Writing First Chapter Books and Early Readers

August 28 - 31, 2021


  • In-person at our Retreat Center with lectures, writing exercises, faculty consultations and feedback, with ample time to relax, retreat, and work on your own writing.
  • Begins at 5:30pm Eastern on Saturday, August 28, 2021
  • Ends at 1:00pm Eastern on Tuesday, August 31, 2021
  • Submission for in-course feedback session due by August 14




Do you remember the first time you read a book all by yourself? Was it Frog and Toad or Splat the Cat? Do you pause in front of library shelves featuring Jada Jones and Ivy & Bean? Do you want to bring joy and confidence to readers who are picking up a book on their own for the very first time? If so, this workshop is for you.

In between the read-aloud world of picture books and the more challenging realm of middle grade novels lies an exciting spectrum of fiction and nonfiction for beginning readers. These early readers and first chapter books spark a love of independent reading and build confidence in brand-new readers.

This is an in-person workshop that features lectures, discussions, writing exercises, networking time and a 1:1 consultation with a faculty member. You will:

  • Find out the differences between picture books, early readers, and transitional chapter books.
  • Examine what makes the best books for this age group successful.
  • Zero in on where your work–fiction, nonfiction, or both–fits in.
  • Learn how to generate new ideas.
  • Learn about researching and writing your stories.
  • Discover how to find the right publishing home for your work.
  • Have one-on-one critique sessions with a workshop leader.
  • Have workshop sessions from faculty.
  • Try writing exercises to strengthen your work-in-progress.
  • Enjoy free time for writing.


  • You’re a picture book or middle grade author. Curious about whether you can write an early reader or chapter book? We’ll help you find out.
  • You’ve got an idea for a chapter book or early reader. You’ll get 1:1 feedback to help you strengthen your idea.
  • You’ve written a chapter book or early reader and want to know what’s next. This course will help you learn how to find the right publishing home for your story.
  • You want some time to relax, retreat, and work on your own projects. The Highlights Foundation retreat center is the perfect place to do all of the above! (If you are more interested in online courses, please visit our online class listings here.)


Early readers and chapter books are an important part in a child’s reading development, allowing children time to develop the necessary skills, confidence, and love of reading that will put them on the path of becoming successful lifelong readers. In this course, you’ll gain understanding of the unique needs of books for children who are beginning to read independently.


Pre-workshop submission details:

In order to prepare for the one-to-one consultations, please submit up to ten, double-spaced pages from your chapter book or up to ten pages from early reader projects (no more than two projects, ten pages total). Your submission should include a cover letter where you can tell us a little about your project, including where you are in the draft (finished, revising, just starting out). Also, feel free to include any pertinent biographical information in the cover letter. Submission link will be provided by August 7, 2021 with submissions due by August 14, 2021.

Retreat Details:

Saturday, August 28
By 5pm, Arrival and check in

Appetizers and Dinner
After dinner: Welcome and Introductions

Sunday, August 29
Lecture: How Early Readers Help Kids Learn to Read
One-to-Ones/Personal Writing Time

Writing Exercise

Appetizers and Dinner
After dinner: Informal discussion and sharing fireside, guests Debbi Michiko Florence and Kashmira Sheth

Monday, August 30
Lecture: Character, Setting, and Structure in Early Readers and First Chapter Books
One-to-Ones/Personal Writing Time

Writing Exercise
Zoom Guest editor, Eileen Robinson

Appetizers and Dinner
After dinner: Open Mic

Tuesday, August 31
Opportunities in Educational/Trade Work-for-Hire
Writing Exercise
Final words/questions/goals to bring home

Lunch and Farewells

FAQs About Highlights Foundation Workshops:


Wiley Blevins: Early Readers and Transitional Chapter Books: What Are They and Why Are They Important?
Laurie Calkhoven: Picture book? Early Reader? Chapter Book? Where Does Your Story Fit?
New for New Readers: What (Exactly) IS an Easy Reader?
Laurie Calkhoven: Meditation to Uncover Character
Scholastic’s Branches, a line of early chapter books.


“The faculty were knowledgeable and engaging. They exceeded my expectations.”

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of personal time we had with the teachers. They were so open and available. Easy to talk to. I gained so much through our conversations.”


Laurie Calkhoven

Special Guest Laurie Calkhoven is the author of more than 50 books for young readers ranging from award-winning nonfiction early…
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Eileen Robinson

Eileen Robinson has worked with children’s writers all over the world for over twenty years. Former Executive Editor at Scholastic…
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Debbi Michiko Florence

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series (JLG selections, the Amelia Bloomer and CCBC Choices lists,…
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Kashmira Sheth

Kashmira Sheth writes picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and young adult fiction. Her books have received many awards…
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All-inclusive registration includes workshop tuition, lodging, meals, beverages, and snacks.

Free shuttle service is available from the local airport, train, and bus station, or you can park on site. Get more logistics information here.

Pay in full or secure your spot with a deposit of $200 and payment plans as low as $75/month. We'll be in touch with details after you register.

Do you want help finding a workshop or resources that will fit your needs? Talk to one of our ambassadors.

workshop information

Begins on Saturday, August 28, with dinner and ends on Tuesday, August 31, with lunch.

Our all-inclusive price means we provide transportation to and from the airport, lodging, all meals, unlimited snacks, and wireless Internet access.