Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Power of Subtitles for Readers and Writers

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I must be in my usual school year cycle as I can't seem to get through January/February without thinking about informational readers and writers--a perfect winter genre study. This week's Text Set focuses on the Power of Subtitles for Readers and Writers! Subtitles can help readers in so many ways. And when writers create thoughtful titles and subtitles, they have to think deeply about their text's message.  Let's look at different ways authors use subtitles, how those can help readers understand big ideas and how writers can use subtitles to think more deeply about they big idea. 


Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs and Beaks and The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read are great to introduce the idea of subtitles to reader and writers. If I were to name what these writers do, they use their subtitle to further explain the main title of the book. The title gives a HINT about the book and the subtitle goes on to give you more detailed information.  Young writers can try this with titles for their own writing.

Some titles don't really tell the reader wha the topic of the book is. Instead, they set the stage for letting the reader know of some important idea in the book without revealing the topic. (This subtitle is so small on the cover, that you don't even notice it at first, so that you focus on the main title.) That's what Not My Idea:A Book About Whiteness does. Then the title goes on to reveal the topic in very straightforward language. Readers have a topic and and an important idea to think about before they begin to read. Writers might try this by writing the subtitle first and then thinking about an actual title that captures a message without giving away the text's topic.


This text is actually the home page of a favorite website. The Kids Should See This is a site with incredible videos, as you can tell by the subtitle.  In this example, the title gives a hint into the topic but the subtitle gives more specifics. Including texts other than books is critical in text sets so that young readers and writers see how these same craft moves are used in multimedia texts.

Hello, Crochet Friends!: Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy is a book with a VERY long subtitle but every word is important. Jonah Larson is a world-famous crochet expert and the topic of the book is crocheting.  But the book is more than that as the subtitle(s) explains. Crocheting is about so much more for Jonah. This book's  subtitle sets the stage for readers and the double colon can give writers something to play with. As writers, giving a title like this a try could help writers expand their thinking around their topic.

These two books (Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks) pair well when talking about titles and subtitles. Because they are both biographies and they both use a strong word/phrase to capture what is important about the person in the book. One uses the word/phrase as a title. The other uses it as a subtitle.  Playing with a single word or phrase that sums up a big topic is a great way to push thinking as writers. As readers, finding evidence of this characteristic through the book will help them read more deeply. And as an author, the decision about which to make the title and which to make the subtitle would also make for interesting conversation!

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