Here’s our next interview conducted by Cheryl.
This week, the amazing Kristyn Crow. Think I’m joshing ya? Read on!
Kristyn Crow, Picture Book Author
Isn’t she so cute in this picture?
1. One of my favorite things about your books are the rhythms you create. Do you feel rhythm is important in all picture books? If so, why?
I think, to write a great read-aloud, rhythm is crucial–whether or not the book is in rhyme. Children are wired with a natural love for rhythm. It’s always funny to see a baby in diapers bouncing to music. The famous baby on YouTube dancing to Beyonce comes to mind. That little tyke squats, swivels, repeatedly kicks one leg and then the other. And obviously, nobody taught him to dance at that wee age. It’s inborn. The desire to move to a beat is a powerful drive. So a picture book with a rhythmic text cries out to a child’s natural instincts. It can encourage a reluctant reader to participate, clap, recite, and just have fun with the text. Even non-rhyming books can have a rhythm, cadence, or repeated refrain to create a stronger read-aloud. Novelists can also use rhythm techniques to create moods – for example, tension, by setting-up an invisible heartbeat in the words of a scene.
2. How do you plan out the rhythms? Is it sometimes difficult to make things fit the way you want them to?
If I’m being honest, I start out by goofing around with words. When I wrote Cool Daddy Rat, I just started with two words that I thought sounded fun together: Manhattan Rat. Say it again: Manhattan Rat. It’s almost a snare drum. Pat-a-tat-tat. And I kept hearing this shadow rhythm of scat in my head: Shooby dooby doo dat. I ignored that for a while because it seemed odd. Then I finally wrote it down, and it stuck. Writing like that is the fun part–just going with the groove. But then I have to build a story into the rhythm. Now THAT is tedious work–not only crafting a story that works, which is tough enough–but setting up the rhyme and rhythm as an additional layer. It can be a monstrous puzzle to solve.
3. Another great thing about your books are the wacky words that are both fun to say and fun to listen to. Where do all those wacky words come from?
Hey, thanks! My father used to recite the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll when I was a child. He had it memorized. I’ll never forget how his eyes grew wide when he got to “his vorpal blade went snicker-snack!” I loved his verbal performance of that story. I knew the meanings of all the nonsense words in my own imagination. Dr. Suess, of course, is also a huge inspiration. My most recently released book, THE REALLY GROOVY STORY OF THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE, has some fun words like “groovy,” “zip zap zowie” and “jumpin’ jive.” Retro, hip, zippy, wacky…those playful words add humor and interest. They make reading fun. And kids WILL get it. They’re far smarter than we realize.
4. You’re well-known for your wonderful school presentations. How do you plan out a good school presentation?
When I learned I’d sold my first manuscript, other authors told me, “Start getting your school presentations ready.” I thought…school presentations? Me? I’d never considered it for a moment. So I attended a few school visits that other authors were putting on, to get a feel for what this was all about. I couldn’t imagine myself ever doing…that. But I went home and started to familiarize myself with PowerPoint. I figured out fun ways to make characters dance and run across the screen. I got a presentation ready and decided since my books were snappy I’d teach a few rhythm activities to the group. I ordered rhythm instruments online whenever I had a little spare cash. Soon I had quite a haul.
I was terrified at my first assembly. As the students filed into the auditorium, I thought, did I seriously sign myself up for this? Heeellllp! But after a few minutes I relaxed, and the instruments were a bit hit. After each assembly, even now, I go home and adjust my PowerPoint to make improvements.
Nowadays, I LOVE school visits. Watching the children play instruments with my books and get excited about reading has been so thrilling. The applause and cheering of the students is invigorating. We get ROWDY!
5. How important is it for picture book authors to do school visits?
Many publishers are not doing the kind of marketing for picture books that they used to, and authors are left to find ways to do most of it themselves. Not only that, but I believe authors have a responsibility to create enthusiasm for literacy. How can you be an author of books and not be a powerful advocate for reading?
When authors visit schools, it helps children see that books are written by real people. These assemblies can be the perfect kickoff to a literacy program, junior author fair, or book fair. Books have more meaning when students learn the inspiration behind the story, and what it took to write it. Authors can model goal-setting and hard work. As a visiting author, if you can come up with an educational message for your school visit you’ll be much more likely to get invitations. Some parents have expressed concern that authors are “peddling their wares” to students. I agree that an author visit should not be one big commercial. There should be a strong educational element in the author’s message. And then the books will sell themselves as a natural result.
A good author visit is a win-win situation for everyone, because the school gets kids excited about literacy, the author gets some exposure with her readers, and the kids get to READ! What could be better?
6. As the parent of a special-needs child, how do you feel that has affected your writing?
I don’t know that it has affected my writing except that it has taught me perseverence and empathy. I remember how overwhelmed I was when my children were very young. I had one son with autism and two others with juvenile diabetes. I was desperate for answers, and spent hours searching the internet for advice and reassurance. There wasn’t much out there that was comforting. While I was waiting for my first books to be released I decided I wanted to write articles on various special needs parenting topics, so I could reach out to others. I’ve learned so much from parenting kids with challenges, I wanted to pass it along. I am still getting “thank you” emails from parents who are reading articles I wrote several years ago. It’s very satisfying. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to provide some hope to parents who are just beginning this frightening journey.
7. Your blog (http://kristyncrow.blogspot.com) is full of great ideas for things like literary nights and opportunities for authors. Do you find having an informative blog drives more traffic than a more personal blog would?
I have a stat counter on my blog, and my blog post with the most hits is called, “Plan a Fabulous Literacy Night!” I get thousands of views on that topic. Then hopefully that leads librarians, literacy specialists, teachers and principals to view my books along the sideline of the blog. It’s a way to help the cause of literacy, and yet get a little exposure for my books, too. As I mentioned above, these days authors have to be innovative in finding ways to advertise their books. I prefer to reach out and provide information as a draw rather than use gimmicky tactics. But hey, I’m even open to gimmicks if they get kids excited about reading. I do include personal entries on my blog so that people can get to know me as a person, too.
Interviewed by Cherylynne W. Bago
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