Editor Interview: Hannah Rolls on Bloomsbury High Low Fiction

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I’m delighted to welcome Hannah Rolls, Editor at Bloomsbury who works on the brilliant Bloomsbury High Low books.  Published this spring, the series aims to encourage and support reading practice by providing gripping, age-appropriate stories for struggling and reluctant readers, those with dyslexia, or those with English as an additional language. The High Low series is produced in association with reading experts at CatchUp, a charity which aims to address underachievement caused by literacy and numeracy difficulties.

Hopewell High, The Street, Mission Alert and Skate Monkey are four new series in the High Low range offering exciting and dynamic stories. Each title is printed on tinted paper with a dyslexia friendly font and a recommended reading and interest age. Thanks for joining us Hannah!

Tell us a bit about your role at Bloomsbury. I look after the educational fiction list. That means I’m always on the lookout for stories which might be useful in schools – either to help children who are learning to read or to tie into topics they will be covering. My job includes a bit of everything: negotiating contracts, editing manuscripts, writing briefs for illustrators, talking to teachers about what they need, wandering around bookshops to see what is going on in the world of children’s books…

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The High Low series is great! Can you tell us a bit about the series and what makes these books more accessible than standard paperbacks? We know there are loads of children out there who struggle with reading – because English isn’t their first language, because they have dyslexia or another special educational need, or just because they didn’t ‘get’ it when all their peers did. But poor reading skills have a massive impact on children’s chances in life – struggling to read is closely linked with low pay and unemployment.

So, to try and help tackle this problem, the High Low series was developed so that the interest age of the books is higher than the reading age (you can see both printed on the back near the barcode) so that children who are struggling with reading don’t get stuck with books they find babyish or boring. The typeface we use is one that is recommended by the British Dyslexia association so it is really clear, and we also use cream paper to improve things for anyone with Irlen syndrome or other visual problems associated with dyslexia. We look carefully at the plots and the language to make sure they will be readable and engaging to our target audience and we try to keep the books quite short so that everyone can get the satisfaction of finishing a story!

How do you go about commissioning the High Low books? First, I looked at what other children that age would be likely to be reading. I was really keen that we should cover a wide range of different genres and that if their friends were all reading the latest superhero or spy book, that we would be able to give the struggling readers something that looked cool in the same way.  We don’t have every genre covered yet but I hope we will soon.

Then, I talked to some authors (some I had worked with before and some I hadn’t) about what they might want to write about and tried to match that up with things I knew were popular. I also did some research into what can help struggling readers, and had a lot of meetings with the design and production teams about typefaces and paper!

The series was produced in association with CatchUp; what was their role? CatchUp are key in making sure everything is as tailored as it can be for struggling readers. They have experienced teachers who act as language editors for me – they spend a lot of their time working with struggling readers so they can advise on whether a sentence structure is too hard, if a particular word or plot twist will be sensitive in schools, and even a word has gone out of fashion in the playground! They also took a close look at design of the series and the font to help us make sure we got that right.

And finally, what do you think is the key to successful books for children/young people with specific learning needs or who are reluctant readers? I think the key is to remember that they aren’t all the same – some of them will think it is the coolest thing ever that a giant octopus fights an underwater dragon in Skate Monkey: Fear Mountain whereas some of them will be engaging with the emotional struggles of the girls at Hopewell High… Some of them will be struggling because they are newcomers to the English language, some will have specific difficulty and some will just have found books a bit boring! I always try to make our books as … as possible: as funny as possible, as exciting as possible, as dramatic as possible, and so on. When you get right down to it, every child is different but they all deserve the chance to become readers.

Thank you Hannah for sharing some insight into your work and about the High Low Fiction series.

For more information visit www.bloomsbury.com

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