I was recently invited to write a blog about the creative process of making my ereaders for children learning to read. It all started when my now-adult daughter was four years old and learning to read. We found it really hard to find entry level learn-to-read books that had exciting stories. Some of the books had difficult words like ‘refrigerator’ (a word that might be remembered in the context of a particular book but not in another context). What also bothered me about this was that it conveyed the idea that reading was going to get harder and harder. I also understood that even though some people learn phonetically, many children learn visually, and learning words phonetically is not only hard for Visual Spatial Learners but it can be confusing too.
At first I wrote a collection of fairy tales that were very easy to read. I soon realised that every time a child wanted to read a new story they had to learn a new set of words - not easy or fun!
Then I had the idea of making ‘picture words’ as words are complex, abstract looking things. I made a set of picture words and sent them off to one or two education publishers but I didn’t receive a reply. So they sat on my shelf for a few years.
Next I tried making books which used the same set of words to tell very different stories. I sent a couple of these books off to an education publisher but when I didn’t receive a reply I realised they were only going to publish books that fitted in with their existing reading systems - my books certainly didn’t fit in. The trouble with trying to be innovative is that every innovation is different and it hasn’t been tested in the market before.
I kept thinking about how to make books that would convince children that the learning process was going to feel safe and easy. I wanted them to comprehend the story from the very first book as well as trust that learning to read wasn’t suddenly going to get hard. I spent many, many hours figuring out which were the best words to create the ‘stage one’ books. I eventually chose 10 words which I could tell at least 5 stories with. I also had my list of words for the other stages and I adapted these as I was writing and illustrating the stories.
One interesting and surprising thing I noticed was that even though I have made these books for visual spatial learners, almost every word I have used can be sounded out phonetically!
A couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that best option was to self-publish these books as ebooks because I wanted children to be able to buy them with their pocket money. After realising this, I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours searching for the best method. I wanted to use an accessible file type that could be viewed on most computers and most reading devices. Epubs are the most accessible (across a range of reading devices) but unfortunately they are currently picture book unfriendly and they can’t easily be viewed on computers.
I discovered that PDF ebooks are great, as with one click one of these can be viewed in ‘full screen’ mode which is a much nicer look than the normal PDF view. So PDF became a good option but anybody can copy a PDF document and consequently book distributors don’t sell PDFs. The other problem was distribution. The fine print of many of the distributors’ contracts was worrying, so I decided I was going to have to find a way to sell them from my website - but how? Then something wonderful happened. I discovered the website provider I had been using for six months already had the facility for this to work and I already knew they give amazing phone support and their systems are trustworthy.
I decided that even though people can copy PDF ebooks, this was still the best option, as my priority was helping as many children as possible to learn to read and PDF files are the most accessible for people on low incomes. I decided to trust people to pay for the books.
Now, many years after beginning my quest to make a good reading system that suits visual spatial learners, I am very excited to say that I have now made lots of learn to read ebooks and the picture words too. I also have about 20 more learn-to-read books in the process of development.
I think the hardest part of this whole process was to keep working on the project for years while not knowing if I was ever going to have these books published. I had to keep having faith and even though ‘Faith’ is my middle name, it was still very hard to do.
A few weeks ago the most magical thing happened. I was working with a boy who couldn’t read and within half an hour he had read all the books in stage one. He was so excited and proud of himself. We both knew he could read because he was reading the 3rd and 4th books which he had never read before. What I loved about this experience was how he now saw himself as somebody that could read and how he was keen to read more stories. Then, the other prep children saw us and wanted to join in. We had a lovely time with them reading the books to me. This was a wonderful reward for all the many, many hours of work and I very much hope that the books I have created can help more children learn to read.
Andrea Faith Potter
Artist, Illustrator and Author