Writing my NaNoWriMo novel so far has been an interesting and enjoyable experience. One aspect of writing this story has been writing in a way that it will be suited to high school students developing their English literacy skills.
My story will be made available for worldreader.org to use for free in their ereader program in Ghana for up to 350 students to read on Kindle ereaders throughout 2011. It will also be made available free for their ereader programs in other developing countries beyond 2011.
Some high school age children in Ghana (and other developing countries) have not had regular education throughout their childhood and speak English at school but not at home. So it is understandable that those students would have a lower level of English literacy skills than most Australian students of the same age, but most authors do not write stories with content to interest a 15-16 year old and language to suit reading skills equivalent to an Australian 8-9 year old reader.
However, it is not just a matter of using simple words instead of complicated words. I’ve had to think about a range of figurative language. For example, something as simple as a character saying they used to “hang out” with someone. If a teen reader in a developing country does not understand what is meant by “hang out”, most dictionaries would not help them (including the Oxford dictionaries which come pre-loaded on a new Kindle). Similarly, if a character “stole a cheeky glance” this might be confusing at first but the meaning could be pieced together with a dictionary. The challenge is to write something which has language that is literal and common enough to be read fluently by these readers without them constantly having the story interrupted to look up words or work out strings of metaphors and references which require outside knowledge they are unfamiliar with. A reader using a Kindle can move a cursor over any word on the screen and get a definition (for words in the dictionary) at the top of the screen, which is great, but cannot cover everything that someone who does not already have a sophisticated knowledge of English may want to know.
While doing this, the story also has to be entertaining and engage these readers without seeming over-simplified or underestimating their ability.
The real test if this has been done as effectively as I hope would be to get some feedback from readers on their experience of reading the story.
The Australian Literature Review