With today’s push for Common Core, it’s important to consider that while there is still a place for all of the traditional genres of children’s literature in the school and library market, marketing tactics may need to change. Fiction writers in particular may need to target a broader audience than librarians and English Language Arts teachers if they are to find a coveted spot on the school shelf.
One such unsung ally in the school market is the World Language teacher. You may be thinking, but I don’t speak a word of any language other than English. That’s ok, you don’t need to. So you mean I should get my novel published in multiple languages? No, that’s not necessary either.
Actually, every subject area in schools has state and/or national standards to comply with, and have for years before the introduction of the Common Core. And while the Common Core standards identify basic skills that students should be able to apply across content areas, World Language classes still have to meet their own state/national standards.
So what does that have to do with writers? World Language standards are typically aligned to the ACTFL [American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages] standards, or the 5 C’s: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities—with an emphasis on developing proficiency. Focusing on just the first two of these standards, here are some ways that your fiction work could be beneficial to a World Language teacher and her students:
1. Communication—Ok, so you don’t have to know an entire language to be able to use bits of it throughout your manuscript. Think of Dora and Sesame Street’s Rosita. Choosing a few key terms, and most helpfully, ones that are high frequency in conversation but not necessarily well known, to repeat throughout the book can help students to increase their vocabulary register as they read. A few published books that do this really well include: THE RETURN by Sonia Levitin, many of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s books, and Suzanne Fisher Staples’ SHABANU trilogy.
2. Cultures—I believe that this is the biggest area of possibility for fiction writers. Often, World Language teachers barely have time to explore the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to teaching the cultures that surround their target language. But if there is a body of multi-cultural fiction available for students to read, then these experiences can be gleaned outside of the classroom as well. Empathizing with a fictional character may make the cultural experience feel more real—and therefore memorable—to students.
Thanks to the Pura Belpré Award, I have seen many more Hispanic cultures portrayed in novels in recent years, which is great. 90 MILES TO HAVANA by Enrique Flores-Galbí, SACRED LEAF by Deborah Ellis, and THE SURRENDER TREE: POEMS OF CUBA’S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM by Margarita Engle to name a few. However, my French students have relatively few titles that introduce the Francophone world. Contemporary life in France. Historical or contemporary life in Québec, Haiti, or lesser known French speaking European, Asian and African countries. The possibilities are endless. And as for my German-teaching counterparts, much is written about the Holocaust, but German students deserve the opportunity to read about the positive history and contemporary society of Germany as well. And of course, other schools offer more than just three languages.
Beyond cultural lifestyles, the Cultures standard also refers to cultural products. Have a story about how the croissant got its name or the leaning tower of Pisa started leaning? Can you tuck detailed bits of real cultural product history—like a French art movement or the fashion industry—into your work of fiction? It only takes an excerpt to build a lesson around, so even if it’s just a brief glimpse of the truth that serves as a character or setting detail, consider marketing to World Language teachers.
Like writers and librarians, World Language teachers have state and local Foreign Language Associations that hold annual conferences. There are also associations for the individual languages such as the AATF [American Association of Teachers of French]. Book sellers are a regular part of these conferences, and knowledgeable presenters are always welcome to run workshops highlighting methods and materials that may be useful in the World Language classroom. Your novel may be just the thing that one of these educators is looking for.