Who I Am and How to Definitely Make Kids Hate Books and Reading! By Mandy C. Yates
But I’ll give it my all and I hope you will join me on Mondays with Mandy (or Mira).
So…who am I? Well, over all, I’m a creator and a sharer. Which is usually how it works, I think. Creators want to share what they have created. Growing up, I loved musical theatre, art, and writing.
When I got to college, I took classes in all areas, but majored in vocal performance. Halfway through, I switched my major to elementary education because education was a more “stable” and “reliable” job than vocal performance. (Insert sarcastic laugh here.)
So as I taught first grade, I finished my Masters in Reading. I decided to become a reading specialist when I realized I was teaching my first graders to write haiku poetry during what should have been their math time. (Oops!)
My students may not have learned (anything) from me about math, but darn it, they loved to read and write. Even those typical “bookhaters.” (You know the ones that claim they hate books, they hate reading, blah, blah, blah!) But I was able to turn them all into readers and writers. During all that time (not teaching math) I discovered something amazing…
Kids Don’t Hate Books!
They just haven’t discovered the joy of it yet. Or worse, the “pain and torture” of reading has rubbed off on them from someone else who never discovered book joy.
Now I know, I’m probably preaching to the choir about instilling a love of reading, since all of us here adore books. So instead, I’ll share a totally true, but relevantly sarcastic “How To.” If you definitely want your children or students to HATE books and reading, then follow the following steps.
There you have it! Keep those tips in mind! They are sure to work. I have proof.
One last tidbit about me: While teaching my first graders, I realized I had no idea how to teach them "how to write." So I decided to go back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing for Children. I've learned a great deal about writing in order to teach my students, and it inspired me to want to write children's book as well. I love writing picture books, poetry, chapter books, and middle grade. So I will be discussing all these areas in upcoming posts.
See you Monday on Mondays with Mandy (or Mira) where I’ll try to contain my excitement!
Oh, remember how I said I couldn’t begin to describe how excited I am?
To engage in mildly risky behavior evokes giggles in a child who is protected all day and night. Testing boundaries and pushing them are a part of every childhood--Lehrhaupt and Forsythe turn this idea on its head.
So, why shouldn’t we open Lehrhaupt’s Warning: Do Not Open This Book!? The narrator tells the reader right away: “you don’t want to let the monkeys out.”
Of course, most readers won’t be able to resist the urge to turn the pages. I couldn’t.
The result is an escalating melee, complete with monkeys of many kinds, toucans and even a giant alligator. In addition to causing overall mayhem, these mischievous creatures even take over the job of the illustrator! Be warned.
Just when things get truly out of control, Lehrhaupt invites the readers to be part of the solution by setting a banana trap and catching the monkeys back in the book.
My inner child just delights at such fun and humor. And my writer self just marvels at how a flat two-dimensional book can hold three-dimensional fun.
While at the annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles this past month I heard that a lot of editors are looking for books that are “outside the box.” I can only conclude that this is the brilliance of Warning: Do Not Open This Book!
Congrats to Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe on their summer blockbuster. What a splashy debut. Now, everyone go buy the book and giggle your way to defying the rules!
#2 is boring.
#3 is multi-layered and unique and will certainly be enjoyed by little ones, but I missed having one main character.
#4 is a fun idea, but there’s no arc. It’s the type of manuscript that, in years past, would have been called “too slight.”
#5 is on the fence. It’s fun and it’s about dinosaurs, so little ones will certainly enjoy. However, the main character has no name (I really like book characters with names.) and for little ones, it’s challenging to know which of the several characters is speaking.
#6 is wobbling violently on the fence. It’s visually stunning and presents a complex issue in a simple way, but the resolution seemed too easy to me.
What I missed in all but one of these books was a strong main character. (Yes, I’m biased. Afterall, I have an e-course on character-driven picture books.)
Books that aren’t character-driven rise to the top of Amazon’s ranks and become NY Times Best Sellers, but they aren’t necessarily books I want children to fall asleep with night after night.
Which book survived my steely stare? Which is the last book standing?
Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. It’s timeless as well as original. I love the simple story-telling beginning. “One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family.” First to see the dog is Mr. Hope, then Mrs. Hope, Adeline, Maurice, and finally Small. With each character we get a little view of who they are, but it’s Small who is our hero, as she goes outside to meet the dog who has become larger and larger with each family member’s stare. With a song and a playful obstacle course, Small entices the black dog to follow her. As he follows, he grows smaller and smaller…and becomes Small’s friend.
