickly. Younger readers are just as curious as older readers. Where a teen is ready to dig in, a second grader is only ready for a sample. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to write for this age group again in the future.


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