I’m especially pleased to have Jen Arena, editor of my book Mama’s Day with Little Gray, as our guest for today.
Jen Arena is lucky to have been surrounded by great children’s books her whole life. As a teenager, she worked at a children’s-only independent bookstore in Pennsylvania, and after graduating from college, she made her way to New York City, where she found a job as a children’s book editor. Since then, she’s written many books for kids. Her latest is 100 Snowmen, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. You can find out more at jenarenabooks.com.
When Aimee invited me to write this blog post, she mentioned she was looking for authors to share how children’s books had touched their lives. The idea of children’s books “touching” my life kind of made me laugh. When I look back, it’s more like children’s books grabbed me as a kid and never let go—first I was a reader of kids’ books, then a bookseller, then an editor and a writer. Instead of little inky fingerprints, children’s books have left bright red, blue, and yellow tempera paint handprints throughout my life.
Please share about your experience of connecting with books as a child. What positive memories do you have?
When I was little, my mom told me I was born on a Thursday, and my older sister never failed to remind me that, while “Monday’s child is loving and giving,” “Thursday’s child has far to go.”* Looking back, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as a kid, I felt like I was light years behind everyone else. Since my sister was four years older, no matter what I did, I could never catch up to her, could never do what she did easily.
It’s no surprise then, that my favorite picture book was Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego. Leo’s friends can all speak and read and write. They braid flowers and make awesome snow animals, but Leo can’t do any of those things. His parents are worried about him, and watch and watch until one day Leo blooms in a big and beautiful way. Part of what I loved then (and still love today) about the book is how Leo’s blooming centers on creativity—reading, drawing, and writing. Of course he also learns to eat neatly, one of those perfect little details that turns a good book into a great one.
* Funny story—when I was in my thirties after years of thinking I had “far to go,” I found one of those websites that checks the day you were born. Turns out I was actually born on a Friday. My mom, notorious for her bad memory, had gotten it wrong. MOM! My five-year-old self would have been thrilled to be a “loving and giving” Friday’s child, but by now I’m kind of attached to having “far to go.”
Please share about your experiences of being an adult and reading to a child or children. What are your favorite aspects of sharing good books with kids?
Unlike many grown-ups, kids are completely unselfconscious about the books they like. At one point, my four-year-old nephew simultaneously loved Lucy Cousins’ Noah’s Ark and a dinosaur encyclopedia. What do the two things have in common? Animals, I guess. But in art style, text, theme, genre, everything else, they couldn’t be more different. I once found out my niece’s favorite book by asking her the name of one of her stuffed animals. “Chinchilla,” she lisped. How does a three-year-old learn the word Chinchilla? From a book, of course. I read that book to her many times. And you know what? She was right—it was fascinating.
One of the best parts of reading to kids is when you let them choose the books themselves. I’ve been introduced to books that I would have never picked up myself, and learned something from every one of them. As a writer, you get to see what attracts kids to a book—the cover, the title, the topic—and what they react to in the story. But I do have one very important piece of advice, learned from experience—AVOID DINOSAUR BOOKS! Sure, they’re informative, and you’ll learn a lot, but every other word is a ridiculously long, multisyllabic scientific dinosaur name. And if you think the four-year-old you’re reading to won’t know that you’ve just mispronounced Coelophysis, you’re WRONG. They always know.
How about you? How have children’s books influenced your life? Let us know in the comments section below.
If you’re in the market for a fun and educational read, check out Jen’s picture book 100 Snowmen. It’s a perfect choice to celebrate the 100th day of school!
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