There’s a nice narrative arc, which I’m a fan of. The black dog, which is a metaphor for fear, gets bigger as each family member sees him; it takes Small to face fear and bring the dog down to size.
I always enjoy layers in picture books. Even if the reader doesn’t know what the layers are, they still add depth. In this case, the layers let us admire Small all the more.
I believe above all, above information, above fun, above silliness, above sweetness, touching readers’ hearts is the most important thing a picture book can do. Black Dog did that for me. It was a 2013 Boston Globe-Horn Picture Book Honor Winner and Levi was winner of the 2013 Kate Greenaway medal.
I suspect if you’d read these 7 books, many of you would have chosen a different favorite. So, I invite you to share a picture book that touches your heartstrings. Is it because of a special character?
Thanks in advance for sharing.
I am about to embark on another illustrating adventure. Right now the art director is being set up. Text is being finalized. I’ll be doing sketches soon, based on the thumbnails and roughs I have already sent the publisher. It won’t be long before I’ll be painting. That’s funny. I just got a chill up my back and an old familiar feeling in my chest. It is an adventure. I am in it now. I can feel it.
Creating a book is always a journey. Always something learned. Always an understory that layers into the art. This next book, which I wrote and will illustrate is LOADED with personal understory already. I can only imagine what all will have occurred by the time I have it in my hands in its final form. When I look back at all my books I can recall how I felt while I was creating each of them, what was going on in my life at the time. I can see how the art reflects that, whether I intended it to or not. I can see what was important to me and what compelled me.
What I notice the most is how I illustrated many books based on what I needed in the classroom to teach art. Hilariously, in those days, I saw completed books more as tools, than as things unto themselves. I was focused on creating book art that kids could look at up close and figure out how to do, either with my help when visiting them, or on their own, like I would have done as a kid. I wanted to create techniques that were accessible, fun and familiar that a kid could successfully do and feel good about.
Attending to book art in this way was F*U*N! I learned TONS and played like a maniac. I would just come up with a concept and decide that was it! Sometimes I was quite stretched to learn things fast enough to keep up with my own vision, but it kept me on my feet and always reminded me of how kids feel all the time—always in the unknown, always on an adventure learning fast as you gogogo. And now I know tons of cool, weird techniques that I just made up.
One of the first books I did like this was My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez. I LOVE introducing kids to oil pastels in the classroom, so of course, I had to do a book with them. But MY MY it was tricky business and fabulously messy! All the more reason to do it I guess! I still love the look of the rich textures and the originals I have continue to look fresh. Shipping them and storing them is delicate business however. But I highly recommend playing with them for illustrating. It was a good adventure. EVERYONE should play with oil pastels! If you’re getting dirty you know you’re making art I always say.
Then there were things I heard in the classroom, conversations about someone “cheating” when making art. I was intrigued by this whole cheating concept and how incensed the kids would get about it. So I decided that I would try to cheat as much as possible in a book.
In Angel’s Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems by Francisco Alarcon I decided that I would take photographs of all the humans and put those into my spreads instead of drawing them myself and only draw the environments around them. Then I painted across the whole spread. I even made a point of leaving visible paper edges where I glued the copied photos onto the larger paper so I could point out and say to kids, see here is where I glued it down. I have had some great conversations about cheating when I share this book. And I have watched a lot of kids feel easier about creating art when they know that even “an artist like me” makes art anyway she can and that’s a good thing. Art is art. No cheating possible.
Making books with the classroom in mind has taught me well. Sometimes messy, sometimes deep. It’s good to know why we make books and that it is a journey, an adventure and many things big and small and mundane and profound are bound to be learned.
I love the unknown. I love the surrender to a big, juicy project. I love the color and the smell of art materials and the prayers whispered between the layers to children I will never meet. Be strong. Belong. Be song.
I love making books. We are a lucky crowd.
Maya Gonzalez is largely self-taught. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning multicultural children’s books and written 3 with, not an end in sight! Her latest book, Call Me Tree, set to come out next year with Lee&Low Books, is her most recent labor of love! Her fine art has shown internationally and appears in numerous books about the contemporary Chicano Art Movement including on the cover of Living Chicana Theory and Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education considered to be "the Bible of Chicano/a art." Ridiculously creative, she’s probably making art as you read this or thinking about making art if she’s driving a car or using the stove. And one of her ultimate passions is inspiring others to create books, because she believes that creating children's books has the potential to be one of the most radical things you can do!
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