Aug 11, 2020
In this episode we have the second part of my interview with best-selling author Deb Gruelle. We celebrate her book launch of Sleepy Time Colors, her second children's book, a companion to her best-selling book Ten Little Night Stars. We discuss the benefits of reading to our children.
Books Suggested in the Episode:
Terrie: Welcome to Books that Spark a podcast for parents and caregivers, where we review books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and conversations, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have the second part of my interview with author Deb Gruelle. Deb is a bestselling and award-winning author for children and adults. She writes for children to entertain and offer them a sense of security. Yes, she's related to Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy, and she loves being a third-generation writer for children. She feels honored to share stories with children to enrich their childhood memories and writes for adults to offer them hope. A recovering technical writer, Gruelle’s also authored a book on infertility for women, over 100 articles for national women's and parenting magazines, as well as storyboards for children's games. She also serves as chaplain for Inspire Christian Writers, teaches at writer's conferences, and has fun spreading her love for children's literacy at school author visits. Thank you for joining us again today, Deb, for another interview. I'm so glad you're here.
Deb: It's my pleasure, Terrie. I'm so glad to be here with you today.
Terrie: Well, today is an exciting day. Would you like to tell our listeners why this is such an exciting day?
Deb: Today is the day my newest book comes out Sleepy Time Colors, and it's my second children's book, and it’s a board book. And I am really thrilled that it is finally here. Yay!
Terrie: And for anyone who goes to my website and comments on the blog, you will be entered in a drawing to possibly win a free copy of this new book, sleepy time colors. So please go by, we're having this contest open until the 15th. So, before time is up, go to my blog and just make any comment. Say, “Yay, Deb, for your new book!” or whatever, and you'll be entered in the drawing to possibly win a copy of her new book, Sleepy Time Colors. My website is terriehellardbrown.com. So, congratulations. I'm so excited for you.
Deb: Thank you so much, Terrie. It's really fun.
Terrie: Well, we wanted to take this time to go ahead and do a second interview and talk a little bit more about how books and reading with our children can help them with feelings of insecurity and uncertain times because we certainly are living in uncertain times right now with all that's going on in our culture. So how can reading with kids help during these times of uncertainty?
Deb: I think that the first thing is that reading allows us to slow down because it's hard to read while you're walking or running or going places. And especially if parents and kids are reading together, it just allows that connection in this space of a slowdown that you can journey together into books. You can read books that are specifically for comfort, but also, you know, a book that will—I’m thinking of the little house series, those books, you get to travel in time. And, and those books are very comforting. They have problems that they encounter on the Prairie, but there's a resolution to them, a gentle resolution. And I think many of her books ended up at Christmas. So, it has this seasonal piece to it, which is also a great thing, just to be reminded what's happening to us right now is going to pass. It is not going to be here forever. And we can just spend time in books with our kids, that we can get a break from the reality that's going on and we can connect with each other. So, you know, there's picture books that you can do that with, especially if your child really enjoys the book, you're gonna help them enter into a peaceful, fun, or exciting journey together.
Terrie: I've heard of some kids who grab their favorite stuffed animal and their favorite book when they need to be comforted. And that's their happy place. That book and stuffed animal, there's that comfort there? I love that.
Deb: I remember just sitting and reading with my kids is very comforting to me as a, a mom too, when there are just so many things we can't control deaths in the family and, and financial worries and things like that. But you can just compartmentalize a little bit and just, that's not good to do that and not connect your life, but to not give a concern or anxiety reign over your whole life. I remember one time we were going through a period that just the anxiety was really high in our family. And we set aside a time and let's talk about that for 20 minutes a night. Anybody who wants to say anything about it can, and then we're going to focus on other things for the rest of the time so that that doesn't take over our whole life. We couldn't change the outcome that was going to happen, but we could change just how we lived and to not set aside all the good things and let that anxiety overwhelm the rest of life.
Terrie: Two things I’ve heard that help kids to identify as part of the family and to feel secure are the dinner table and the bedtime routine. And I love that your books, both of your children's books deal with that bedtime routine. Could you touch on that a little bit?
Deb: Oftentimes picture books look deceptively simple, but there is an underlying theme or message. And that is in my books to be comforting to kids because the first one I wrote when my dad had just died and I thought, how do I fill this hole for my children? I couldn't, I could not fix that, but I whittled it down to what I could do. And what I could do was to first be intentional and second do small things every day that would help them feel that they knew what was coming next and that they were loved and that together, those things would help make them feel secure and more resilient to the difficult things that happen in life. So, my books are about teaching kids about counting and colors, but underneath is this theme that I hope it resonates with kids of, “I feel secure enough that I can go to sleep.”
Terrie: What are some of the other benefits of reading besides helping a child feel secure?
Deb: Well, I think it's the connection that there's a, something that happens in children's minds. If they're sitting in your lap and they feel the comfort and they have their favorite blankie or stuffed animal, and they will equate that with reading. And so that will encourage them to read more. So, there's all sorts of studies that show that vocabulary, kids who read or read to have a much larger vocabulary than children who are not read to. And what a great gift that is to give a child and just in learning, they can become stronger learners. I don't ever want to make parents feel guilty for not doing what they can't do, but this is just an encouragement that if you think this doesn't mean anything, that I'm spending five minutes or 10 minutes at night, reading to my child, it is meaningful just that little bit of time can over time accumulate to a really great gift.
Terrie: I agree. Yeah. One of the things I'm seeing--I've been a teacher for over 20 years and in more recent years when we've seen kind of more going towards video and video games and not so much reading my students aren't able to comprehend what they're reading at the same level that they could when reading was more, a part of our daily culture and our daily lives, like you said, five, 10 minutes with our kids, helping them to enjoy a story from beginning to end and comprehending what you're reading, what you're being told is a tremendous gift to help them succeed even into their high school years. Even talking about the story afterwards. And a lot of times young children will ask questions in the middle of a story it's showing comprehension. And, Oh, my goodness, that helps so much with their grades in their later years of schooling, even into middle school and high school. It starts when they're preschoolers and we're reading that little five-minute bedtime story to them. We really, we can't discount that at all. I think parents should feel very happy and encourage that they are doing a great thing. Like you said, giving their children a great gift as they read together.
Deb: Absolutely. And sometimes that's hard for parents because parenting can be so cyclical. And you think at the end of the day, do I have anything to show for today? You know, maybe yeah. I took a shower. Yeah. It was really great. And you think, you know, I read to my kid, but does that really add up to anything? And it is, it's amazing. You don't see it. It's cumulative effect that it also can help extend their focus. I had two children with severe ADHD and studies have shown that reading to your children helps them focus longer, a different thing than the video games and things like that. So it's a good thing. It's it just is. If you start looking into it, you can find so many positives for reading with your children. And just the fact that you're stopping your world and saying, I'm going to do this with you. Is something we both enjoy. I think that has a lot of power to say what's happening in life is not going to overwhelm us. We're going to stop and enjoy each other and be there for each other in the midst of what's going on. And that sends a signal to the child that it’s going to be okay.
Terrie: Yeah, we're in this together. So, reading to a child, it helps them make that connection. You're usually even physically closer to the child while you're reading, you're creating that circle with them and it's adds a comfort and security. So, you have that physicality of touch of, of talking together, being together. If you add into that, like we said, the vocabulary, the reading comprehension, and even the realizing that we are placing a priority, not only on our relationship with our child and giving our time to our children, but our priority on reading and that we value that. And we see that as important. Then builds that same love for reading in our child or at least that they understand it's important, even if they don't love it. Because I know some children have dyslexia or other challenges, so it's a hard thing for them to embrace, but they can see that at least we place importance on it and that it has a place of importance in our lives and education.
Deb: Yes. And I think kids with dyslexia, it's important to read to them longer. I think, I just think how frustrating it would be to want to know the story and get stopped by not being able to decode the words and having someone read to you. We'll still get that story into you without you having to work so hard at the decoding. So, it can, if you can do that for longer as a parent, it's helpful. I just want to ask you too. Have you heard of the books printed in the dyslexic font?
Terrie: No, I haven't. Tell me about that.
Deb: The only thing that I know is when a fairly small publisher I'm looking at McLaren Cochran publishing has started printing books in this dyslexic font that is supposed to be easier for children or people who have it, but they do children's books. So, they like redid the Wizard of Oz and it doesn't have any--it's san serif. It doesn't have the little short lines on all the letters. And it's just, so I was listening to teachers at a reading conference, the California reading conference, and they were discussing the different fonts that some of them are much easier for kids with dyslexia to read.
Terrie: I have not heard about that. That is great. What we do naturally as a parent with reading to them, with helping them, being active with our children—all of these things help our kids and it helps them in their reading ability. And it helps them cross over some of the challenges they might be facing later in school. We’re laying a huge foundation for them when we’re reading to them. Some of the things that can really help your child, your preschooler, become an avid reader is making sure they crawl. If they skipped crawling, get down on the ground with them and crawl around, do an army crawl. The other thing you can do is march with them. It may seem silly, but that something as a parent that you can do with your little preschooler. Doing that movement--the left hand and the right leg or the right hand and the left leg are moving at the same time—dancing, marching, crawling. That will help their reading ability. The other thing, is as we’re reading to them aloud, and they’re reading along, but they should naturally pick up phonics and naturally begin teach themselves to read, or they should have a desire to read. So, if you’re not seeing that in your child, or if there is a disconnect somehow in there, then we know there is a red flag. It may be nothing. But it also could be a sign that we need to be watching for an auditory problem. I had one student in one of my kindergarten classes. She was always cheating off everyone’s paper. I’m like, what is she doing? You know, I would have these little quizzes where I would say draw a green circle or draw a blue square, so they could practice their shapes and colors and following directions. And she would always look on someone else’s paper. I should have realized she wasn’t hearing me, but she always answered so well. She had learned so many coping mechanisms even by Kindergarten to cover up her hearing loss that we didn’t catch it. Her parents didn’t catch it, and I didn’t catch it. We finally had her tested. And she needed glasses and she had hearing loss. She had so much going on. We felt so bad for giving her a hard time when she was just learning to cope with what she was dealing with. So, I'm a huge proponent for early intervention. I know, as parents, we don’t want to have our kids pigeonholed. We're afraid of getting them tested too soon. We don't want them to be put into a box, but there is such a benefit to early intervention; it can make a huge difference. In my own son’s life, having early intervention helped him to be successful through school even with dealing with autism. He just graduated from high school. He loved school, and he had a lot of friends, and it was all, I believe, due to his Kindergarten teacher and having him diagnosed at the age of five. So, it’s amazing what early intervention can do.
Deb: Yes, I'm hoping there's more openness to understanding that kids' brains work differently. And if you can see if people have done enough study to see if their brain works this way, try this, because it seems to have helped other people whose brains also work that way. That's a great thing. You don't want them labeled for labels sake. You want them to have information about other brains that are similar to their so that they can work with that information to, to eliminate 700 other options and try that one as a priority.
Terrie: And finding the right thing that will help them. That's an awesome thing.
Deb: As a parent to focus on what is going wrong. But the other part to connect back to what we were talking about is that of studies have also shown that kids, students learn better when they feel safe. So as a parent, if you, you can create that environment of comfort and, and relate it to learning, some of the barriers are down. So, it just, I just know, I kept focusing on this is the problem. How do I get past this problem? And I guess just in treating the child as a whole person, that those emotions are happening at the same time. And it's good to deal with those at the same time.
Terrie: Yeah. And you learn to accept who your kid is and how to best help them succeed. And we do that with all kids, whether they have a learning disability or not. And so whether it's dealing with a disability, a quirkiness in their personality, or a fascination with dinosaurs, we're just as parents, we're feeding into that and helping them to find joy and find success and reading has a lot to do with. So, when we're talking about fear and anxiety, we should be conscious of what books say and how that translates for each child's developmental age. How can we determine what is best for each age group of children?
Deb: It's like other hard subjects. As a parent, you have to know your child, know what they're ready for, know what they're capable of handling. And you just answer as truthfully, as you can, as simply as you can. Like kids who have asked where babies come from, you don't go into a long discourse on it for a two year old. You answer very succinctly. And, and the question that they're actually asking at that point, they're not asking for a medical list of all the things they're asking for. There was nobody there now, and now there's a baby here. How did that happen? So, I think the same thing is to, to answer simply if kids are asking questions about why are people wearing masks, then you, you just answered that question simply. And if they there's just their options of, if they're showing fear from that, it's really hard on kids because you can't see smiles behind masks, and they might not want to wear a mask and just things have changed. And it's you can do things like have a craft that is let's make masks and put it into a different context rather than a fearful context. So, there's lots of those options online of make a mass with your kid. And it will be very different than a COVID mask, but it will be something that they can relate, Oh, that maybe is similar to what people are wearing. It doesn't change their face. It's just something in front of their face.
Terrie: I read one cute book called Lucy's Mask. That deals specifically with COVID and the mask wearing. And I thought they handled it really in a cute way. The little girl, Lucy, starts out with like a Batman mask or Halloween mask, and she’s thinking about how she can wear the mask and she can do this and be this kind of person. And she ends of talking about, “And I can be a superhero!” And then her mom is making her a COVID mask to wear. And so she puts that one on and her mom says, “Now you're really a superhero. With this kind of mask you’re helping protect people.” And I thought it handled the subject really well. And in the show notes, I’ll have this information.
Deb: That's wonderful. Sounds like a great book.
Terrie: One thing though, I did notice in some of the books, because I’m vetting several different books dealing with COVID. Some of them, I think, like you said, they give too much information. And so we have to be aware before we read the book to our children what level it's really speaking to. There was one that it's really good, and it has a lot of good information, but I wouldn't read it to my preschooler. I think it gives too much information and might add to their concern or their fear. I would read it to an elementary child, third through fifth grade. But even in that, there were some of the statements in the book that I felt were a little too over generalized. Like one page says, “Everyone is catching COVID.” Well, no, not everyone is catching COVID. Thank goodness. So, if you read that, you would want to discuss it with your child and say, “The writer was exaggerating here.” But definitely make sure, you know, that each book is geared toward your child’s developmental age. Therefore, they’ll be able to relate to the book much better.
Deb: That's the balance. And I had one kid who had an incredible imagination, which was a super gift, but it also, it was hard for him to shut it off. So, if I had to be more careful with that child to not stimulate that imagination in the wrong way, because he then couldn't go to sleep. He would just be concerned about things at a, he made connections of huge events and I could see, he felt very, unpowerful like all these huge things, you know, what if hurricanes came to our house, what if an earthquake came? What if, and he was maybe three or four and these, the weather, it was enough to make him very concerned. So, we got books that talked about weather, but I did would never have let him watch the news, or if it was a bad, you know, after a tornado when people were homeless. And I knew that that child's mind needed to not be exposed to that at that young age.
Terrie: So, what are some books that you would recommend to help with dealing with fear and anxiety with young children? Do you know of some good ones you could recommend?
Deb: One is called a Stay through the Storm, and it's just a book by Joanna Rowland. It's a book about a storm is coming and these two little girls decide to stay with each other while the storm comes and they, you know, make a little blanket tent and, and they hang out together and eat popcorn. The symbolism is we'll hang on to each other while the storms of life come past us. She she's a, I think a pre-K teacher. And so she just knows that age really well and does a good job of not introducing things that aren’t appropriate for that age. And then she also wrote another one called When Things Are Hard, Remember, and it's, it's talking about loss and that you can put together a memory box of maybe a grandparent who died and you can pick up things of cards or something around your house that reminds you of them. And then when you feel lonely, you can look in that box and remember them. And so the story is this little child going through that process. And I thought that was a really tactical way to bring a big idea down to a small child's viewpoint and give them a tool to help deal with it.
Terrie: As we're finishing up today. Deb, again, thank you for being with us and giving us your time. Can you just tell us a little bit more about your brand new book that's launching today, Sleepy Time Colors.
Deb: It's Sleepy Time Colors. It's a lift the flap book, Zonderkidz made it a lift, the flap book, and it has wonderful illustrations by Gabi Murphy. She was also the illustrator on my first children's book, Ten Little Night Stars that came out two years ago. And it's a bedtime story with sleepy time rhymes that as cuddly animals, the same animals from Ten Little Night Stars getting ready for bed and taking a bath and putting their favorite jammies on. And they're their favorite colors. And they're excited to get these cozy pajamas on and it ends with falling asleep. So I just think of it as, as an a love story to cozy pajamas because I love getting cozy in my pajamas, and my kids didn't do it. Was that sense that the day was winding down and we were stopping rushing, and we got to just snuggle and shut the door on the world.
Terrie: And I love the illustrations. The pictures are just so lovable. They're just beautiful and the colors are gorgeous. And so, it's a fun book to read and to see the pictures together with your kids and think about going to sleep and having a nice sleep.
Deb: Yes, and I love the big, big tummies on the, on the baby animals and their little emotions that come out through the illustrations. Very cute. I can say that because I have no illustration ability at all. So I admire Gabi’s.
Terrie: Oh, I know me too. I'm always amazed at the illustrators and how they can just bring a story to life. You have last time, you mentioned that on your website, if people go to your website, they can find some lesson plans to go along with this new book.
Deb: I love to use picture books as a way to teach and, and these lesson plans are six days that each day focuses on a different color and the colors found in the book and that gives a craft or fun things that you can do along with it to learn each color. So, I hope kids enjoy those.
Terrie: And you have one that's focused on the general public and then one that's for Christian teachers or parents as well, right?
Deb: Yes. So, they can choose which one they would like. And that is interesting. That's one of the other things I think in comforting children is we, as parents, learn a lot from raising our kids and in dealing with their anxiety, we really have to learn to deal with our own as well. And I think that when God has comforted us, we then learn how to comfort our children. And so, there are verses that he has given us to remind us we are not alone. And if one sheep is lost, he will go after that one and, and make sure that that one sheep is safe and will not leave it out there alone and lost. And that's the verse of Matthew and those verses, we can share the comfort that we receive from God, with our children.
Terrie: Speaking of that, Deb, do you know of any books you would recommend to help parents to cope with the anxiety they might be feeling?
Deb: I think there's some amazing books written to deal with fear, and I've read a number of them. And one of them, a general market book is The Gift of Fear, and that just tells us what can, what benefit we can get from recognizing our fear and paying attention to it. So, it's not always a negative just to be pushed down, but one that in the Christian market that helped me with fear was a Max Lucado's book, Fearless. And the subtitle is, Imagine Your Life without Fear. And that helped me realize how I had let anxiety or fear creep into parts of my life that I thought this was normal, and reading this and just picturing what could my life be like if I did not have fear and I really trusted God with everything that was happening. And it just opened my mind up to thinking there are other options in this.
Terrie: All right. Well, thank you so much. Is there anything else you'd like to leave us with or how can we best support you?
Deb: Well, first I would just like to say to parents, this is a really tough time, and you are doing a great job in whatever you can do. And if your kids are acting out or angry or they're showing different symptoms, then you wouldn't really identify it as anxiety. It still can be this underlying thing that sometimes we, you know, snap when we feel an underlying anxiety and we have to stop and figure out where did that come from? And now we can blame everything on COVID, but just that process of stopping and recognizing this is not my normal child. And can we take a minute to think about what's going on and communicate about it? It may seem like a little thing, but again, that, that effort to do that over time can build emotional resilience with your children.
Terrie: Well, thank you so much. I look forward to talking with you again another time, but thank you for sharing your book launch with us, and we wish you all the best with your new book.
Deb: Thank you for celebrating with me.
Terrie: Thank you for joining us for Books that Spark a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope our discussion will spark meaningful conversations in your life. Remember Deb's new book, Sleepy Time Colors, lunch today. Be sure to check out the show notes for links to Deb's website, lesson plans, and more. You can sign up for my mailing list to get weekly reminders of this podcast. And my blog, my website is terriehellardbrown.com.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, and discussion. For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
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