Friday, August 17, 2012

High Five Interview #19: Kindergarten Teacher Publishes Picture Book

Welcome to HIGH FIVE, the feature that spotlights debut picture book authors with a five-question interview. Today we have joining us, author/teacher Andy Allen. He self-published his first book, Stormin' Norman: The Soggy Doggy, and it was released in November 2011. As a Kindergarten teacher, Andy Allen knows just what kids like. Soggy doggies happen to be one of those things. Please join me in congratulating Andy on his recent success by giving him a big HIGH FIVE!


Stormin' Norman: The Soggy Doggy
by Andy Allen

So, here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to you for your debut picture book.

Title: Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy
Author: Andy Allen
Illustrator: Brian Barber
Publisher: Beaver’s Pond Press
Release Date: November 2011

Summary: A story of friendship and the bond between a boy and his dog. The rhyme and illustrations in the book will entertain a wide audience, from young readers to teachers and parents. During the Iowa flood of 2008, many homes were destroyed and lives were changed forever. Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy provides a positive light on a difficult time for many people.

Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you. Being a kindergarten teacher, I know this is going to be a tough one for you.

This is a difficult question. I read lots and lots of stories to my students. I try to have fun with the stories by using different voices and expressions to keep the students interested and entertained. I do have a few stories that I will read often throughout the year.

The first is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book provides a wonderful example of friendship and self-sacrifice. It teaches us what love for a friend is all about and helps students understand better how we should treat our friends. The book can also lead to a discussion about the partnership that humans have with trees and we need to treat the trees kindly because they give us so much, from food to furniture to paper. It is also a good example of the life cycle of a person. I don’t think you can find a better story than The Giving Tree.

Another story I really enjoy reading is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This is another classic pick. The pictures in the book are so vivid and the kids enjoy watching the caterpillar getting bigger throughout the story. It helps young learners with their colors and numbers as well as a discussion about the life cycle and how we are like caterpillars. The caterpillar grows into a butterfly. We want our young learners to grow to be responsible young adults. This is a book that can bring a lot of discussion and learning into the classroom.

The last book is a book I just read but it has become one of my favorites. It is called I’m Not Tired Yet by Marianne Richmond. This is a story about a little boy who will not go to bed so his mom has to coax him into falling asleep by giving gorilla hugs and lobster pinches and such. The rhyming in this book is spot on and she really captures the silly spirit of the little boy. He kind of reminds me of myself when I was little. This is a well written, enjoyable book that is perfect for the classroom or home.

Gorilla hugs and lobster pinches? How fun!

Question TWO: Despite not having any children of your own, how do you feel that you were drawn to write for them?

My wife and I do not have kids, but we have two dogs and two cats, we feel we have enough excitement in our life at the moment. Even though I do not have kids, I have been in the field of early childhood education for about 10 years. I feel I have a good understanding of the cognitive process of a child and I can relate to kids well. My wife would tell you it is because I have the maturity of a 5-yr-old. When I am working on a story, I try to look at it through the eyes of a 5-yr-old and ask myself, why would I like this book? I feel that with the technology we have and the age of video games, books are becoming a smaller part in the life of a child so when writing and creating a story, it is important to make sure the child can identify and relate with the characters and themes within the story. I want to create stories that I would want to read to my students in my classroom.

I have heard that women mature faster than men. I bet your Kindergarteners adore you!

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom? Did you write your book with teachers in mind? Do you have any lesson plans?

Over the month of June, I presented my book to 4 reading conferences in the state of Iowa. I talked with teachers about my book and how to use the book in the classroom. I have a curriculum written that covers, geography, science, and reading and writing skills. The curriculum also includes a game to help with fine and gross motor development as well as a list of a few other great dog books. Teachers can also use the book to discuss topics such as friendship, courage, pet responsibility and water safety.  I wrote the book with teachers in mind, as a teacher if there is a book out there that I can apply to academic standards I will be more likely to use that book in the classroom. The students can enjoy a story and we can learn a few things as well, everybody wins!

Sounds awesome! A whole unit you wrote around your book? If I were teaching Kindergarten, I’d definitely be on board with your book. I can’t believe it covers all that. Amazing! 

Soggy Doggy Sample

Question FOUR: What was your road to publication like? Can you talk a bit about revisions, submitting to publishers, and your experience with illustrators?

When I finished the story, I thought I had gold and I was going to be the next Dr. Suess, so I did some research and sent my story out to publishing houses that took material without having an agent and I got rejected. Then I got rejected. And finally, I got rejected.

There was one small publishing house that expressed some interest but they said it would be at least a year and a half to get the book out and I didn’t have any say with the illustrations. I was not a fan of that so I started looking at the self-publishing route. This story is very dear to me and I wanted to have input on the overall creation of the book. Self-publishing allowed me to keep some creative control and create a book that is of very high quality. I am very pleased with the book and my self-publishing experience. However, for my other stories, I would like to go through a traditional publisher.

The illustrator and I were able to meet and discuss the overall look of the story. I gave him a few pictures of Norm and told him I don’t want to stifle his creativity but it would be cool if he could make Norm look like Norm and he did a great job. We worked very well together. When he finished a page, he sent it to me and we talked about it. I generally had very few notes because he did such an amazing job. His pictures really tie the story together; he did a great job with the facial expressions of Norm and Andy throughout the story. And if I remember correctly, it was Brian that came up with the title. We were brainstorming for a title and he came up with that one. It was perfect.

I agree. Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy IS a great title! I’m so glad you had such a positive experience.

Andy and NormQuestion FIVE: What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers (and teachers) seeking publication?

First, let’s remember that I am not a professional writer; I am a teacher who has begun to write books with the best interest of the child in mind. My next book talks about kids experiencing bullying on the playground, when Norm goes to the dog park and meets a bully.

So my first tip would be to write with the child in mind. Ask yourself, if I were five years old, would I like this book or can I relate to the book?

My second tip is to keep a notebook by your bed. I will get a great idea for a line in a story during the night and if I don’t write it down right then, I will forget it in the morning. So it is a good idea to keep something by your bed because you never know when your muse will bite.

And finally, this might sound cliché, but have fun. Children want to be entertained with literature, so have fun with the whole writing process. From your first draft to final version, the whole process should be enjoyable. There might be some stress, but as long as you enjoy writing, keep doing it. Don’t do it to become famous or wealthy. Do it because you feel like you have something to say and you enjoy telling stories. We need more great stories to entertain kids and compete with the video games. Books and reading help the cognitive development in young learners so it is so important that we keep the reading interesting for kids. I have met authors that do not encourage people to write stories because they do not want the competition. I feel just the opposite; we can never have too many good stories for kids.

Thank you so much, Andy, for being with us today. Congratulations again on your debut picture book! Hope your Kindergarten class starts out great and goes strong all year long. Good luck on your second book!



5 comments:

  1. Super interview Christie and Andy. Soggie Doggy sounds adorable and those illustrations are fantastic!

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  2. Great success story. I'm also a teacher-turned-writer, so I appreciate how the classroom impacts how you look at literature. It's always, "Hmmm. How can I 'use' this in a curriculum unit?" The publisher of my book (Keep Your Ear on the Ball, Tilbury, 2007), has a Teachers Take Note section with tips on applying the book in the classroom.

    Keep writing, Andy. You're what the kids (and teachers) need.

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  3. Thanks, Catherine. So glad you enjoyed it!

    Genevieve, thanks for stopping by. Your book has such a clever title! Feel free to drop by again.

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  4. this is really nice to read..informative post is very good to read..thanks a lot!
    stories for kids

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