Sunday, July 11, 2010

Are Many Popular Children's Books Really Too Scary?

We live in a crazy world, fraught with danger. Many parents are worried about how to ensure their children’s safety and emotional wellbeing. There are worries today that my parents never dreamed of. Are the crib slats far enough apart? (Who knew you could get your head caught between slats?) Is the car seat secure? (My kids crawled around in the back of the station wagon.) Do the medicines all have childproof caps? (There was no such invention.) And now, parents are even questioning popular children’s books.

Why were we (people of my generation) able to read children’s books without becoming alarmed?

After all, Little Red Riding Hood walked through woods alone and found that her grandmother had been eaten by a wolf. That never scared me.

Hansel and Gretel were abandoned in a forest. I was never afraid.

The Gingerbread Man was eaten by a fox. Nope, still not afraid.

Do parents today know things that my mother didn’t know? Didn’t my mother realize that Curious George was actually abducted from his home in Africa by a strange man in a yellow hat?

Did anyone recognize the fact that the Cat in The Hat was a stranger that came into the house when the kids were home alone? And, he created chaos to boot.

In the ever-popular book, The Lady With The Alligator Purse, Miss Lucy actually puts her baby in the bathtub “to see if he could swim.” He then tries to eat the bathtub “but it wouldn’t go down his throat.” It never would have occurred to me (or my equally talented siblings) to actually try to eat a bathtub.

Will my fairy books scare anyone? After all, my mischievous fairies do sneak into houses and cause a bit of trouble.

Are people today over reacting or just getting smarter? What do you think?

Bobbie Hinman

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Picture Books with Audio CDs May Help Autistic Children Learn to Read

Recently, while attending a book festival, I was approached by an excited teacher who told me that she is using my books in her teaching program with autistic children. Of course I was thrilled to hear this. I love children and would do anything to help them.

After our conversation, I did some research on my own and found that many teachers and parents of autistic children are finding that their children learn best when reading very colorful picture books. Combining an audio CD with a picture book merges the best of both worlds, adds another dimension to the learning process, and helps make the experience more meaningful for the children. Many children with autism respond well to music and also to hearing the words read aloud while they follow along.

As a former elementary teacher, I understand that teaching autistic children to read is often a challenging endeavor. It’s also of utmost importance to realize that not every technique will work with every child. Autism has an impact on the way children look at the world around them and, because these children have special needs, they often become easily frustrated. Patience and determination, plus creativity, are of the utmost importance.

When I decided to add audio CDs to my picture books, I knew I was creating more of a “total experience” for children. I’m so happy that the books are not only making children smile, but also helping them learn.

Bobbie Hinman

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writing For Children? Try Thinking Like a Child

One of the advantages in writing for children is that I get to think like a child. How do children think? If you have to ask that question, you might want to spend more time with children before attempting to write for them. One of the privileges of being a teacher, a mother, and now a grandmother has been experiencing firsthand the magical world called "childhood."

Relative to the world of children's books, here are some of my unscientific observations about how children think:

Children are enthusiastic. They are eager to know what is coming next in a story.

Children are creative. Ask them what they think will come next in a story, and enjoy their answers!

Children love pictures. They thrive on visual stimulation and they love bright, colorful illustrations. Try this: Tell a child about a dog riding a bike, then show them the picture. You will see a huge difference in their reactions.

Children love sensory descriptions. It's not enough to say, "The toy was soft." Children have a better understanding of descriptions such as “soft as a puppy” or “loud as a whistle”.

Children love happy endings. I don’t think there is ever a reason to have a children’s book with a sad ending. Let childhood be a time of optimism and fun.

A Children’s Story Doesn’t Need to Be Realistic. Children have no trouble at all believing that chickens can talk or rabbits wear clothes. In fact, it's much more fun to believe in make-believe.

Children love rhyming words. They also love the patterns of words that are repeated, such as "Fly,fly fly in the sky, sky, sky."

So, that's my short list of what it's like to think like a child. If you would like to write for youngsters, find a group of kids, sit on the floor, talk to them and, above all, listen!

Bobbie Hinman

Sunday, June 27, 2010

How My Grandkids Helped Me Create a New Career

How was I to know that by simply combing my granddaughter's hair, I was standing on the threshold of a new career.

It was the Spring of 2005 and my husband and I were babysitting for our 6-year old twin granddaughters and their 9-year old brother. It was actually day 2 of our 10-day babysitting stint, but that's another story!

I was trying to comb through Emily's morning tangles, she was crying, and, well, you know the scene. So...I did what grandmas do so well - I made up a story. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came the story of the sweet little Knot Fairy who visits sleeping children and loves to tangle their hair. Emily stopped crying. She loved the story and begged me to tell it every day - not only to her - but to all of her friends. Not only one time, but over and over and over.

To make a long story very short, my hubby and I were energized by the grankids' excitement. We created a publishing company, incorporated, hired the best illustrator we could find, hired a graphic designer, found the perfect printer, and Best Fairy Books, Inc. was born. That was 2005. This year we published our 4th book and we just received our 19th children's book award.

We actually have 10 grandkids and they are all a part of the process. They are the source of new ideas and they are my best - and most honest - critics. Their names appear on all of the dedication pages and their funny little voices are features on the CDs that accompany my books.

I would never have believed it if anyone had told me how my grandkids would change my life. They have taught me to always be open to new possibilities and to go after whatever life has to offer - even in the Golden Years!

Bobbie Hinman

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Rant About Celebrities Who Write Children's Books

What do Kathie Lee Gifford, Madonna and the Queen of Jordan have in common?

Give up? They are "authors". Notice the quotation marks? That's because it's hard to categorize them as "real" authors. I am really tired of celebrities getting book deals to write children’s books when there are so many talented, "real" writers out there waiting to be discovered. I find it hard to believe that the celebrity's books are not written by ghostwriters anyway.

And, is it fair that the public libraries use our tax dollars to buy inferior books by Madonna and other pseudo writers? I would rather expose my children to the work of conscientious authors who take their writing seriously. I'm waiting for The Paris Hilton series. That's going to be my favorite. I can’t wait until the main character gets her first hangover, her first rehab stint, and, of course, her first reality TV show. I wonder how many of Have these celebrities always dreamed of writing a book? How many have taken writing courses? Or slaved over their manuscripts, only to be turned away by agents and publishers because their names were not already recognizable?

Here's the list that makes me cringe: Peter Yarrow, Holly Robinson Peete, Henry Winkler, Bernadette Peters, Tim McGraw, Whoopi Goldberg, Judy Collins, Julie Andrews, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carl Reiner, Payton Manning, Julianne Moore, Brooke Shields, Sarah Ferguson, Jerry Seinfeld, John Travolta, Gloria Estefan, Dionne Warwick, Ray Romano, Billy Crystal and Joy Behar - to mention a few!

It’s sad that there are many aspiring authors who can actually write and will never be given the opportunities because they have never acted in a sitcom or performed at a comedy club. I would give up my favorite pen, my laptop and even my new blue fairy wings to be a guest on Ellen's show or Oprah's. But, I guess no one ever said life was fair.

Bobbie Hinman

Friday, June 18, 2010

Live Music and a Successful Book Launch Party

We had another very successful book launch party as The Fart Fairy came into the world. Our closest estimate is 365 people! One of the keys to the success of the event was having live music geared specifically to the kids. In my case, it was "Uncle Pete", a local talent who entertains children as a profession. And his joy is so contagious. He sang and played the guitar and organized dances for the kids for two full hours. It's Uncle Pete's voice and music that you hear on the CD that accompanies the book.

One huge advantage to providing entertainment for the kids is that the parents can stand in line to have their books signed and not have whining kids pulling on them. We were sure to mention the live music on all of our advertising. This (along with the promise of face painting and cake)was one of the reasons we had such a large turnout. My talented illustrator (Mark Wayne Adams) was also a featured guest. His illustrations always delight the kids and parents alike. Of course, I'd like to think that the new book brought them, too.

As an added benefit, our event was sponsored by the Harford County Libraries. And, as always, the Barnes & Noble (Bel Air, MD) staff was fabulous. I can't thank them enough for their support.

I love my community and I am so grateful that they have always been there to support me. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a very special event.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fart Fairy Has Launched!

At long last, the Fart Fairy has launched. It seems as though I have been working on this book forever. In fact, it now seems as though the word ‘fart’ has been a part of my daily vocabulary for a very long time. There were a few small hitches in getting the book ready to print, like a re-recording of the CD, the re-hiring of a vocalist, the re-writing of the Fart Fairy song, and the re-illustrating of a little boy whose color was a bit gray, but we made it.

We planned a huge launch party at Barnes & Noble in Bel Air, MD and were delighted beyond belief when 350 people showed up! Luckily there were plenty of extra books on hand, plenty of cake and (thank goodness) enough free whoopee cushions to go around.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried about this book. Would people accept my new found vulgarity? Would anyone show up at my launch party just to heckle me? Would there be raised eyebrows? Smirks and harrumphs? The answer is no! Almost everyone I have come in contact with has approved of my use of a sweet, little boy fairy to explain the whereabouts of the annoying sounds and odors that are a part of everyday life. I say ‘almost everyone’ because there have been a few people (mostly members of my generation) who have looked at me in utter disbelief when they heard ‘that word’ come out of my mouth.

Let’s always keep our sense of humor – and our sense of smell!

I’ll end with my hubby’s new favorite saying: “Never fear the fart!”