Aug 4, 2020
In this episode, we get to talk with Deb Gruelle about what sparked the ideas for her two board books Ten Little Night Stars and Sleepy Time Colors. Join us as we talk about the importance of a bedtime routine and what it means in a child's life.
Check out Deb's website: https://debgruelle.com/
Giveaway for August 1-15: You could win a copy of Deb's newest book: Sleepy Time Colors. Comment on my blog between August 1-15, 2020 to be entered into the drawing: https://terriehellardbrown.com/blog/
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 a special guest with us, 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 in her family. She feels honored to share stories with children to enrich their childhood memories and writes for adults to offer them hope.
On August 11, 2020 Gruelle’s newest children’s book Sleepy Time Colors releases. A companion book to her bestselling going-to-bed and counting picture book, Ten Little Night Stars, (with over 125,00 copies sold) Sleepy Time Colors helps children feel secure enough to fall asleep while teaching them colors.
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. The second edition of her nonfiction book, Aching for a Child, releases later this year.
She serves as chaplain for Inspire Christian Writers (inspirewriters.com).
Terrie: We’re so glad you’re here with us today, Deb. Thank you for joining us again today.
Deb: Thanks, Terrie, I’m so glad to be here.
Terrie: So, first of all, I love your book Ten Little Night Stars; I’ve given it as gifts to a few people already. Can you tell us a little bit about your two books Ten Little Night Stars and Sleepy Time Colors?
Deb: Sure! I wrote Ten Little Night Stars when my youngest son was one year old. It took a long time to get it published though. I was back in California at the time, and my father had passed away. I stepped out of my mom’s busy house with my one-year-old son on my hip. We were taking a breath of air from all the work that dealing with a death involves. You know, creating the memorial service and those things in the midst of grief. I just stood looking up at the sky, thinking about how far away my dad felt. He was such a rock. He gave us such a sense of security. He had such integrity and loved the Lord. And I wondered, how I would be able to pass that sense of security on to my children? Because he wouldn’t be around to do it. And so, as I held my son, I thought about that huge hole in our lives that my dad’s passing had left. I wondered if I could step into those shoes in any way. And as I was thinking about that, the first star appeared in the sky. I pointed to it and said to Matthew, “Look, one little night star.” He copied me and pointed to the star too. That line just kept going through my head. So, that line along with the longing to pass on a sense of the security my dad had offered was what compelled me to start writing. I started writing Ten Little Night Stars that night. I tried to sell it to a couple of places; it didn’t sell, so it went into a drawer for 16 years until I was going to a writer’s conference. I thought, why don’t I just take pull this one out of the drawer and take this little children’s book along with me? There happened to be a children’s editor there for Zonderkidz, and Jillian liked it. That’s how it was sold. It was definitely God’s timing.
Terrie: It’s been a couple years since it came out. And you having Sleepy Time Colors come out this August. How long has it been in between?
Deb: The first book came out in 2018, so it’s about two-and-a-half years between them.
Terrie: And how did Sleepy Time Colors come about?
Deb: Well, this one happens to be inspired by my mom. She’s the artist in our family. So colors matter to her. She is an award-winning artist, known for her paintings of warm ocean water. The artistic gene skipped my generation completely, because you wouldn’t even recognize my stick figures as stick figures. (But my kids have artistic talent!) But my mom saw nuances of color everywhere, and sometimes it was hard for her to live in a family who didn’t see or care as much about those colors. So it mattered to her that the family room carpet matched the linoleum in the kitchen when it was time to buy new carpet. But my dad was really practical and cared mostly about the budge. And nobody else could really see that it didn’t match, except for her. It probably felt to her that she lived with a family that was color-blind, because she saw the world so differently. She was so thrilled one day when that changed. The house across the street was painted, and somebody said it was now blue. But my younger brother, Steve, said, “I think more of a blue-green color.” My mom was so excited! “Wow! One of my kids can recognize color distinctions!” So, this book is for my mom and those who love color.
