SCBWI-Arizona Showcase and Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! Preview

Promotion for Showcase with Photos of Authors/Illustrators

I have been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since my first children’s book was published in 1997. File folders full of rejection letters aside, I have been lucky to have found publishing homes for three additional books during the intervening years. You can read about those on the Children’s Books and Sites Page on my Storytrail website.

This coming Saturday, March 27, I will be joining author Dawn Young, author-illustrator Nate Evans, and illustrator Jim Paillot to participate in a virtual SCBWI-AZ Author Showcase and Q&A.

Thank you to Laura Ellen and Dianne White, SCBWI-Arizona PAL coordinators. The Spotlight Zoom will involve us in introducing ourselves and our books and provide members of the children’s books writing community the opportunity to get answers to their general publishing questions.

Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! and a Spanish edition ¡Por favor, ¡no me abraces! were first published as a donation on the Make Way for Books (MWFB) app. MWFB Arizona is an early literacy nonprofit that provides proven programs, services, and resources to 30,000 young children, parents, and educators throughout southern Arizona each year. Their mission is to give all children the chance to read and succeed.

Check it out: If you are writing for infants, toddlers, preschool children and their families, you should know that MWFB currently has a call for submissions, open until March 31st.

Book Cover: Please Don't Give Me a Hug!Thanks to Star Bright Books, my Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! story will be published as a board book, available for distribution at the end of April. MWFB gave me back the rights to the story. In exchange, I am donating a portion of the proceeds from the e-book to MWFB. Win-win-win.

Meeting Star Bright Books publisher Deborah Shine was an amazing coincidence and gift of encouragement for my passion for writing for children. Way back in 2002, I ran into my neighbor and children’s book author and illustrator Ron Himler in the produce section of our grocery store. Ron told me the story behind his newly released picture book Six Is So Much Less than Seven.

I asked him to send me a copy and promised I would review it. Ron loved my review and shared it with his publisher, Deborah Shine, who invited me to review books for Star Bright. After I shared a copy of my first published book with Deborah, she asked if I had others. I recited Read to Me, a poem I has written for then Tucson Public Library’s Project L.I.F.T., Literacy Involves Families Together. The poem, written for the teen parents who participated in that project, fit perfectly with Star Bright’s mission.

The poem became the board book Read to Me, which has since been published in English, Spanish, bilingual Spanish/English, Vietnamese/English, and Haitian Creole/English. The book has sold some 150,000 copies mostly to early childhood and family literacy programs. The first organization to purchase and distribute the book widely was…  you guessed it… Make Way for Books.

Note: Star Bright Books publishes books for young children in 25 different languages. All of Star Bright’s bilingual books display the heritage language first on the page followed by English. For the last twenty years, Deborah Shine and Star Bright’s commitment to diversity in language and culture in both text and illustrations is admirable and all too rare among publishers of books for young people.

Working with Deborah Shine and the team at Star Bright Books has been a wonder. I am thrilled to be working with them again to promote Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!

Estelle Corke painted the child-friendly illustrations for the book. As an author who cannot draw, I am especially grateful when the illustrations for the stories I write include diverse characters in terms of race, ethnicity, sex, age, and ability. Thank you, Estelle, and Star Bright!

Although I receive a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from publishing professional books for school librarians and classroom teachers, there is a slightly different quality to my feelings about the books for children and families that are published with my name on the cover.

Knowing that a child, parent, older sibling, grandparent, childcare provider, teacher, librarian, and others may at any given moment be reading one of my books to a young person… well, for me, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

I hope you will join us on Saturday, March 27, 2021, and share our love of publishing books for children. The Showcase is free and open to all. If you are able and interested in joining us, go to the online registration form.

How Children Succeed

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Helping children and teens develop dispositions is one of the essential aspects of preparing future-ready students for schooling and life. In my research on this topic, I was happy to find Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. (I have not yet read his more recent book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.)

Tough frames his perspective as a possible new school of thought that calls the “cognitive hypothesis” into question. The “cognitive hypothesis” of child rearing/development suggests that learning is based on “inputs” and “outputs.”

