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What Makes a Children’s Writer Smile…

As a children’s author, many things make me smile. Working in my fuzzy cat slippers, being able to do something I truly love every day, seeing kids connect with my books, hearing from parents that my books hooked their child into reading. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the big bucks we children’s writers make (yes, I’m joking about that one!).

This morning, friend and writer  Jean Ann Williams, sent me this photo of one of my books that has been in her family and passed down from child to child. Seeing this love worn copy of Blackberry Banquet just makes me smile from ear to ear, and reminds me that of all things that make a children’s writer smile, seeing a well-loved copy of your book is truly at the top of the list!


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Five Reasons Why Children NEED Picture Books

A New York Times article recently stirred up a lot of discussion amongst the children’s lit community about the future of picture books. I don’t think the decline in sales was news to anyone. Picture book sales have been slowly dropping for about the past ten years because of changing demographics. And with the economic downturn of 2008, no one is surprised that people are thinking twice before spending $16-$18 for a picture book.

However, the part of the article that concerned me was the claim that parents are “skipping” picture books and heading straight to chapter books in an effort to “advance their children’s skills.” The idea of doing this is simply absurd. This would be similar to a parent saying that they would not allow their baby to crawl because learning to walk sooner would make him/her a better runner, headed for an Olympic bid.

It just isn’t true. Or smart.

There are basic developmental stages a child progresses through in order to develop normally (by “normally” I mean develop according to the expected, universal stages of human development). And here is where picture books fit in.

Picture books offer benefits to children that no other genre can. One cannot simply “skip” them and advance onto chapter books because picture books and chapter books are NOT THE SAME. Just like crawling and walking. Crawling teaches forward movement, coordination of limbs and exercises both sides of the brain—all in the safety of being at ground level. Picture books enrich a child’s life in many aspects and prepare him for reading chapter books and his future learning–in the warm embrace of a parent or other caregiver. It is all good, and all necessary.

I hope there will be much discussion about picture books in the upcoming weeks, months and years. They are an important part of children’s literature and childhood. I believe the NYT article should serve as a reminder for us all to be picture book advocates. So, in my attempt to do just that, here are:

FIVE REASONS WHY CHILDREN NEED PICTURE BOOKS

LANGUAGE:Young children (ages two-seven) are at a peak age for learning language. Dr. Jane Healy (Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It) notes that the young child’s brain is ravenous for language stimulation. This is why it is often suggested that children learn a second language at this age. They soak up language like a sponge.

Because the average picture book only has about 500 words, an author must craft each and every word, sentence and paragraph with care. Editor Anne Hoppe once said of picture books: “The writer distills; the illustrator expands.” Picture book writers must distill language to its very essence. This is why the text in a picture book is often rich, evocative, and engaging. Hearing this type of language will enrich a child’s language development.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT:Dr. Healy (Your Childs’ Growing Mind) also explains that during early childhood, the brain buzzes with extra neurological connections that are trying to establish patterns, cause and effect, and sequences. Picture books, with their verbal and visual nature, offer this to a child’s growing mind. For example, in Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? a child hears the verbal clue of a rhyming word and sees the visual clue of the upcoming animal to be named on the next page. This type of pattern and sequencing helps to build the neurological pathways in a child’s brain. This kind of patterning within a verbal/visual format is unique to picture books.

PHYSICAL PARTICIPATION:Another unique aspect of picture books is the child’s physical participation in the story via the page turn. The words and illustration allow the child to experience what is happening on any particular page; however, advancing the story—physically turning the page—requires action on his part. This type of participation sets up an interactive experience between the child and the story. This participation also keeps the child engaged and helps to establish cause-and-effect brain pathways, as mentioned above.

ATTENTION SPAN:
Because of their unique structure, picture books can help a child increase his attention span, going beyond an interesting story (which is common to all genres). How many picture books have you seen with a refrain that keeps a child listening—eagerly anticipating his moment to chime in? Children will sit on the edges of their seats (or knees) awaiting their moment to be an active part of a story. Have you ever seen a group of children listen to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems?

PICTURE BOOKS ARE MULTI-SENSORY:
Children’s author Mem Fox says in her book, Reading Magic: “Children’s brains are only 25 percent developed at birth. From that moment, whenever a baby is fed, cuddled, played with, talked to, sung to or read to, the other 75 percent of its brain begins to develop. And the more stimulation the baby has through its senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing, the more rapidly that development will occur.” Re-read that last sentence. The more stimulation through the senses, the more rapid the development occurs.

