Why Picture Books Are Important

Two years ago, I taught an ELL (English-language learners) class to seven Somali students ranging in age from six to ten-years-old. The students had only lived in the United States for several months. In the beginning of each class, we sat on the floor and I read a picture book. On this particular day, I chose David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers, which begins, “On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers.”

All the students leaned toward the book in surprise. A few students widened their eyes. A couple students laughed. One ten-year-old girl who I’ll call Hani said, “What?” She touched the page. She laughed. She smiled. As I continued to read, the students inched in closer and closer. Afterward, by pointing out some of Small’s lively illustrations and using the language they had already learned, the students discussed how Imogene, the kitchen maid, and the cook accepted and embraced Imogene’s dilemma, but Imogene’s mother and the principal did not. After completing an activity, the students had free time on the computers. Hani asked for the book. Using it as a guide, she found the “Reading Rainbow” episode that features Imogene’s Antlers. She put on her headphones, sat back, laughed, and smiled. For the remainder of class, she watched the episode over and over again. Hani had traveled 8,000 miles from Somalia to Minnesota where she was expected to learn a new language, become educated, and fit in at a new school. Hani understood, laughed, found meaning, and perhaps found herself in a picture book about a child who accepts being different—and embraces it—even when she’s challenged. While increasing a child’s language and visual literacy skills, picture books broaden a child’s world and provide a place for human connection and understanding.

My Writing Process – A Blog Tour!

I’m thrilled to be a part of this blog tour that allows authors and illustrators to discuss their processes! Feel free to follow the tour backwards and forwards, and learn about the other participants.

Thanks to the fantastic Joyce Wan, a talented author, illustrator, and Wan-rtrepreneur (check out her products) for tagging me to participate! A few years ago, I met Joyce at an L.A. SCBWI conference, where we became fast friends! Just as I adored Joyce, I adored the board book she wrote and illustrated  . (Here we are at the Wine & Cheese party in L.A.).

Since then, Joyce has published several fabulous board books. Recently, Joyce illustrated SLEEPYHEADS, which was written by Sandra J. Howatt. I admire Joyce’s work because of her style, design, use of color, sense of play, and the tenderness found in both her text and illustrations. Check out Joyce’s books! You too can become a fan!

What am I currently working on?

Currently, I’m revising PUNK SKUNKS, a picture book about two best friends who play everything together — including music — until one day they clash. The book will be illustrated by my husband Stephen Shaskan and published by HarperCollins in 2016. You can learn more about Stephen’s work from his web site!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This story explores friendship as many stories do, but the main characters Kit and Buzz are punk skunks! Stephen and I created this story because we play music together for fun. Like Buzz, Stephen plays guitar. Like Kit, I play the drums. But unlike Kit (and many actual skunks) I can’t handstand while spraying my scent ten feet. Then again, she is hardcore.

Why do I write what I write?

Writing stories is natural to me. And the stories I write speak to my heart, either emotionally, or contain something I care deeply about. PUNK SKUNKS celebrates the ins and outs of friendship. The joy. The fragility. And forgiveness. But it also hums and thrums with music.

How does my individual writing process work?

My writing process varies for each story. For PUNK SKUNKS the process was way different than anything I had previously wrote because I worked directly with Stephen. We had previously created a book-or-ire together, but we hadn’t created our own story together. For PUNKS SKUNKS, we brainstormed ideas for characters and stories. Once we decided to create a story about two animals that played music, we began developing the characters. We named them Kit and Buzz since Kit plays a drum kit and Buzz is one sound a guitar makes. Stephen sketched several different animals. Turns out, some animals don’t look natural playing instruments! I answered questions about each character, and then brainstormed with Stephen again. Together, we created the characters’ personalities. I researched skunks, rooted around for the layers, explored the friendship, and wrote the story.

Next Up on the Blog Tour is…

My friend Nancy Loewen! Nancy is an award-inning author of over 100 books for children! Learn about her and her books from her web site! Nancy’s latest picture book is BABY WANTS MAMA, which won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Book AwardBABY WANTS MAMA captures the wants and chaos of family life with rhyme, repetition, and a fun story that will engage readers! You should definitely purchase this perfect story for the preschool set! I look forward to reading Nancy’s post on her process because recently, I had the privilege of collaborating with Nancy for a book event, where I saw her creativity, fun, and play in action!