Susan Gates' on Writing School Readers
DANGEROUS TRAINERS (and other school readers)
by Susan Gates
In 1996 I wrote a little story called “Dangerous Trainers”. The story was written for an educational publisher and was part of a graded reading scheme for primary school children. During 35 years as a writer I’ve written many such school readers. What I didn’t expect is how those little school books endure. They’re all still in print. They’re still selling! They’ve lasted longer than most other children’s books I’ve written, even the ones that won prizes.
I have various copies of “Dangerous Trainers” on my desk now. Over the years it’s been published in US by Dingles and Co as “Dangerous Sneakers”, translated into Afrikaans as “Gevaarlike Tekkies” and, only recently, published in China for children learning English. All the teacher’s notes are in Chinese.
So how did I get into educational books? Years ago I was teaching 16 year olds, who’d left school illiterate, to read. There was no money for books (and back then, no appropriate material, simple stories were all far too childish for my streetwise pupils) so I wrote my own stories for them. Thinking nothing would come of it, I sent them to an educational publisher. Amazingly, they ended up being published. On the strength of those early books, I made a career. I’ve written young adult novels, funny books for 9 to 12 years old, picture books for tinies. But educational publishing was my foot in the door. It’s something I’m still doing now. So if you aspire to write for children, don’t forget the educational route. It seems to be a growing market right now!
The other ingredient for success is good illustrations. There are some fabulous children’s illustrators around! I was lucky enough to have Martin Remphry illustrate “Dangerous Trainers”. His illustrations are so full of energy, humour and brilliant detail. They can’t fail to excite children. And here’s one of Laura Sua’s vibrant, lively and colourful illustrations for my latest international school reader, “The Pumpkin Monster”.
My favourite of all the school readers I’ve written? It’s “The Terrible Power of House Rabbit”, illustrated by the wonderful Martin Remphry and published in UK and US. It is still going strong? I haven’t checked but I wouldn’t be surprised. I bet there’s life in that old rabbit yet!