Multi-sensory learning is critical during the early childhood years, and no other book genre offers this kind of sensory-based experience. While listening to and looking at a picture book, a child sees the pictures, hears the words, touches the pages (or other tactile features, such as touch-and-feel books), and smells the pages (such as scratch-and-sniff books). The only thing a child wouldn’t do with a picture book is taste it (although infants and toddlers might disagree).

Dr. Maria Montessori advocated that children absorb impressions and knowledge directly from their environment via their senses. Picture books are an important part of the learning process. No other type of books gives young children the opportunity to experience a story on so many sensory levels.

I hope this has given you some reasons to consider the benefits that picture books uniquely offer a young child. For a comprehensive list of excellent picture books, please visit Elizabeth Bird’s Fuse #8 blog.

Happy reading!

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Time is flying…

Good heavens, I can’t believe how quickly time passes by. This week I handed in my mid-semester evaluation for Vermont College (halfway through my third semester). Next week I turn in my (hopefully) final draft of my critical thesis (more on that later). And I just did my first virtual classroom visit via Skype with R.A Mitchell Elementary School in Alabama (and what a delightful group of third graders!).

It’s been a busy week!

Oh, and for a good laugh, check out this book-related video clip. This one came from Julie Larios, my advisor extraordinaire. Not only is Julie an awesome writer and teacher, she’s great at finding fun “distractions.”

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On the Injured Reserved List…

It seems that I’ve injured my hand, writing and riding. Too much writing for the VC Master’s program, and too much riding my bike (which keeps me grounded with all the work in the Master’s program). Yes, torn tendons are a real pain. Anyway, it loooks like I won’t be blogging ’til the end of the summer, most likely–that’s when I’m anticipating my hand to be completely healed.

BTW, for my VC writing, I’ve been using a software program called, Dragon Naturally Speaking, an excellent voice-activated program. Unofrtunately, it doesn’t seem to work for dictating posts for my blog though! But it’s saving me with my other writing. Phew!!!

So, have a fantastic summer–sip some lemonade, read lots of good books and don’t forget your sunscreen!

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Ya Gotta Love Squidoo!

This link came across my desk this morning. Don’t you just love Squidoo? If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a site where folks can post articles. For example, this one is about “Picture Books about Bears” and features a few favorite titles of the author’s. And of course, Blackberry Banquet is featured!

Click here to find a Squidoo article that I wrote called, Ten Things to Do with a Children’s Book.

You can find almost anything on Squidoo—now keep in mind that anyone can post an article, and there’s a sort of “honor system” that people write about things with which they actually have some expertise–in other words, reader beware! I wouldn’t want my doctor gleeming info from this site about practicing medician, if he’s written a book and wants some book promotion ideas, then let him have at it!

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Good Golly, Where Is the Time Going?


My goodness, I looked up at the calendar (which was still on February so I flipped it) and saw that we’re halfway through March already. Ack!!!

WHERE is the time going?

Oh wait…I turned in my second packet today. Surely THAT’S where the time went. Into my packet preparation.

But I now have two more essays done, six chapters of my novel turned in and a bibliography (check-check-check!). Oh, and this time around I included a structural summary of my novel-in-progress. I think structure is *finally* starting to sink in with me. Finally!

I’d like to say I’ve earned a couple of days off to relax, catch up, and flip the rest of the calendars in the house, but with spring break next week (which translates to husband and kids being home), there’s no time to rest. Gotta get as much done as I can this week. But maybe I can solicite some help in flipping the calendars next week. Of course by then we’ll practically be in April. Maybe we should just skip March…

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Another Book Bites the Dust…

I just got word that my very first picture book, Two Tales of Hawai’i (Island Heritage Publishing), is going out of print. I’m saddend, but I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Given the current economy, book publishers are forced to take a much harder look at what they’re keeping in print and what they’re letting go. And Two Tales has been in print since 2003, so it’s outlived many other picture books.

But still…it was my first “baby” in print and I’m left with a hollowness inside, as I envision it taking wing and joining all the other out-of-print titles in “book heaven.”