Today, I’m excited to feature an interview with one of my long-time kid lit pals, author Robin Newman! As many of us do in the kid lit industry, I met Robin virtually, when she became one of Frog on a Blog’s very first followers, and she has remained one ever since. She’s watched this humble space change (through at least four WordPress themes) and grow over the years, and she’s been so kind to share my posts.
Robin’s fourth book NO PEACOCKS! was recently released. And it’s the perfect time to learn more about the book, about Robin, and about the beautiful peafowl who inspired her.
Q. I know that you were once a practicing attorney. When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you really wanted to do? And what do you like best about writing children’s books?
R.N. I had gone from being a miserable Workers’ Compensation attorney to editing energy and environmental treatises and journals. Both jobs helped me realize that I enjoyed writing. Around the time when I was a legal editor, I started writing short stories. My twin sister worked at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and they sponsored one of the short story writing contests at Symphony Space. I entered and lost. Year after year. Rinse and repeat. But I was writing. After my son was born in 2006, my husband suggested I take a writing class—my first writing class. I signed up for a children’s fiction writing class and as soon as I walked in, I knew I had found my people.
I’ve always loved the creative aspects of writing. And a big part of that creativity, especially when you write for children, is trying to figure out how my writing will get young readers excited about reading and writing. (This includes my own son who is one tough customer to please.)
Q. You’ve based No Peacocks! on three real peacocks that live on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. How did these feathered celebrities inspire your story?
R.N. From the moment I saw the peacocks, I knew I wanted to write about them. Every day at school drop off and pick up, I would watch them—as did my dogs, Madeleine and Cupcake, who were just as excited to see them as I was. (I wish I could say it was reciprocal for the peacocks, but they HATE dogs.)
Peacocks are obviously beautiful, but they are also wonderfully quirky, stubborn, and mischievous. They are extremely protective of their food, not to mention, they’re omnivorous foodies.
So, even though I knew I wanted to write about the peacocks, I still needed a story. One day while I was attending a meeting for the school’s book fair, one of the administrators interrupted the meeting to ask—“Did anyone leave a stroller on the porch with a sandwich? Because one of the peacocks just ate it.”—And at that glorious ah-ha moment, I knew I had my story.
Q. I’m really, really curious—are the real Phil, Jim, and Harry friendly, and can the kids who attend The Cathedral School interact with the birds?
R.N. The peacocks are extremely sociable. Either Jim or Harry loves to hang out on the school’s porch right in front of the door at pick up time making it impossible for the kids to get out unless he’s shooed away.
The peacocks also enjoy hanging out with the kids in the schoolyard. I’ve seen them on top of the jungle gym. They also will investigate the piles of book bags in the hope of finding a snack or two. All that said, they do keep their distance from the kids. They’re definitely not pets.
Q. This is your second book illustrated by Chris Ewald, yet the books are by different publishers. How did this come about and were you able to collaborate with him on No Peacocks!?
R.N. Chris and I are both represented by the amazing Liza Fleissig at the Liza Royce Agency. When I was asked if I had any thoughts on an illustrator for No Peacocks!, I suggested Chris.
When Chris came up to New York for the Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep launch party, he met me one day at school pickup to see the birds and to get a feel for the grounds and the neighborhood. In terms of collaboration, I have made some suggestions to Chris but ultimately it’s up to Chris to decide whether he wants to use those suggestions or not.
Q. Tell us a bit about your writing life. Do you have a routine or a favorite place to write? Where do you usually find inspiration?
R.N. Everything revolves around my son’s schedule. As soon as he’s off to school, I head to my tiny office to write. Later in the day, when I hear the door open and slam shut, followed by the thud of a book bag hitting the floor, and my son’s version of “Hi Mom! I love you.” Translation: “Mom, I’m hungry. Where’s the ice cream?,” I know it’s time for me to put away my work.
Like most writers, I get inspired by books, newspaper articles, kids (especially my son!), teachers, librarians, school, cartoons, childhood memories, siblings, dogs, food, etc. In a nutshell, I get inspired by just about everything. Not until I sit down and write a draft and bring it to my critique groups, do I realize if those “ideas” are worth pursuing or not.