Terrie: That’s so neat. Both of your books are about nighttime routine. So, how important is having a nighttime routine for children?
Deb: It’s interesting. There are studies that show a nighttime routine for children is very important. When you think of the big idea: How can I pass on a sense of security to my children? It’s in the little things that we do every day. We take a bath, then put on jammies, then read a book, then go to sleep. That sense of knowing what comes next becomes a small tradition that gives kids a really big sense of security. A parent can’t control what is wrong in the world, but they can choose to shut the door on it for a moment and think, I’m going to take a minute from my crazy day to stop and simply focus with joy on my child for five minutes. Sometimes that’s all it takes to read a children’s book, but the child senses their parent has stopped and given them a few minutes of total, peaceful focus. And that can ground them to help them feel secure enough to fall asleep more easily.
Terrie: I love that. I know with my kids, if we change something suddenly, it’s a catastrophe because three of them are on the autism spectrum. Routine is so vital to keeping them feeling secure and at ease.
Deb: It’s even more important with some kids than others.
Terrie: Your books are educational as well. Do you think it is important to use story time to teach basic skills to our children?
Deb: That’s interesting. One of the reviews for Ten Little Night Stars said it was “sneakily educational,” and I really liked that because I first want to entertain. If the kids don’t enjoy it, then they’re not going to ask for it again, so I think that’s got to be the primary goal. And then I want to convey an emotion through the book. The parent is really the hero of the story, and the book is just something they can use in the bonding process with their child. So, if I can evoke that emotion that helps the bonding between the parent and the child, that is my second goal. Then, if I can sneak in something that’s educational in there, that’s gravy. I just know as a mom, I really wanted to be a good mom. And I knew how important it was to read to my kids. I knew it mattered for their brain development. I knew it helped their vocabulary. You know, all those positive things, but I was often exhausted. So I wanted to provide a book that could be read in a very short time. Even with asking questions, it can take 8-10 minutes, and you’ve done something good for your child. You’ve bonded with them. And now they’re ready to go to sleep, and you can too. Hopefully! I have such a tender heart for tired parents.
Terrie: You’ve written for the very young. Both of your books are board books. And that’s the 0-3 range, correct?
Deb: I believe now it’s 0-5 years, babies to preschool.
Terrie: Is there a reason you focused on that age? Do you plan to write books for older children at some point? Or is that just where your heart is?
Deb: Well, it’s really interesting. My son happened to be one year old when I wrote it and my daughter was two. I wrote for those ages in mind. In fact, before my story was published, I typed and printed out the story and read it to my children from a three-pronged folder. I couldn’t draw, so I only drew the bedroom window then illustrated the pages with stickers of children and stars. I’m so glad I didn’t wait until it was published to read it to them! And I’m so grateful for Gabi Murphy, the beautiful illustrator for both books. The publisher, Zonderkidz, was the one who decided to make it into a board book.
Terrie: Why do you have such a passion for young children and tired parents?
Deb: I was a tired parent. I loved being a mom, but I had little energy because I had health issues. I didn’t have a ton of energy to do a thousand things I wanted to do for my kids. I ended up homeschooling each of my kids at different times. I just had kids who were like square pegs trying to fit into the round holes of school. The school needed them to learn a certain way, and my kids were not that way. So that’s why I ended up homeschooling all of them. So, I especially appreciate the desires of moms to want do the best they can for their kids, but that they still have limitations. If I can help make it easier for them to accomplish a good goal they have for their kids, then I feel like I’ve done a good thing.
Terrie: I think that any homeschooling parent is my hero. I’ve been a classroom teacher, and when I tried to homeschool my kids, I didn’t do well with that, and my sister was a brilliant home school mom. Anyone who can homeschool, I think is amazing. When you’re in the mindset of the classroom, and you try to shift gears, it’s not always easy to do that.
