I never know what will inspire me to write a story. Sometimes it can be a need that I feel should be fulfilled as when I wrote Pants on Ants. Sometimes it is a something a child says. Or, in the case of Raincoats and Rainbows it is a real life experience. Several years ago my girls were still little and riding their bicycles up and down the street wearing their bathing suits. After a while they had to add raincoats to their attire as it started to sprinkle and then rain heavily. It was a typical summer shower which cleared quickly. As the sun peaked through the clouds in the West, a brilliant rainbow appeared in the Eastern sky. They, being kids focused on the singular task of riding bikes, were oblivious to the beautiful painting in the sky. I called to them, but they could not hear me over their talk and the traffic. As I admired the stunning arc of colorful light, I thought to myself a simple thought, really it was more of an observation: “raincoats and rainbows.”
That was an “ah-hah” moment as Oprah would say. I ran inside and began to write what would become my fourth published children’s book. This was a departure from my usual writing as I did not rely on rhyme to tell my story. Rather, I used questions and real life experiences that nearly all children could relate to as the way to draw readers in and keep them interested in the story. This book became a participatory story where the child and adult reader could expand the story by engaging one another in conversation as they answered the questions and added their own life experiences to the dialogue. I envisioned beautiful illustrations with fun little surprises that would add layers of conversational opportunities and vocabulary learning. I built in repetitive phrases/questions to aid young readers in learning to read through memorization and prediction. I believed that this book would make a difference by not only entertaining kids, but teaching them without them feeling like they were being taught.
Fast forward several years later, my publisher saw the same potential as I and we worked over the course of two years looking for the best illustrator and putting this book together. We went back and forth on small changes in the text and ultimately ended up with a gem of a book. Once it was printed and in my hands, I could not wait to share it with children and families. I started by using it with some of the children I work with. They responded perfectly. They hunted for the hidden frog added by the illustrator Gary Morgan. They answered the questions and then expanded upon the answers provided in the book by contributing their own experiences or wishful thoughts.
It was not until I took the book to a public setting that I knew I had truly accomplished my goal. I was invited to read my book at two venues on April 11, 2015. First was the Gallitzin Public Library. Here several children from the ages of a few months to about eight years old joined me for a book reading. The children loved hunting for the hidden frog and excitedly raised their hands in order to answer the questions. My heart was full because not only did I get to see some old friends, but my book had inspired them in the way I had hoped. Later, I went to the Galleria of Johnstown and read my story to about eight young elementary school aged children. These kids had the same response. Once they realized that the illustrations and the text reflected their own life experiences, they were hooked. They became engaged and gave examples of what they like to do on icy days or snowy days or sunny days. It was confirmation that a well written and beautifully illustrated book can create novel learning and teaching opportunities for all involved.
I am so lucky to not only be able to write books that get published, but to share my books with children in schools, libraries, malls, and numerous other settings. I think reading my books to children is by far the best part of writing books. Take the time to read to children of all ages, you won’t regret it.
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