Q. What are your favorite childhood picture books?
R.N. Madeleine, Babar, and Pierre in The Nutshell library were some of my all-time favorite childhood books.
Q. Why do you believe picture books are important?
R.N. Picture books (and in this category I also include board books) are a child’s entrée to reading. They help children learn about social relationships, develop language skills, understand their environment, and expose them to real and imaginary worlds that are far from their own reality. They help children better understand their feelings, conquer their fears, inspire creativity, encourage social responsibility, and hopefully help them on the path to becoming lifelong readers.
Q. Where can fans connect with you online?
R.N. Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share? What’s next for Robin Newman?
R.N. I am constantly writing and revising my journey as an author. I’ve been working on the third book in my Wilcox & Griswold mystery series, and on a number of picture books. Stay tuned.
Thank you, Robin! We will definitely be watching eagerly for your next book!
About Robin Newman
Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs and peacocks. She is the author of the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery Series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and The Case of the Poached Egg, as well the picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, who are extremely fond of Phil, Jim, and Harry.
Parents, have the past few weeks been hectic because your kids are going back to school? You may even be feeling emotional because your little one is starting preschool or kindergarten for the first time. Do they know their ABC’s? Is there a way you can help them learn? Of course! ABC picture books!
Author and mom Ilham Alam has stopped by today to share her favorite books for helping kids learn the alphabet. Read on for a great selection of ABC concept books!
Top 5 Books for Kids to Learn ABC’s
By Ilham Alam
September is finally here, which brings with it cooler temperatures, apple cider and apple picking, harvest and pumpkin farms, and leaves of red and gold. It also brings the back-to-school season with kids back in their classrooms, many of them for the very first time.
As a parent/guardian, how can you best prepare and help your child succeed during Kindergarten? By ensuring that their learning in the classroom is reinforced at home, if your child is not already familiar with their basics like ABC’s by the time they reach JK.
Here are the Top 5 books for kids to learn their alphabets. I have read all of these books with my oldest son, who’s off to Kindergarten this year. We both enjoyed these books for various reasons and are recommending them to you:
Dinosaur A-Z: For Kids Who Really Love Dinosaurs
This book has photo-realistic pictures of 26 of these prehistoric and majestic creatures, complete with short facts about each of the dinos written in the first-person and meant to make your child laugh along while they learn. I credit this book for teaching my son his alphabets, including the correct order of the letters. In addition, the book spells out the pronunciation of each of the long names phonetically, ensuring that your child begins to connect the letters with sounds. We have had this book for a year and my son still requests to read this a few times a week as it’s not only taught him fun dino facts thus encouraging his passion, but also, he has learned his alphabets and beginning reading skills using the now-familiar words. I cannot recommend this enough and this book is our favourite of the bunch.
Who doesn’t love the silly rhymes found in Dr. Seuss’s iconic books? This ABC book is no exception and has illustrations featuring many of Dr. Seuss’s familiar characters. The text goes full throttle right from the beginning in fast-moving, foot-tapping, finger-snapping rhymes. What I liked about this was that it also introduces big and little letters to your child, so that visually your child can see where and why big and little letters are used.
Elmo’s ABC Book
This ABC book features another iconic children’s character: Elmo from Sesame Street. The book cover is a bright blue making our fuzzy red monster stand out, thus attracting your child’s eye and inviting them to read it. Inside, we meet Elmo and his friends as he tries to figure out what his favourite letter of the alphabet is. Elmo is having a hard time deciding because there is something to love about each letter. For example, he loves the letter ‘B’ as Elmo loves cute babies. Keep reading to discover what Elmo’s favourite letter is. This book stood out for me because it helps to introduce kids to everyday words corresponding to each letter.
Chicka Chicka ABC by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault
I am sure you have heard of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? This is the alphabet version which begins,
A told B, B told C/
I will meet you on top of the coconut tree
This is another fantastic way for your kids to learn their alphabets as it turns it into a catchy song, which is a great way for your kids to remember and get comfortable with a new concept. And I found it unique that bright colours like orange and hot-pink are the dominant colours used here. You can also put on a YouTube video of the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Alphabet song and dance along to it as well, to further help with the memorization of the alphabets.