Deb: Well, I admire both parents and teachers too. When my kids were little, I volunteered in both the nursery and preschool at church. And I would just be exhausted by the time church was over. I would immediately go home and take a nap! It was so difficult to handle all those kids at once too.
Terrie: Yes, that’s true. It’s a different skill set.
Deb: And depending on what your kids’ needs are.
Terrie: My kids were misdiagnosed for … my two older ones, for years. That’s when I was homeschooling. So basically, what I was doing was completely wrong for them.
Deb: You didn’t know what they needed.
Terrie: And I felt like a horrible parent because I had studied special education in my Masters program. So I knew a little bit about these different things, but nothing was matching up. And that’s the thing with autism: it presents differently with each kid. So, I wasn’t seeing a pattern. What worked for one didn’t work for the other. I was setting timers because I was told they had ADD. Well kids with ADD do better if you set a timer and say, “This is how long you need to work on this, and then you can be free.” But it would stress my kids out and give them anxiety, and they would shut down. I’m just like Uh! I was going crazy with trying to figure it out. It wasn’t the best of times for me.
Deb: Yes, I did the same thing. I spent a lot of time researching and trying to figure out, Why is my kid not fitting the norm? Both my boys had pretty severe ADD, and I did lots of research on that. How frustrating that would be to think you’re doing what the research says would work and it not working.
Terrie: No, totally causing shut downs. It was not good.
Deb: Two of my kids were twice exceptional too. They had giftedness in some areas, and they also had learning disabilities. So, it was tricky to figure out. It took a long time to figure out their diagnoses.
Terrie: And I don’t know if people understand if they’re on the outside looking in. It is not an easy process to go through, to figure out, even if they’re gifted, what’s going to work best for them, how to best educate them, and just everything comes into play. It could be like treacherous waters sometimes.
Deb: Exactly. You have to be like a detective as a mom to figure out what worked yesterday and what didn’t work today. My brother has dyslexia, and some days he could read, and some days he couldn’t. And sometimes the teacher would get very frustrated and say, “I know you can do this. You’re just choosing not to.” It’s really hard to know how best to help our kids.
Terrie: In this podcast we’re talking a lot about how to start spiritual conversations with our children. How early can we start teaching them about God’s love? And how can we encourage some of the moms who are overwhelmed with toddlers and all that’s going on to bring those spiritual conversations into their relationship?
Deb: I was just reading a study today about reading to your children. It was talking about kids can understand so much before they can even respond in words to what you’re doing and what you’re saying. So, I would think from birth. When we pray with them, they will absorb what we’re doing even if we think it isn’t making sense to them. They can pick up on this is a comforting thing. This is a conversation with God, just like having a conversation with Dad or Mom. And we’re just modeling our spiritual life. We don’t have to be didactic about teaching at this age. We can simply live what we know to be true, and they will absorb it.
Terrie: That’s good. My boss, I work for the Association Office here for the Baptist Churches, and my boss would talk about how people say that the teachers who are teaching babies don’t have much responsibility. And he’s like, “No, they’re the most important.” Because exactly what you said: they teach that God is comforting, that we can have peace when we pray. And he talked about that. He felt those teachers were the most important teachers in the church—those who worked with the babies and the nursery workers. I thought that was really awesome.
Deb: How good for him to recognize that. I agree.
Terrie: I thought it was interesting. I was reading the reviews for Ten Little Night Stars on Amazon, and one of the moms said, “They brought prayer into it.” I thought that was funny since it was a Zonderkidz book. I thought readers would know it was a Christian book. Tell us a little bit about what spiritual aspects you introduced in Ten Little Night Stars.
