Throughout my life, I have had a great deal of my creative inspiration come to me in dream form. I had been working on an academic article on imaginary friends, but in the middle of working on it I had a dream in which an angel showed me a children’s book, complete with the title: Annie Mouse Meets her Guardian Angel. I got up and transcribed everything from the dream and that eventually became my first book in the series. The ideas flowed from there.
Have your education degrees and past work experience helped you as you write these children’s books?
Absolutely! Aside from my work as an Elementary/Early Childhood Education Professor at Slippery Rock University, where I prepare people to be early childhood teachers, I hold a K-8 teaching certificate, with additional certifications in early childhood education, K-12 Reading, and K-12 gifted education. I have literally taught at every grade level. One thing that became perfectly clear was how important an understanding of child development is to being an effective teacher. Children’s perceptions of what is happening around them are often very different from the way adults view the same reality. Adults spend a great deal of time being frustrated with the behavior of children and go into discipline mode, which adds to the hurt, anger and frustration for both adult and child. Often, what is needed is to sit down and read a good book that helps children understand the meaning and intentions of the adults in their world. I taught remedial reading for many years and discovered that, in many cases, reading problems went away once the social-emotional issues were addressed. I focused on using “bibliotherapy” in my reading classes, so it was natural that, once I began writing my own books that they would fit into that genre. Each of my books was inspired by my experiences working with children.
Through my position at the university, where I teach a variety of early childhood courses, including literacy and Social Studies methods, I have come to learn that the majority of pre-service teachers view Social Studies as something that is “boring.” I’ve also learned that many believe Route 66 no longer exists. Since I travel the historic route every year, I saw another opportunity to incorporate many instances of Annie’s confusion at what she is seeing and hearing while teaching a slice of American history in a more exciting, engaging manner. The result is my two latest books, the companion books: Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal and Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Family Vacation, the chapter book.
Are there more books planned for the series?
YES! I always have ideas for several others, and have notebooks filled with “scribbles.” I’m not quite certain which one will be next, it just depends which one “pulls” me the most. I would like to do more Photo Journal books and have begun planning one for Pennsylvania. I have other “issue” books in mind, too, such as Annie Mouse needing to get glasses, one of the little brothers playing with matches, and- eventually one that deals with Daddy dying, but I’m not ready to tackle that one yet.
What’s your writing process like for a new book? Do the plot and circumstances come on their own, or do you see something in life around you and think, “This would be perfect for Annie Mouse to experience!”?
With the exception of the first book that “came to me” in a dream, I consciously developed the rest of my books from something in my life -memories and circumstances- that I felt would be perfect for Annie Mouse to experience. I write from things I have personally experienced, so that I could write from a place of my own heart and soul; experiences that have touched me deeply. Each of my books, including the first one, has a very personal story behind it, which I will share with the St. David’s conference attendees.
People give me ideas all of the time, but unless I have had an in-depth experience with the topic, it won’t feel authentic to me. I come from a very large family and have taught in so many different settings, that I have so many more Annie Mouse adventures to tell!
My newly released chapter book, Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Family Vacation, incorporates many of the little “events” that children experience in life. Circumstances that seemed like they would make a good plot, but wouldn’t have worked well in a stand-alone picture book, became “episodes” in the chapters. All of them were things that happened to me, my children, students or things I have seen or witnessed on my travels. For instance, when Annie gets car sick, and none of her siblings are happy with the results, came from a recollection of one of my first car trips in a relative’s new car. When the Mouse Family stops at a “Flea Market” and the children wonder why they are selling fleas- that was something one of my own children asked in confusion as a young child.
I do eventually want to write the story where Daddy dies. Not only have I lost my own father, I had to help a six-year-old through the loss of her father. I couldn’t write that book from an authentic viewpoint if I didn’t have the personal experience of working one-on-one with a young child and witnessing the range of emotions she experienced. That book is sketched out in one of my notebooks, but I’m just not ready to say good-bye to Daddy Mouse yet.
Tell us a little about what you’ll be sharing with us at the St. Davids conference!
Some of the things that I’ll be sharing include:
· aspects of child development that are important to understand in order to write for young children
· defining bibliotherapy and sharing examples
· how to find your own unique voice for writing children’s stories
· “dos and don’ts”
· my inspiration behind each of the books: from dreams to getting my “Kicks on 66”
· my writing process and “getting started”