Monday, February 11, 2008

It’s been my experience that home-schoolers get a bit more of the classic “reading, writing and arithmetic” type of education than their counterparts. Many parent educators strongly encourage their children to be active readers and work hard on developing good composition skills through reports, journals and creative assignments.

One newly emerging publishing house, Sylvan Dell Publishing, is inviting home-schoolers who are working at a high school level to try their hands at writing a children’s book. The 2008 Picture Book Writing Competition for Homeschooled Students has a first-place award of $200, with $75 going to second- and third-place recipients.

Students must write a manuscript of fewer than 1,500 words for one of four early elementary age groups. Illustrations need not be submitted.

The topics can be fact or fiction with factual content and fun to read. Stories on certain topics — pets, new babies, religion, magic, biographies, history, ABCs or poetry — will not be accepted, and topics that are too local or state-specific are discouraged. Since the content is for elementary-school-age readers, young-adult book themes also are not acceptable.

Candidates should submit their entries electronically between March 1 and 31. Details are available on the Sylvan Dell Web site (

The publishers of Sylvan Dell, Lee and Donna German, have a personal interest in supporting home-schooling writers. They educated their three daughters, Rachel, Katie and Helen, who are now in high school or college. As a military family, the Germans understand the unique challenges of those who relocate frequently and who miss a key parent for long periods of time. Home-schooling has been a point of stability for many thousands of military families, allowing them to develop educational continuity and social connectedness no matter where they are stationed.

Today, the Germans apply their own educational experience to the way they choose and publish books. They produce “fun books to read with young children that have an underlying ‘learning’ theme. The books are designed to get children questioning and wanting to learn without being too ‘nonfictionish’ or preachy,” as Donna describes it.

“The fun facts and activities in the back of the book are designed for you to be able to point things out, work with your kids, and even to answer questions that you might not know,” she says, explaining that the publishers deliberately designed the activities to be easily copied so they can be used by any number of children and in any environment, “in a car, at a table or sitting curled up in a loving adult’s lap.”

The books also incorporate learning links to safe Web sites where children and parents can explore topics more thoroughly and find other learning-related activities.

It’s great to see home-schooling families expand on the lessons they have mastered and transform those into enterprises that can help others. The Sylvan Dell model is exciting both because it is providing home-school (and nonhome-school) families with good books, but also because the publishers are consciously choosing to foster talent through sponsoring this writing competition.

How many publishing companies are giving young writers a chance to be considered for publication? Even adult authors find it hard to break in to the field. Sylvan Dell is to be applauded for taking a fresh approach — and one that empowers aspiring young writers.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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