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