Deb: It was interesting. Zonderkidz is a Christian publisher. But before I was an author, I wouldn’t have necessarily known what publishers were known for. I wouldn’t look at that when I bought a book. I would just choose the book. That being said, everyone has a right to their own opinion. Being a Christian, part of our kids’ bedtime routine was saying prayers. That was just a very natural part of the day—sharing with God what we were grateful for that day or anything that concerned us or just telling Him we loved Him. Those were a very natural and important piece of life with my kids and a part of where my security comes from, so I included that. Also, one of the lines talks about the stars up in heaven. And the inspiration for this book came when my dad died and thinking about him up in heaven. So I used the word heaven, and somebody took offense at the word heaven also. But I know, you can’t write for everyone. I’m hoping that it will introduce children just to the idea of a caring God. It’s not a let’s give the child theology and the whole Gospel message laid out book. But I hope it introduces the idea that there is a God who holds the stars in heaven and who also holds me. Just introducing that idea and being there to answer questions for children if the book brings them up, then parents can respond when they ask. What is heaven? What is prayer? When children are ready to learn more, parents can answer. That’s how any book can spark questions and start a conversation when kids are ready for more.
Terrie: And how about the second book?
Deb: My second children’s book, Sleepy Time Colors, is written as a general market book. It’s another rhyming book about cuddly animals putting on their favorite jammies when it’s time for bed. And how snuggly and cozy those pajamas are. And each animal has a different favorite color of pajamas. For this new one I’m also providing parent/teacher guides to teach children colors, I have one that’s for parents who want to include the Christian aspects of why did God make colors? It’s because He loved us and wanted us to enjoy beauty in the world. God could have created the whole world gray, but because of His love for us, He introduced beauty into our world. And colors are part of that beauty. So, the parent or teacher can choose which one they want to use to teach. It’s six days of preschool curriculum that further introduces children to colors
Terrie: Oh, well that’s awesome. So, you’ll have resources for both markets. We’ll have the link, I assume those will be on your website?
Deb: Yes, right now if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive the teaching guide as a free resource.
Terrie: I’ll have that link in our show notes so people can access those. I want to ask you one more question, and then I think we’ll be out of time for today. I know that you’re involved with CASA. Can you tell us a little about this program and your passion for working with that organization?
Deb: Sure. I love being an adoptive mom. One of my children joined our family through adoption. We went through infertility for a long time, so for a big part of our life, we focused on building our family. I’m not able to adopt more children. But CASA is a way to help kids in foster care. It stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. You can volunteer to help one child through the foster care system. You are legally appointed to be that child’s CASA for the length of time that they are going through the court system as a child in foster care. I think it’s a wonderful program because there is so much change in these children’s lives. For one child I worked with, everything had changed in her life. The judge had changed, her attorney had changed multiple times, and so had her social worker. Her foster mom remained the same the whole time, which is often unusual. It’s a great program to just be a voice for the child. Often the judge has a short time during court to decide what is best for a child. And the child could be with a new attorney or a new social worker at that point. CASAs add some continuity and are there as a voice for the child.
Terrie: Wow, that’s amazing.
Deb: I think it’s a very rewarding program.
Terrie: Well thank you so much for sharing with us today. I look forward to talking with you again. We will have another episode where we’re going to talk about a little bit different topic. So, we’ll look forward to that. How can we as listeners support you in your work and in your ministry?
Deb: Well, thanks, Terrie. If your listeners want to find me or connect with me, they can on social media. I mostly use Facebook and Instagram, and on my website, that would be wonderful!
Terrie: Well, we will have all those links in our show notes. I encourage listeners to check out her website. She has some great articles. There’s one article in particular I almost want to put in the show notes, it’s so good about reading to children. So, please look that up. Take the time. It’s well worth it. Thank you. Anything else you want to add?
Deb: Parents, I applaud you. God knows your heart of wanting to do the best thing for your children. And He also knows your limits. He’s cheering you on, and so am I.
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 with the children in your life. Be sure to check out the show notes for links to Deb’s website, lessons plans, and much more. You can sign up for my mailing list to get weekly reminders of the 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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