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert
This is a different type of alphabet book as each of the alphabet pages have colorful, painting-like pictures of different foods corresponding to each letter. It is a good book for kids to learn of the many different types of food. This could even inspire your little one to try new foods, which is what my son and I like about it. However, this does not have fun rhymes like the other ones listed here.
Thank you, Ilham, for the terrific list of ABC books that are sure to help any child learn the alphabet and have fun at the same time!
Ilham is a Student Advisor by day and a writer and Children’s Book Author by night. She has her upcoming picture book, Wonder Walk, releasing later this year, to be published by Iguana Books. An avid children’s lit book reader and traveler, she has documented her adventures on her book review and family travel blog, Story Mummy: www.storymummy.com.
I adore picture books that highlight the themes of love and kindness. That’s why it’s my great pleasure to be a stop on Laura Sassi’s LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour. Readers, this book is incredibly sweet (and I don’t mean because it includes a little something about a box of chocolates), and the ending (which I won’t give away) is darling. Speaking of darling, check out the cover of LOVE IS KIND, featuring Little Owl, the star of the book.
And, guess what? You get to meet Little Owl, the brand new story time puppet, right here on Frog on a Blog! Hello Little Owl!
Laura’s stopped by today to talk about how she uses puppets to enhance the story time experience and engage her young audience, and how you can too. Little Owl will soon be joining her on her author visits.
MEET LITTLE OWL: Using Puppets to Engage Young Readers
I started using puppets with the release of my very first book. Since a pair of skunks play an important role in that book, and thinking that my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be an engaging way to introduce the story. The former teacher (and crowd control freak) in me, also thought skunk puppets might be a friendly way to help young audiences settle down before and during the reading since, as you know, skunks are notorious for making a big stink if they get startled.
Those skunks became such an integral part of author visits, that I decided to incorporate puppets into the author visits for every one of my books – skunks for GOODNIGHT ARK, a rooster for GOODNIGHT MANGER, a seal and mouse for DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, and now, for LOVE IS KIND, my newest release, a darling little owl.
Now, in celebration of sharing books with little ones, here are TEN tried-and-true tips for using puppets to enhance a story time experience.
Before the story time.
1. Pick a puppet that fits the book. The puppet you choose can either be a protagonist, like my seal, mouse and owl, or minor characters such as my skunks and rooster. The most important thing is that you have a good reason for picking that puppet – a reason that enhances your story time. For example, the skunks are useful in introducing an important and fun subplot in GOODNIGHT, ARK. (They are hiding under the bed in every spread until – at last – they make a big stink that’s important to the resolution of the story.) And that rooster, while very minor to GOODNIGHT, MANGER, becomes a fun and engaging way to introduce the concept of loud vs. quiet voices when putting a baby to bed.
2. Play… and plan ahead of time! This is probably obvious, but it’s worth spending time in advance putting together a little stand-up routine for you and your puppet. This is your chance to tap into your inner comedian. The more you ham it up, the more the kids will love it!
3. Practice your ventriloquist skills. There are two ways to use your puppet. Either you can just talk with it and it can shyly nod, react etc., OR you can have that puppet actually converse with you, or “cock-a-doodle-doo” as my rooster does and SING as that darling Diva Delores loves to do! If you decide to have them speak, then I’d recommend practicing your ventriloquist skills in front of a mirror ahead of time.
During the story time.
4. Use your puppets to break the ice. If you are a little shy, like me, then you’ll probably agree that mingling is easier with a buddy. In that awkward “before the story time officially begins” period, I’ve discovered that EVERYBODY enjoys a little mingling with the author and her storytelling companion – especially when it’s a cute stuffed animal puppet.
5. Have your puppets help introduce the story. This takes a little planning ahead of time (see step 2), but a short puppet routine is a great way to introduce the themes of your story, any special concepts, or just to get the kids excited. For DIVA DELORES, for example, my seal puppet likes to sing for the audience so they can hear what opera sounds like. Then she invites them to join along in singing the refrain that appears on certain spreads in the book. I haven’t finalized exactly what Little Owl is going to do before I read LOVE IS KIND, but it will surely have something to do with kindness and love.
