'Muesli dressed as coco pops’ — the black ops strategy to engage kids in reading

by Susannah McFarlane

ACCESS, Vol. 29, Issue 4, 2013, pp. 4-13.

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Susannah McFarlane is a successful children’s book author who, after many years working as a publisher, now spends her time writing and creating stories that kids love to read. She is the creator and writer of the award-winning EJ12 Girl Hero and EJ Spy School series (Scholastic Australia), the co-creator and co-author of the hugely popular series for boys, Boy vs Beast (Scholastic Australia), the author of the Little Mates series of alphabet books for under-fives (Scholastic Australia), and the series editor for Stuff Happens (Penguin Books), a great new series for boys about the everyday challenges
they face.

Susannah McFarlane's website
Girl Hero series
Stuff Happens series
Reading Battle Over
Boy vs Beast series

'Muesli dressed as coco pops’ — the black ops strategy to engage kids in reading


For the last 25 years I have worked in the publishing industry as a marketer, publisher and writer, creating books that kids will want to read. As a trade publisher rather than an educational one, I’ve made books that aim to be chosen by the kids themselves, not imposed on them, and o er stories that are entertaining and compelling reading, not just the required reading of the classroom.

But you really can’t take the mother out of the publisher, which is why there has always been a slight agenda with the series I create or curate: to hook reluctant readers with Zac Power (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Boy vs Beast (Pop & Fizz/Scholastic); to provide positive role models for young girls with EJ12 Girl Hero and EJ Spy School (Lemonfizz Media/Scholastic); or to facilitate the development of their emotional literacy with the Stu Happens (Penguin) series.

Enter the muesli dressed as coco pops strategy: creating stories and worlds that kids want to explore, packaged with the look and feel that they want them to have, while never letting on that what’s in the books might be good for them!

Series publishing provides an excellent platform to apply this strategy, and the opportunity to re-engage, and reinforce your message over a large number of books. Series deliver comfort and the elimination of risk — for the child, their parents and their teachers — because once a child is hooked in, they will read the series through. This is of particular relief to desperate parents — and I speak from experience here — who buy books, only to discover them unread under their child’s bed.

However, that all assumes that the series does hook them at the start, so it is perhaps interesting to look at the way, as publishers, we can do that. Here are examples of two different series for boys with different ‘black ops’ agendas — one aimed at improving their reading literacy, the other their emotional literacy — without, of course, them suspecting a thing!


Last updated: 11/7/2018 4:27:23 PM