By Lisa Cucinotta
Reading to my kids is one of my favorite activities. I have loved it so much over the past six years of parenting that I recently started writing books for kids. Writing children’s books has made me think a lot more about what I love to read the kids.
I’ve started noticing nuances about books such as author/illustrators (I’m not an illustrator but admire those like Mo Willems who do both), whether the books rhyme or not, how long they are, etc. Most agents don’t accept rhyming books anymore but I’ve found that the vast majority of the books we own for littler kids all rhyme. I find it very soothing, personally. According to the research I’ve done, apparently agents see quite a bit of terrible rhyming out there in picture book manuscripts. Maybe their eyes are bleeding and they’ve just opted out of considering them anymore. Or it may be off trend, which happens more than you realize.
I also never realized how short many of the “longer” picture books are that Julia and I read together like Fancy Nancy or Pinkalicious. They have fewer words than you might think (418 and 680 respectively). In fact, the average picture book these days has less than 500 words! It’s tricky to write a story that short and make it really matter.
I’ve also begun to think about who writes the books the kids love. In the past, before I started writing myself, there were very few books out of the hundreds that Julia and Luca own that where I paid attention to who the author is. Maybe other parents are more in tune with this, but its not something I thought about much unless the books were part of a series and I wanted to buy more of them. And even then I tended to think more about the series itself (like the ones I mentioned above) than I did about the author.
However I recently had a really special experience with Julia that made me want to reach out to the author of my favorite. When Julia was born my sister gave me a selection of books that were special to her and her kids. One of them was Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Reading it to Julia and Luca makes me happy. It’s simple and sweet, and reminds me of the commonalities of raising babies and their differences.
Each page starts with “Everyday, everywhere babies are….” and then goes into a different topic and all the different ways those topics are experienced. Like “Every day, everywhere babies are fed – by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons, with milk and then cereal, carrots and prunes…” I love that a book for little kids says the word “breast” in it like its no big deal (because it’s not!) and also that they mention both breast and bottle feeding as being normal options (because they are!).
But back to my special experience with Julia. She really mastered reading in first grade, going from a struggling beginning reader to one that reads with enthusiasm and can infuse emotion into her storytelling. It reminds me of myself – I was always really good at reading out loud, probably because I had a mother who was a children’s librarian. I love seeing that quality in her because picking it up was such a struggle for her, especially as the youngest kid in her class.
On nights when I am home to put Julia to bed, she reads me a book and then I read her one. She usually chooses Elephant and Piggy books (by the great Mo Willems, mentioned earlier) or a book like If You Give a Pig a Pancake. The other night, I think maybe I’d had a challenging day and she knew that, because she smiled big at me and told me she had a surprise and whipped out Everywhere Babies to read to me. She has outgrown interest in most baby and toddler books but she still keeps this one in her room.
She read it and I had a full circle mom experience. There were tears in my eyes as I watched my beautiful big girl read me this book like a champ. I decided I had to write to the author and tell her. My hope is that someday parents and children will have special experiences with my books, and I would want to know that. So I found Susan’s website, which contained her email address along with the promise that if you write her she’ll write you back. I figured it was worth a shot.
To my great surprise, Susan wrote me back the very next day. I was totally fan-girling out over her response, which was amazing. Here it is below, shared with her permission: