Tag Archives: children

The Font of All Knowledge

Amongst many other things, Lazy Bee Scripts publishes plays intended for performance by young children.  Young in this case can be taken as meaning relatively new to reading and writing.  As a result, I am perpetually niggled by the issue of readability.

Actually, this is a specific case of a general issue: what constitutes a readable font?  Whenever I dip into the academic literature on this subject I get two contradictory answers.  The first answer is that seriffed fonts (those with tiny lines decorating the tips of the strokes of a letter), Times Roman, for example, are more readable because the serifs help to define and distinguish the letters.  The second answer is “the plainer the better”, so sans serif fonts are easier to read because they are less fussy.  To date, Lazy Bee Scripts has gone with the former verdict, however I am unhappy about this for scripts aimed at the early years of the education system.

The reason for my discomfort stems from the start of the alphabet.  Look at the lower-case letter A in Times New Roman, then compare it to the way the letter is taught for handwriting.avsa5 The printing font – in this case Times New Roman – has a curl going back over the top of the letter.  (David Lovesy, who, when he is not writing or performing comedy sketches, works in the art and design field, tells me that this ornament is called a terminal.  He also tells me that this information is useless, unless it happens to come up in a pub quiz.)  This is not taught as part of the (early years) writing process, not least because it is unnecessary for distinguishing the letter.

Now, you may think that this feature of the lower case A is part of a seriffed font.  Not so.  Take a look at the common sans serif fonts – Arial for example – and you’ll find that the vast majority have the terminal.  (Irritatingly, many fonts, including Times New Roman, lose the terminal for their Italic versions.)

This came to a head for me whilst I was working on I’ll See You In My Dreams.  Michal Y Noah’s book for young children has been adapted into a play (to which I contributed the songs).  So I embarked (not for the first time) on a hunt for a better font for early readers.  You might think that there are a lot of fonts available with the schoolbook a – and so there are, but most of them have other problems.  There are two issues: all letters need to be distinct (low confusability), and the font needs to look professional. The vast majority fail at the first hurdle:-ivsl2 (For adult readers, the similarity between those two glyphs doesn’t matter, because we will interpret them according to context.  For young children, this is an unnecessary complication.)  The obvious contender that passes the confusability test is Comic Sans, but it doesn’t look professional.  (In defence of Comic Sans, it was never intended to look professional; it was created by Vincent Connare to look like the font used in the handwritten speech bubbles in comic books. It fulfils its purpose, but it wouldn’t look great in a newspaper, a business report or a play script.)

In the end, I settled on two fonts: Primer Print (from Typodermic Fonts), which works for body text, but (in my view) not so well as a title font, and Fibel Vienna (by Peter Wiegel), which is better for headlines, but (I think) has the wrong aspect ratio for body text.  I have provided an example here (pdf), showing what the same text looks like in Times New Roman and in Primer Print.  I’ve implemented this approach for I’ll See You In My Dreams, and if the general view is favourable, we’ll apply it to other scripts for children.

If you have experience of, or strong opinions about this issue, feel free to leave a comment below.

Classified Information

A teacher complained about a script that one of her pupils had selected from the Lazy Bee Scripts web site.  She said that it wasn’t suitable for children.
We agreed with her.  It wasn’t suitable for children.  It wasn’t intended for children.  That’s why you couldn’t find it by browsing the Scripts for Schools and Youth Theatre section of the web site or by searching for scripts suitable for a particular school age-group.

In that case, it was a clear-cut issue.  (Our classification matched that of the teacher; our method of finding scripts didn’t match that of her pupil.)  Other examples of classification by age are more problematic.

Another note from a teacher said “in reading over the entire plays I noticed some offensive parts that I was shocked that elementary school plays would have in them”.  The drama in question was “Ambition” by Tony Best.  Amongst other things, the teacher drew attention to the star who doesn’t want to be a star because “a man with a telescope on a rooftop that keeps looking up her skirt”.
Now, Tony lives and writes in a world where there are uncomfortable issues and moral ambiguities.  There is an appropriate point to introduce children to those issues, and the fictional world of a play may provide a useful way of exploring them.
The problem here is that the “appropriate point” is not the same for all children – it varies according to local culture and according to the maturity of the children.  We have a further difficulty in that our classification system works in broad bands.  (Under fives, five to eight, nine to twelve, thirteen to sixteen and over sixteen.)  Our purpose is to be helpful, rather than prescriptive.  We’re trying to help customers to narrow down their search – there is usually little point in offering adults a script written for five-year-olds, and vice versa.  In the case of Ambition, we’d classified the script as suitable for the nine to twelve group and older groups.  However, the difficulty comes with the breadth of the group; I doubt that many nine-year-olds would get much out of the play.  In my view, a lot of 12-year-olds would, but not necessarily all.  We don’t know your group, so our classification is imperfect.
That’s where the other major feature of the web site comes in: you can read the scripts on-line.  That’s what the teacher had done in this case.  She had discovered that whilst she wanted her class to perform the play, there were some parts that were inappropriate and therefore, with our permission, she cut those parts of the text.
We always advise you to read before you buy.