6. Have the children model for the puppets what “good listening” looks like before you read. It’s amazing how eager young readers are to engage with the puppets, and I’ve discovered over time that little ones especially like the opportunity to model for my puppets what good listeners look like. So, I have THEM show the puppets what it looks like to sit quietly with eyes on reader, ready to be read to. (I also use those skunks to my advantage (see intro)).
7. Use your puppets to engage young readers in some post-reading ponderings. After my readings, I like for the kids to reflect with me on what the characters in the story learned and I’ve found that involving the puppets in the process is effective and popular. For example, after reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER we ponder what made the difference in getting Baby Jesus to sleep. (The answer has to do with creating a quiet, peaceful atmosphere). Then, together, we see if we can teach our very NOISY rooster to do a quiet cock-a-doodle-doo. If he learns well, we invite him to join as we sing a final lullaby to Baby Jesus. For LOVE IS KIND, I think I will have Little Owl help me select volunteers to share their post-reading thoughts by looking with me for participants who are showing kindness by being good listeners with each other during our post book chat.
8. Include your puppets in the story time farewell. This can be very motivational if your audience is getting antsy because you can promise your young participants that if they hold on just a little longer, then they can pet and hug the visiting puppet! They love this! And I am just charmed by how many “I love yous” each puppet has so gently received over the last four years since I first started using puppets.
After the story time.
9. Have a puppet de-briefing session with yourself. After each story time, I find it helpful to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do next time to make that puppet even more integral to my story time. For example, it wasn’t until I had done a few story times in that I decided to have my GOODNIGHT, ARK skunk puppets engage my audience in a little quiet “thumbs up” challenge. But it worked so well, that now, at every GOODNIGHT, ARK story time, my skunk puppets challenge the audience to quietly put “thumbs up” as soon as they spot the skunks on each spread – which makes for a nice set up to the stinky climax!
10. Most important: HAVE FUN! Yes, let’s not forget this last important tip. If you are having fun, it will be contagious!
Thank you for having me, Lauri, and I hope my love for puppets inspires others to experiment with incorporating something new into their story times as well.
Hurrah for puppets! And what a fun post! I wonder if that monkey puppet is still around that I had when I was a kid. Hmm…
Folks, don’t forget to check out the other stops on the LOVE IS KIND tour.
ZonderKidz, the publisher of LOVE IS KIND, has generously agreed to give away a copy of the book to one U.S. blog reader. Just leave a comment here to be entered to win. A winner will be chosen at random on September 30. Be sure to follow Frog on a Blog so that I can contact you if you win.
Thank you Laura and ZonderKidz!
Title: Hedge Hog! (or Hedgehog!)
Author/Illustrator: Ashlyn Anstee
Publisher/Year: Tundra Books/2018
Back Cover Blurb: It’s Hedgehog’s hedge and he isn’t sharing.
*Review copy provided by Penguin Random House Canada
All of the animals in the garden are preparing for winter. Finding a cozy place to call home for the season, like a burrow, hive, or nest, is at the top of everyone’s list. The animals need shelter in order to survive the coming cold.
The bees, foxes, birds, and groundhogs happily share their homes with the other animals. Grasshopper, who dwells under the hedge, does too, especially after Hedgehog–who lives in the hedge, all by himself, and likes it that way–turns the other animals away.
As more and more animals show up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay, Hedgehog becomes increasingly agitated and he puts up signs and builds a fence to keep them out. But when Grasshopper accuses him of being a hedge hog, he goes inside and slams the door, with disastrous results. How will the others react now that Hedgehog is the one in need?
Though overflowing with cute, expressive characters, and featuring an unusual setting and fun text, the book offers readers something more–a message about helping others, sharing what we have, and being gracious.
Taken literally, opening our doors and allowing strangers to move into our homes is unrealistic and potentially dangerous. But opening our hearts to help those in need is something each one of us can do in our own way. Whether you donate to a worthy cause, volunteer your time, assist a neighbor, or simply show thoughtfulness by holding a door for someone, you can make the world a better place. We all can. Let’s start today. 🙂
Just for fun, I’m sharing–at random–cute photos to inspire your picture book writing. Perhaps a picture will spark an idea for a character, setting, or even an entire story. Have fun!
*All photos are available in the public domain or were taken by me, and are free to use and share.