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March 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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We’re always curious about how series nonfiction authors produce mountains of titles on a such a dizzying array of topics. To shed light on the matter, we turned to Virginia Loh-Hagan, a professor of education and one of the most prolific series nonfiction authors of the last few years (she has about 200 titles to her name), who told us about her approach to writing these school-library standbys for Cherry Lake’s high/low imprint, 45th Parallel Press, and the characteristics that help her author so many books.
Do you work on multiple books at once, and is that challenging?
LOH-HAGAN: I have two writing seasons per year for 45th Parallel Press. During this time, I write several series. On average, I’m writing between 20 and 32 books per season. In addition, I have my full-time job as the director of liberal studies at San Diego State University. So I have to be very disciplined. I’m very strict about my schedule. I map out my research time and my writing time. The hardest thing to do is editing the manuscripts to meet the target reading-level goals.
How does your academic expertise inform your approach to writing series nonfiction?
LOH-HAGAN: My background in education and teaching have provided me with the knowledge and skills to effectively target the needs and interests of struggling readers. My deep understanding of texts, of reading practices, and of students help me with this work.
But I think what has enabled me to write for 45th Parallel Press is not so much my academic expertise but my prepubescent sense of humor. I love gross and weird facts. I would argue that what allows me to be a successful children’s author is an insatiable curiosity and a playful outlook on life. What allows me to do the actual work is my academic background and discipline gained from being a professional.
Who’s your target audience?
LOH-HAGAN: The 45th Parallel Press imprint offers older struggling readers an opportunity to build their reading skills while engaging them in fun and edgy content. Older struggling readers are a special group. They often have low reading skills, yet they’re intellectually capable. They’re smart! They deserve books that honor their interests while addressing their reading abilities. In focusing on the funny and weird side of things, I aim to engage readers. I want them to see these books as springboards.
What’s the purpose behind your trademark short, direct sentences?
LOH-HAGAN: First, I would like to point out how hard it is to write in short sentences! As an author and a very chatty person, I tend to like to use a lot of words. But, let’s be honest—struggling readers are not going to read long sentences. They’re not going to read sentences with implicit meanings. To accommodate their needs and to meet appropriate reading levels, I have carefully crafted the 45th Parallel Press books to be more considerate and explicit in that regard.
Not many people, especially reviewers, understand high/low books, which serve a specific need for a specific population: older struggling readers. As such, the text may come across as “choppy” to proficient readers (and reviewers), but they are meant to give older struggling readers access to interesting books that they can read independently. Access is the main goal. These high/low books give older struggling readers access to worlds that are beyond the boundaries set by their reading skills.
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