Teachers’ notes are a curriculum-linked resource for a novel, offering teachers background information, insight into everything from themes to setting, with suggested related classroom activities, discussion topics, notes about the author and more.
They make it so much easier for teachers to choose YOUR book to read or study in class.
I confess that before I wrote RACE TO THE END OF THE WORLD (The Mapmaker Chronicles #1), I had no idea that teachers’ notes even existed. And then I read the notes that Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright had created for my book and they were a revelation.
To have someone go through your work and encapsulate the themes, characterisation and more of your novel is an incredible honour. I was so grateful that Dr Sheahan-Bright had not only ‘got’ what I was trying to do with The Mapmaker Chronicles – but so much more besides.
Fortunately, a few years later, I was lucky enough to have Dr Sheahan-Bright create the teachers’ notes for THE BOOK OF SECRETS (Ateban Cipher #1) as well.
So when it came time to find out how exactly teachers’ notes are created, who better to ask…
HOW I WRITE TEACHERS’ NOTES
By Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright
What’s involved in writing teachers’ notes? I should know, given that I spend a good part of my time writing them, as a freelance writer/editor/publishing consultant – an occupation I’ve pursued since 1997, through my business, justified text.
In over 20 years I’ve written many sets of notes for a wide range of clients, including both large and smaller publishers. (I also write reading group and book club notes for adult lists.)
Some of the works I’ve written notes on in the last year, for example, have been:
•Cicada (Hachette) and Tales from the Inner City (Allen & Unwin) both by Shaun Tan;
•Mrs M (HarperCollins) by Luke Slattery;
•The Happiness Box a Wartime Book of Hope (Walker Books) by Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean;
•Hive (Pan Macmillan) by A.J. Betts;
•Leaving the Lyrebird Forest (Hachette) by Gary Crew and Julian Laffan;
•Miss Franklin (Hachette) by Libby Hathorn and Phil Lesnie;
•Nevermoor and Wundersmith (Hachette) by Jessica Townsend, and most recently
•As Happy As Here (Hachette) by Jane Godwin (due for release in August).
This is the first time, though, that I’ve been asked to articulate how I write them. So here’s how I go about it:
10 STEPS FOR WRITING TEACHERS’ NOTES
1. Read for enjoyment just as you would any reading. Find the heart of the book and make that your guiding principle in how you begin to summarise its strengths.
2. A template is essential. Knowing what shape the notes should be in and the headings required by the publisher, means that I have a set of queries in my mind as I am reading a book, whether it be a picture book, or a work of junior or young adult fiction.
Sometimes I’ve designed that template myself; other times it’s been in use before.
3. There is a difference in how you read in order to write notes, though, because as I read I am marking quotes that relate to issues as they occur to me so that I can return to them later. I am noting themes, keeping a list of characters, particular aspects of writing or illustration style which are unique to this writer, and the genre (s) the work falls into.
In short, all the things an editor does when reading a manuscript for the first time.
4. I also take note of topics relating to key learning areas such as SOSE, English Language and Literacy and Creative Arts. But I don’t adhere too rigidly to curriculum details, as I feel that curriculum models may change and that teachers can be trusted to utilise my broad brush ideas in specific ways.
I am not a qualified teacher and write very much from an editor’s or writer’s perspective.
5. My first challenge is to write the introduction. This should encompass what the book is about, its key plot details, its themes and its genre. It should be suggestive of the atmosphere evoked by the writer. It should be an engaging summary like a blurb but somewhat longer. (Unlike a review, one can give away key details here as the reader has already read the book!)
6. Depending on the age of the readership some notes contain worksheets and activities. These often take a good deal of time to develop as they involve not only creating an activity (such as a quiz) but sometimes sourcing images (via Clipart) in order to create an engaging activity for younger readers.
7. Some notes contain a section on the author or illustrator’s inspiration in writing the text. I prefer to see that after I’ve written my first draft, so that my first reading is not coloured by pre-conceptions. Happily, I have generally guessed the author’s intentions in my responses. (In a recent set of notes I had referenced the same film as the author did in her inspiration!)
8. Did I mention research? Most notes contain a bibliography, including both books and articles and online resources such as websites. These can be as extensive as I feel is warranted by the text. Some works lend themselves to copious referencing. And sometimes the author actively contributes to that by forwarding a list of some of the texts they’ve used for their own research.
This part of the process is really important as, without such research, one can miss something which is essential to really understanding a text. I also really love this aspect of the work as it means that in any given week I am adding to my knowledge of topics as diverse as early Australian colonialism, prison camps in World War Two, the life of Miles Franklin, lyrebirds, and urban planning; or re-visiting my knowledge of the tropes on which a fantasy or a dystopian world is based.
9. My contact is with the editor who commissions the notes, not with the author. However, I always request feedback and corrections from both. Generally the author’s comments are conveyed to me by the editor. But sometimes a conversation with the author is initiated and the exchange can become detailed when the author has a lot of knowledge to share.
10. I always write several drafts, and editing is crucial. I’m a big believer in printing out rather than editing on screen as often a glaring gap in the notes seems to magically become apparent, when it’s in print, not to mention the typos.
My real satisfaction is to hear that an author has really enjoyed my interpretation in the notes, and/or that a teacher has found them valuable.
So, in ten easy steps, there you have it. Or at least, there you have my way of writing teachers’ notes.
Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright was the first Executive Director of the Queensland Writers Centre (1991-1997) and operates ‘justified text’ writing and publishing consultancy services. She is widely published in magazines, journals and online publishing sites, has chapters in several textbooks, has edited anthologies and also manages arts projects.
Robyn has written about children’s literature and the children’s book market and is currently President, IBBY Australia Inc and Deputy-Chair, Australian Children’s Laureate Foundation. She has been the recipient of several awards in honour of her services to writing and children’s literature in Australia, including the prestigious Dame Annabelle Rankin Award (2011), Nan Chauncy Award (2012) and Johnno Award (2014).
I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher.