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!”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grouchy Authors Not Welcome Here

I have the pleasure of attending numerous book fairs. In fact, I attended three such events just within the last three weeks. Here’s my rant for the day: It never ceases to amaze me how disagreeable and unapproachable some authors appear! At one of my recent events, I was tempted to grab my camera and take a few pictures to demonstrate the “don’ts” of author behavior; however, I must admit that it was the fear of a lawsuit kept me sane. Why do so many authors stack their books in neat piles on the table, and then sit behind the piles wearing deep frowns upon their faces? Their expressions say loud and clear, “Don’t you dare speak to me!” I recently witnessed one author who was reading a book (behind his stack), another one playing a game on his cell phone and another – in my opinion the worst one of all – typing away on his laptop. All this while supposedly introducing their books to the public. Is this really the image you wish to portray?

There are many books on body language and it might help if exhibiting authors (or for that matter, anyone who deals with people) took the time to read them. Uncross your arms, put down that book, put a smile on your face and open yourself up to people. You will be amazed at the results.

C’mon people, believe in your book. Believe in yourself. Believe in the power of a smile!

Thanks for listening to my rant! :)

Bobbie Hinman :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What’s Really in a Screen Name?

Remember when you went through a stage where you didn’t like your name? Did you think your name was too girlie, too masculine, too old-fashioned, or just plain weird? Most of the people I asked said they’ve been there.

I for one have never liked my name. I always thought “Barbara” was too common and ordinary. What’s more, I couldn’t identify with the name. I never felt like a “Barbara.” From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I insisted that people call me Bobbie instead. I’ve known a number of people who evade their name by suing their middle name, and still others who go by their initials.

Enter the screen name. What a great idea. Now you can be known as anything you like. I was recently sifting through my mailing list and wondered - Is jaguargirl a car fanatic or a catlike person? Is jonwonkonobie a Star Wars fan? Does the name karatemama tell you anything? Is ethel clinging to the past? Is directordan (who I know is not a real director) just want us to think he’s in charge? And what about gamecock? (I’m almost afraid to guess.) And hedgehogsdilemma? And dogears?

Whatever the reason, whatever the name, I think it’s great that we can now be known by any name we choose!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Traveling Vegetarian

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years and for me traveling is still a challenge. Yes, it has gotten easier over the years, however it still requires a bit of work and sometimes it makes me downright grumpy.

My main challenge is twofold - the quality of the vegetarian options in restaurants and the general lack of availability. Why do so many chefs either have too much imagination or not enough imagination? Why do they think that for every item that is removed from their dishes (in this case meat), they have to add another oily sauce or pat of butter. Or, why do they think that a vegetarian can be happy dining on a salad and a piece of fruit? Don’t laugh. I’ve been offered dinners that consisted of one or two canned veggies and a side of applesauce. And on highways that are heavy with fast food joints, the choices are so few and far between. I guess would be fine if I were content to eat a slice of cheese on a white bread roll, maybe topped with some shredded iceberg lettuce, because that’s about all these places have to offer. Most people still don’t understand that vegetarians eat more than just what’s left when the meat is taken away. We really don’t graze along the side of the road.

Since hubby and I travel a lot, we’ve learned to be very creative. We look for places like Panera Bread, Crispers and Whole Foods that have a number of vegetarian options. (Check out the delicious grilled portobello mushroom sandwich in my picture). We look for new “healthier” type of Mexican restaurants that offer burritos with beans, avocado and veggies. We love Italian food and are always happy to fill our bellies with pasta and marinara sauce. Asian restaurants are always an option, too, but only if the staff understand the concept of “no animal broth.” Greek restaurants make me literally jump for joy! There are a number of choices. We just have to try a little harder to find them.

This rant leads me to my first rule when traveling - Never leave home without your jars of peanut butter and jelly!

Bobbie Hinman

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do You Give Your Books Away?

I have spoken with many fellow authors about whether or not they believe in giving away sample copies of their books. The results seemed to fall equally on both sides of the fence. The main reason cited for not giving away books seems to be that “if someone is genuinely interested, they should at least be willing to cover the cost of the book”. Also heard a few times was, “my books are not free to me, so why should they be free to others.”

On the other side of the fence, I have had a number of very large sales that were direct results of my freebies. Two days ago I visited a major bookstore that did not have my books on the shelf. (The books are in the computer, but were not in that particular store.)I asked the manager if she would be interested in ordering a few books and said that I would be happy to come back when the books are in to sign them. I then handed her a copy of each of my three books (along with my contact information and some bookmarks) and told her that they were a gift to her to acquaint her with the books. I also suggested that she might use them as display copies to generate interest in the books. Two days later I received a call from the manager saying that she did display the books and then she read them during storytime. She also held a drawing in the store, using the books as prizes. She thanked me for sharing the books with her and asked me to please stop by in a few days to sign the 30 books that she had ordered for her store. In addition, she requested a book signing which we scheduled that day. All this from three sample books.

The same day I dropped off three books in an upscale children’s boutique. I introduced myself to the owner and gave her the books “as a gift, to acquaint her with the books” which I assured her would enhance the already wonderful gift selection in her store. This time it was only one day before she called to place an order for her store.

I also give free books to my close friends and relatives. They have turned out to be quite vocal when it comes to sharing my books with their friends and relatives, resulting in many, many sales.

A few guidelines that I use:
Just don’t be too free with your freebies. I give away only one of each book to each customer.

Don’t take the books back. If a store manager decides not to purchase books, I never go back to reclaim my books. I told them they were a gift. Let them keep them or sell them. You never know what will come of it.

Be sure to leave your contact information. This means a professional business card or colorful postcard, not a scribbled cell number on a scrap of paper.

Be sure to follow up. While people mean well, many need a friendly reminder.

Don’t forget to ask your tax professional if you are entitled to a tax deduction for the free books.

Good luck.
Bobbie Hinman

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Don’t Men “Get” the Silent Signals?

Have you ever noticed that women have the innate ability to communicate by silently mouthing words to each other? Age is irrelevant. I can silently “talk” to my granddaughters, my daughter and my mother. My best friend and I have been sending each other silent signals since high school. We definitely had the advantage on double dates when we could send each other message such as, “He’s hot,” right in front of the boys without them ever catching on.

Why do men just not get it? My husband and I have been married for 30 years and yet he is clueless when I try to send him a silent signal. Just yesterday we had a meeting with what turned out to be a very persistent salesperson. I looked across the table at my hubby and mouthed “tell him no”. Hubby gave me a look that clearly said “huh?” (Women are also great at reading looks.) I then mouthed “let’s go”. No use. Next I resorted to one of those famous kicks under the table. You guessed it. He responded with “ouch”. Really!

You’ve heard that popular expression, “read my lips?” It doesn’t seem to work with men. Try it with the men in your life. They just don’t get it.

Bobbie Hinman

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Authors, Are You Engaging?

As I watched the adorable little faces on the childen in the class I visited yesterday, a question crossed my mind: Am I engaging? (I think the answer is “yes”. At least, I hope so.)

Nope, I’m not talking about being attractive or delightful. Yes, it does help to have an engaging personality, and it does come in handy when working with children. But, while this is important if you wish to prevent the risk of boring them to death, I’m talking about the word “engaging” when used as a verb. Most parents and teachers have probably realized that the longer you talk to children, the less they hear. Talk too long and they hear nothing…nada. Engage them and you have an entirely different situation.

This really holds true if you are an author and are doing classroom visits. If you talk “at” children, if you bore them to tears, not only will they not respond to you, but they also won’t buy your books.

Here are a few clues as to whether or not a group of children is bored with your presentation:

1.The children's eyes appear to have glazed over.
2.You call on a child and their answer is "huh?"
3.You ask the group a question and no one raises their hand.
4.You tell a joke and no one gets it.
5.You ask a question about your book and someone raises their hand to tell you a totally unrelated story about their new cat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way suggesting that we act like a clowns or think we are there to be entertainers. However, it's really important to ask the children questions throughout your presentation. Do you have some props to show them, such as a lantern like one in your book or a hat like the one worn by your character? Can you interject a song? Can you have the group repeat a difficult word that you have used or read aloud with you a line of text? Do you have colorful pictures or charts that you can hold up? If we do these types of things, we can make the class a part of the experience, rather than just a group of onlookers. You’ve probably heard that expression, “I see your lips moving, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah.”

Bobbie Hinman

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Do students reflect the personality of their teacher?

During a recent school visit I made a very interesting observation.

I was in the process of setting up for my presentation in the school media center. About 5 minutes before the designated starting time the third grade class arrived, led by their student teacher. Their classroom teacher was nowhere in sight. The children were seated and my presentation began. During my presentations I ask a lot of questions, always encouraging interaction and engaging the students. It didn’t take me long to realize that most of the children in this class, with unpleasant frowns on their faces, didn’t particularly want to be engaged. The answers to my questions tended toward the negative and, when asked to create their own fairy ideas for a story, many of the children contributed ideas such as the Robber Fairy, the Toy Fairy (steals toys) and other mean-spirited fairies. I should mention here that this particular school is in a rather upscale suburban neighborhood.

Twenty minutes into the presentation the children finally seemed to relax and we were having a nice discussion. Then the classroom teacher appeared. No surprise – she had the same negative expression on her face that the children had had when they entered the room. In fact, the first words out of her mouth were, “Sara, stop talking. Jason, put that pencil away.” She proceeded to sit, arms crossed, staring into space while I went on with my presentation. Is this why the children acted the way they did?

When this class left the media center and the next class arrived, I watched carefully. These children entered the room smiling, accompanied by their teacher who was also smiling. This presentation proved to be one of the most enjoyable I have ever had. Not only did the children have lots of creative ideas, but the teacher even raised her hand a few times and offered her own creative story ideas. The children and the teacher all had the same positive attitudes. The ideas this class offered for their fairy stories were kind fairies such as the rainbow fairy, the snow fairy and the messy desk fairy. In retrospect, the teacher of this class looked and acted as much as Mary Poppins as anyone I have ever met. What lucky kids!
ooking at these two examples, coming from the same school on the same day, I have to wonder - is this a coincidence or do teachers have this much influence on the personalities of our children?

Bobbie Hinman

Monday, January 25, 2010

Have Hobbies Vanished?

Have Hobbies Vanished?

Oh, no! I just asked a group of third graders about their hobbies (hoping some would say “reading”), but they didn’t know what I was talking about! Really! Is it that kids don’t have hobbies these days or that they simply call them something other than hobbies? Either way, hobbies (or whatever you call them) are not what they used to be. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when almost every neighborhood had an actual “hobby shop”. These little shops were always packed with goodies such as gimp, balsa wood and paint-by-number kits. They were places where the owners actually knew all of the neighborhood children.

Without getting too sentimental. do you remember when children actually did things after school? They played ball, took walks, roller skated, built forts, did arts and crafts, learned to knit, collected bugs, read books! Now they sit, electronic equipment in hand, and they twitter, send instant messages and chat on facebook. Ok, I guess I am old, but maybe I have lived to be old by being active, having hobbies and actually doing things. I’m fearful that the next generation will be plagued by weight problems, shrinking grey matter, giant thumbs and carpal tunnel problems.

C’mon parents, get you kids up and doing something. How about an hour of computer for every hour of exercise? How about an hour of Wii after an hour of reading? How about family games in place of TV during the week? How about bowling? Photography? How about talking to each other? How about a hobby?

Bobbie Hinman

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Have You Ever Wondered How an Audio Book is Created?

Have you ever wondered how an audio book is created? I have. While I was writing my first children’s book, I often thought about the interactive books with tapes that I used to listen to with my own children. What if I could create a CD to accompany my book? Of course I could! To make a long story very short, I’ve put together the basic steps I followed in creating the CD for my first book. It worked out so well that I also created CDs for my second, third and (just recently) fourth books.

• First, plan the entire content of the CD. For a children’s book, the story narration is the key element. Also, a song would be nice. And background music. How about some interesting sound effects?

• Write the entire script including every word and every pause. Decide who will read the story. Most people prefer to hear the author reading the story, so be prepared to practice, practice, practice.

• Locate a reputable sound studio and meet with the audio engineer to work out the details. How long will it take to record? Will he/she adjust the sound levels and timing, add the sound effects, delete any unwanted sounds and create the finished product? Be aware that it’s not as easy as simply strolling into the studio, reading your book and waltzing out with a CD in your hand.

• What music will you use? Music is protected by copyright laws, so you will need to write your own words. You may be able to use the tunes from old nursery rhymes that are now in the “public domain.” Just be sure to do the research on the song you choose to make sure it’s available.

• Who will sing the song? Finding musicians was relatively easy even though I live in a small town. I called music schools and local bands and was amazed at how many talented people live nearby.

• Be prepared for a lot of fine tuning at the end. This is where the audio engineer can provide the same “magic” that a graphic designer provides for illustrations.

The process was a real exercise in creativity and quite a learning experience! And I can’t wait to do it again! By the way, how do you like my “non-union” chorus of grandchildren and friends?

Bobbie Hinman

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Writing a Children's Book - The Illustrations are Complete. What's the Next Step?

OK. So, you have written a children's book. You have hired an illustrator and worked diligently with this person to make sure your pictures match - and enhance - your written words. Now you have a beautiful set of pictures, however your project still does not resemble a book. What's the next step?

Now is the time to turn the pictures over to the graphic designer. Unfortunately, many authors eliminate this important step. I'm not sure if this is to save time or save money, however this step is crucial to the overall quality of the finished book. The graphic designer places the text on each page, coordinates the colors of the backgrounds, designs the extra pages (such as the copyright page and the end flaps) and "punches up" the colors of the illustrations if necessary. This is the person that ties up all the loose ends and presents the book to the printer in "camera ready" form. In many cases, this person also designs the cover.

It's important to work as closely with the designer as with the illustrator. They can really perform magic. For example, one of the children in my new book had a hand that just looked strange to me. No problem. My illustrious designer simply copied a hand from another child and replaced the one I didn't like. We were also able to test a number of end flap colors and overall color schemes with ease. (See photo)

So don't skimp here. This step is too crucial to eliminate.

The next step is finding the right printer. Stay tuned...

Bobbie Hinman