These are some of the “cognitive hypothesis” examples Tough gives that may speak to BACC blog readers:
1. The fewer words a child hears and speaks before entering school the more likely she is to struggle in schooling.
2. Fewer books in the home puts a child at risk in reading proficiency.
3. More math homework means higher math scores.

These examples (two near and dear to my heart) suggests a linear view of cognitive development.

Tough’s “character hypothesis” adds a different perspective. “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character” (xv). In the world of school librarianship, we refer to these noncognitive skills, personality traits, or character traits as “dispositions.”

While I disagree with Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” here, I read on and found myself developing a hybrid view of these two apparently opposing hypotheses.

The “character hypothesis” explains a number of children I have met. In over twenty-five years of teaching, I have met and admired those “outlier” kids who seemed to have missed out on literacy enriched upbringings yet have excelled in every school-based measure of achievement. I have also met and wondered about very privileged children who seemed to have had every advantage yet were unable to persevere at tasks (even of their own choosing) and lacked grit. (Tough uses Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit: “self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal.”)

I agree with Tough that there are many other ways to develop “executive functions” besides growing up with the advantages afforded (most? some?) privileged children. These higher-order mental abilities, such as the ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations, can be learned in many ways and at many points during a person’s life. “Executive functions and the ability to handle stress and manage strong emotions can be improved, sometimes dramatically, well into adolescence and even adulthood” (48).

I totally agree with Tough that: “Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing bonds with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment” (28). And in my experience (and in the views of other researchers) when parents and other caregivers talk to and dialogue with their young children and enfold them in their arms while reading to them, children are indeed building the bonds that help children develop resilience. (Hence my objection Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” in relationship to talking to and reading with young children.)

Tough cites research that was new to me. Mary Ainsworth conducted studies in the 1960s/early 1970s. She found that: “Babies whose parents responded readily and fully to their cries in the first few months of life were, at one year, more independent and intrepid babies than babies whose parents had ignored their cries” (cited in Tough 33). This may seem counterintuitive but having been that kind of parent with my own infant daughter, my experience has borne out that finding. She became a VERY intrepid toddler and grew into a VERY independent woman (now in her mid-30s).

My question here is if babies are born into struggling families, does the parent who is working two jobs have the energy to respond “readily and fully” to a baby’s middle of the night cries?

Tough also writes about cognitive-behavior therapy and cites the work of Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, which I haven’t yet read. According to Seligman, the best time to transform pessimistic children into optimistic ones is “before puberty, but late enough in childhood so they are metacognitive (capable of thinking about thinking)” (91).

For me, this emphasizes the importance of the middle school years. I believe middle school educators benefit from specialized training in adolescent development and empathetic skills in order to effectively support young teens social, emotional, and cognitive development. (I worked with some very “gifted” classroom teachers at Emily Gray Junior High who had what it takes during my one year of middle school librarianship.)

My experience supports the importance of optimism and other positive emotional states when it comes to learning. As researcher David Sousa noted positive emotions affect learning by helping students process information, engage in difficult tasks, develop a deeper understanding of learning experiences, and recall and apply what is taught later on (2016).

Tough analyzes the character education program at  KIPP Schools. In order to prepare KIPP students for college, students are given a college persistence rating in four categories: academic preparedness, financial stability, socio-emotional wellness, and non-cognitive preparedness. This score is monitored regularly and educators/counselors provide support and interventions to keep students on track. The success rate for less-privileged students who attend KIPP schools and go on to succeed in post-secondary education suggests “character” counts.

Tough concludes: “Character can function as a substitute for the social safety net that students at Riverdale (a high school serving privileged students) enjoy – the support from their families and schools and culture that protects them from the consequences of occasional detours and mistakes and bad decisions” (103).

In summary, Tough writes: “Character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up” (196). Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.

I learned a great deal from reading Tough’s book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in child-adolescent development and education.

Writing this review has helped me further reflect on the complexity of creating an environment in which future-ready children and teens can development the knowledge, competencies, and dispositions they need to succeed. In my hybrid view, the combination of family economic security, the “cognitive hypothesis,” and the “character hypothesis” could all be applied to create a supportive and effective birth through adolescence environment for children to succeed.

Why not imagine and create the best of all possible worlds for our children?

Works Cited
Sousa, David A. 2016. How the Brain Learns. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tough, Paul. 2013. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.