Monday, January 07, 2019

Are Shorter Books Better Books For young Readers?

Is shorter better for young readers? 

This article explores the best book length for kids, especially middle grade readers. A recent publishing experts panel recently stated, "Short books or serialized fiction may help keep people’s attention as attention spans shorten." This is especially true of children.

Are Shorter Books Better Books for Kids?

Max Elliot Anderson

Sometimes it’s a useful idea to take cues from one area of our culture, and apply it to another. In this case, I’m talking about the length of books intended for middle grade readers ages 8 – 12. Think of the influence of Twitter, for example, where tweets only allow a limited number of characters. This has forced all of us to express our thoughts and ideas with fewer words.
People seem to want their information in shorter bursts with the fewest interruptions possible. The satellite provider, DISH Network, offers the Hopper. With it, viewers can eliminate commercials while watching recorded shows.
Facebook allows more information to be transmitted, along with pictures or videos, but the trend is for shorter messages since longer ones are typically ignored. 
Face Time gives friends and families the ability for direct visual and audio communication at the same time. So how do these factors relate to books for middle grade readers?
Scientists report brain chemistry has been altered by short-burst communication.
Scientists report brain chemistry has been altered by short-burst communication such as texting, or those mentioned above. Magazine feature length articles have been replaced 600-word blog posts. 
Penny C. Sansevieri, of Marketing Experts, Inc., attended a publishing conference in New York where publishers confirmed they are actively looking for shorter material. She says, “Short is the new long. Your readers are busy, really busy. They want a problem solved or they want to be entertained, quickly. And sometimes all they want is to pick up a book and read it in one sitting.”
Let me say, as an author of middle grade fiction, it’s my opinion that books for these readers should be shorter. There are a number of factors that lead me to this conclusion. One series of gargantuan books was Harry Potter. While I’m sure lots of kids have read those books, it turns out many were purchased for young adult readers and above. These books can only appeal to the most avid young readers with lengths between 400 to over 800 pages. My research turned up other books and series, for readers 8 and up, with similar lengths. The popularity of these books proves there is an audience for them, but what about the more timid, struggling, reluctant reader? Surely a book of such great length would be intimidating. 
For a long time, books were expected to be 200+ pages, but some of the most popular books have been quite short. This is especially true when it comes to business books. The 20 million copy bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard was only 97 pages.
The days of minimum page counts could be numbered as readers and publishers experiment with new formats. Some publishers may believe a book needs to be longer in order to carry a higher price and give the perception of value. These publishers become more creative in maintaining page count at the same time authors and readers seem to want fewer words. But, are those publishers at odds with what young readers really want? What if producing more books that are shorter were to open a wider market of readers? It’s possible that publishers would sell larger numbers of shorter books than only the longer books which appeal to fewer readers.  And if a book is hundreds of pages long, you may be demanding more time than many young readers want to commit. 
It’s been reported in several places that publishers believe people who read certain genres, like fantasy, buy their books based on weight, among other things. Maybe that’s the reason there are so many epic door stopper sized fantasies like Harry Potter. 
Other readers may actually be less interested in pages than they are in knowing just how much time they have to commit to getting through a story. 
Other readers may actually be less interested in pages than they are in knowing just how much time they have to commit to getting through a story. Is it possible, when it comes down to it, smaller, shorter books are more appealing to time-crunched readers?
Some of my previous columns have explored the effects on our kids from their early exposure to fast-paced educational television programs. It has been suggested that attention spans are shrinking and that this is already having an impact on reading abilities and interest. Will a child really sit down today and happily begin reading a book they can hardly lift? In my experience, the answer would have been, no. As a child, I grew up hating to read. I would much rather go out and do something than read about it. My concern is that there are masses of children today, just like I was back then, who feel the same way. That is why, when I began writing for kids, I set out to write shorter, fast-paced books, with cliffhanger chapter endings, shorter lines, using lots of humor and dialog. 
I set out to write shorter, fast-paced books, with cliffhanger chapter endings, shorter lines, using lots of humor and dialog. 
Now we face the fact that e-readers have brought children’s books squarely into the digital age. And in this form, children already expect shorter material on their screens. Beginning an e-book, where the reader can’t physically see the size and scope of the book, could prove frustrating, even discouraging a young reader from continuing to the end. And there is an added problem with e-books. Without a physical reminder of a book on the table or desk, it’s easy to forget that an extensive digital library is waiting inside. When a young reader does remember to open an e-book again, it may be difficult to dive back into the story and remember all the characters and plot twists, so it doesn’t stay open very long.
While you may not be intimidated by a large book, there are many kids out there who are. These young readers equate large with hard. Not only can a large novel be intimidating intellectually, but it can also scare off readers who don’t have a lot of time. They want a book they can fully enjoy from start to finish in a few hours without having to put their life on hold. Give them one shorter book and they’ll be back for more. If an author writes a great story, in a format that is easy for kids, there is no reason why they won’t want to read more from that author. 
There is no escaping the fact that children’s attention spans are shorter today, and demands on their attention are much greater than ever before. These factors threaten their enjoyment of reading.
A large percentage of teachers report that children’s attention spans are shorter in the classroom, too, forcing parents to do more to encourage reading for pleasure at home.
Studies reveal that children are spending three times as much of their time participating in “on screen” activity at home, compared to reading traditional books, according to parents. This includes watching 90 minutes or more of TV, playing on the computer for 42 minutes or more and going online for 28 minutes or more, compared to just 44 minutes or less a day reading.
Since study after study has shown that reading for pleasure is a key indicator of future success for children, but demands for their attention and the difficulty of inspiring reluctant readers, all mean we have our work cut out for us. Shorter books for middle grade readers may provide part of the solution.
Study after study has shown that reading for pleasure is a key indicator of future success for children.
Shorter books give kids the sense of accomplishment as they work their way through the story.
One of the largest publishers in New York – you would recognize the name if I told you – regularly sends new middle grade releases for review or mention on my blogs. In the box I recently received, several were noticeably shorter than in the past. Some, even though their page counts were around 200, used extensive illustrations, wider margins, wider spacing between lines, and larger type in order to make the books look long while the content could be read quickly.

Whatever methods publishers use in the future, shorter books for children are sure to become a factor in the books they produce and children are willing to read. You might experiment with the young readers in your family of circle of friends this summer. Most of my books are shorter so I hope you will give them try with your young reader.

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