Photo Credit: Laura Billingham
Before my first middle-grade novel with Cordelia Jensen, Every Shiny Thing (Amulet, 2018), was published, I taught middle school for ten years, and those two identities—author and teacher—still feel intertwined. I’d never tried to write fiction until I became a teacher and got inspired by my students and the books I read alongside them. And as I was reading widely to find stories my students would connect with, I was also practicing my own craft and dreaming that someday kids would connect with my stories, too.
I’ve been out of the classroom for four years now, but I’ve had fun putting my teacher hat back on to create educators’ guides for each of my novels, and I was happy to be asked to contribute a post about developing those resources. But first, a disclaimer: I don’t think every author needs to create an educators’ guide for their book (or pay someone else to create one, or beg their publisher to create one).
As an author, it can start to feel like you “need” to do so many things to get your book out there—newsletters, book festivals, bookstore events, TikTok videos and Instagram reels, and on and on and on. For most of us, it isn’t possible to do all these things, and it isn’t clear how much of an impact it would make even if we somehow could.
I think authors need to be strategic about what kinds of tasks we take on. For me, it’s absolutely worth the time and effort to create educators’ guides, but there are other tasks that don’t play to my strengths or fit into my schedule (I cannot seem to record a three-minute video in less than approximately three hours, for example). Other authors should make their own choices about what to prioritize based on their own skills and bandwidth, and there are plenty of great ways (such as YouTube videos with writing tips, if you are a more efficient video maker than I am) to provide content that educators can use.
That said, if you want to have an educators’ guide for your book, you can start by checking with your publisher to see if they’re planning to create one. Sometimes the publisher will create a guide in-house or hire someone to make one; they might do this for your individual book or for a group of titles that coalesce around a theme.
Other times they might copyedit and design the guide if you create the content yourself—that’s what my publisher, Amulet Books, did with the guides for my books Every Shing Thing and Up For Air (Amulet, 2019).
Or the publisher might tell you they don’t have it in the marketing plan to create a guide for this particular book, but you’re welcome to put one together on your own. That’s what happened for my third book, Saint Ivy (Amulet, 2021). I designed the guide in Canva using a letterhead template, and I’ve seen other guides created with a basic design in Word.
If a publisher isn’t taking the lead, I’d suggest looking up comp titles to see if books that are similar to yours have guides and how those guides are structured. You’ll find that there is a big range in terms of how detailed and specific guides are; some are very short—including only discussion questions and a few activities—and others are extremely long and thorough, with individual questions and activities tied to specific Common Core standards.
See what you prefer, and/or ask teachers what works best for them. The guides you find will probably say who created them, so if you want to hire someone to create one, you’ll find good leads this way.
Personally, I go based on what I would have found useful as a classroom teacher and book club organizer as well as what I’ve heard from a handful of educators. I revisit the English Language Arts Common Core Standards in Reading: Literature and Writing for the age groups I’m targeting to remind myself of the kinds of skills I want to reinforce, but I don’t link individual questions to specific standards.
My biggest goal is to provide flexibility for different circumstances so that people can use as much or as little of the content as they want, and the guides can be used in or out of the classroom. In fact, when I designed the guide for Saint Ivy, I decided to call it a “discussion and activity guide” rather than a “teaching guide” because I wanted to emphasize that it isn’t just for a teacher to use! I hope families might discover and use it on their own.
I always include a list of discussion questions to talk about after reading the whole book, and I offer extension activities in case readers want to explore topics related to the book in deeper or different ways. These include concepts they might research, other novels they might read, and interesting websites they might visit. I also share fun activities like craft projects and recipes, as well as a variety of creative writing prompts. Overall, I aim for a balance of academic enrichment, social-emotional reflection, and fun.
Developing an educators’ guide has become a treasured part of the publication process for me. Once a book is completely done, I step outside of my author perspective and read it as a reader and educator would, noting the things I can see kids reflecting on and getting excited about rather than finding last-minute things to tweak.
Teachers and librarians are so creative, dedicated, and passionate. If go back to teaching, I will be a better teacher because of what I’ve learned from the outstanding, inspiring educators I’ve connected with in my capacity as an author. They know their students best and can come up with the best possible projects and discussion topics for the kids in their classrooms. But I hope my resources might be useful starting points for them, and I am always honored and delighted when I hear from educators who use or adapt some of my prompts and projects to fit their students’ needs.
Laurie Morrison taught middle school for ten years and now writes realistic middle-grade novels. She is the co-author of Every Shiny Thing and the author of Up for Air, Saint Ivy, and Coming Up Short (Abrams/Amulet Books, June 2022). Laurie’s books have received starred reviews and been chosen as Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections and finalists for state award lists. Laurie holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives with her family in Philadelphia, where she loves to read, bake, and be outside.