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Common Core Creates Opportunities For Publishers


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne with an opportunity for publishers. Some 45 states and the District of Columbia have now signed onto the new Common Core education standards. And that will draw in not just companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children's books - novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure.

As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, Common Core is influencing which books those publishers, known as trader publishers, produce, and the titles you'll see at your local bookstore.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: The first thing you need to understand about the Common Core, says publishing consultant Neal Goff, is that it is not a curriculum and was never meant to be. It's a set of standards that schools, teachers and students are expected to meet. Goff says those standards have created an opening for trade publishers because they focus on the way kids approach a text

NEAL GOFF: How they read it, understand it, interpret it, analyze it, can speak to each other about it, can write about it. And you can do that just as effectively about a book that was designed to be, you know, read in the bathroom as you can as a book that was designed to be in the classroom.

NEARY: That gives teachers a lot of freedom in assigning books. They can choose poetry, stories and novels. But the standards also call for students to read more informational texts, better known as nonfiction.

RILEY LAMEER: Eww, disgusting - Komodo dragon.

NEARY: Six-year-old Riley Lameer sits cross-legged on the floor at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., flipping through the pages of a book about animals. Behind him is a wall of books for children - all nonfiction. Children's book buyer Mary Alice Garber says the store has always had a good selection of the kinds of books the Common Core suggests kids should be reading.

MARY ALICE GARBER: We've got three full bookshelves that are all science and broken into different areas of science. And then we have U.S. government, American history, and then a whole section of world history. And then we go into biographies. Then we get into art, architecture and music.

NEARY: That selection will come in handy for sixth-grader Ellen Pearlman-Chang. While browsing for books with her mom, Connie Chang, Ellen says she thinks the Common Core is already influencing what she's learning in school.

ELLEN PEARLMAN-CHANG: We've just had our unit on informational texts, and we had to write a kind of book as an informational text, about a topic that we picked.

CONNIE CHANG: In fact, tomorrow night they are going to have a celebration of their nonfiction book at school.

NEARY: Oh. A book that you each wrote, a nonfiction book?

CHANG: Yeah, yeah, and she covered....

ELLEN: Nigerian dwarf goats and...

NEARY: With so many schools adopting the Common Core standards, Margaret Quinlan, president of Peachtree Publishing Co., in Atlanta, expects to see even more nonfiction get published.

MARGARET QUINLAN: There is absolutely wonderful nonfiction, creative non-fiction that is published every year. And those authors, those interested in that subject, are very excited now because the focus has turned on to them.

NEARY: While much has been made of the Common Core's emphasis on nonfiction, the standards call for kids to be able to read and analyze all types of literature as well. Examples of these books, both fiction and nonfiction, can be found in a Common Core document known as Appendix B.

Steve DelVecchio is a librarian who helped develop Appendix B.

STEVE DELVECCHIO: What we want, what I wanted, with the Common Core and with Appendix B was to push, to promote just beautifully written, meaningful, engaging texts - writing. That's what we want teachers to be using in the classroom with kids.

NEARY: Many of the titles on Appendix B are familiar. For young readers, there's Dr. Seuss and AA Milne, "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Owl and the Pussycat." Books for high-schoolers include "The Canterbury Tales," "Jane Eyre," "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Great Gatsby."

DELVECCHIO: We, maybe intentionally, naively were saying these are just examples; these are exemplars. This is not your curriculum, this is not your reading list.

NEARY: But many school systems and teachers latched onto Appendix B as just that. Opponents of the Common Core see that as proof that a curriculum is being imposed from above. Publishers, on the other hand, see Appendix B as a great marketing tool.

PHOEBE YEH: Definitely, we have seen explosive growth.

NEARY: Phoebe Yeh is publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers. Crown is part of Random House, which has 17 books - ranging from Dr. Seuss to "The Book Thief" - on Appendix B.

YEH: We know that the teachers mention these titles first and are asking about them. And we thought, like, this is the place to start. Start with Appendix B, help them out; help them see how you can correlate the standards to the specific texts, and why.

NEARY: Librarian Steve DelVecchio says he understands why publishers tend fall back on old favorites as a way to make sales. But ideally, he wants the Common Core to push publishers to do more.

DELVECCHIO: I mean, I hope what they would do is say wahoo, we've got these great books that have been identified as exemplars; let's promote them. But what I really want publishers to be doing is saying let's, you know, find out what else we have that's of very high quality, and let's publish some more stuff.

NEARY: That's not hard advice for publishers to follow. They are, after all, in the business of selling books. And if there is one thing that everyone might agree on, it's that the common goal of the Common Core should be simple: to get kids reading more, and better, books. To do that, you have to get them excited about reading.

RILEY: Hmm - a bunch of baby animals.

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

RILEY: Ugly - that is ugly. That is just ugly...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ah, that's not too bad... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.