Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nurturing the Child the Montessori Way

Montessori education is a child-guided method of learning, which involves the use of specific materials and small objects developed by Italian educator, Maria Montessori over one hundred years ago. In montessori classrooms, children are intrinsically motivated to help in activities termed “work” - self-building tasks that lend themselves to an independent learning experience that’s limitless, yet structured.

Today, this time-tested pedagogy with its unique set of learning outcomes has traveled to cities and towns all around the world. And the historical connection that the city of Madras, as Chennai was known earlier, shares with this education method and Maria Montessori herself is indeed quite remarkable.

During World War 2, when Maria was exiled by Mussolini in the year 1939, she and her son fled to Madras. That November, following an invitation from G.S. Arundale, Maria established the city’s first Montessori school at the quaint, old Olcott Garden bungalow on the grounds of Theosophical Society. Since then, several montessori schools have sprung up in the city, quietly changing Chennai’s early childhood education landscape.

Manju Venkat, the founder of Sharanalaya Montessori, says “Montessori revolves around recognizing sensitive periods and stages of childhood. Individualised lessons, multi-age classrooms, free choice, positive disciplining and peer interaction are some of the key defining elements of a montessori environment - one that’s deeply ingrained in the joy of “work” without any extrinsic rewards to the child.”

Manju started Sharanalaya fifteen years ago in Mahalingapuram, and the school now has a new branch on East Coast Road in the beachside neighborhood of Akkarai, skirting Sholinganallur and Injambakkam. Sharanalaya’s classrooms are bright, airy and spacious, exuding a warm and friendly environment where children thrive in freedom. Aesthetically created Warli paintings adorn the walls in the corridors, while neatly laid red-oxide athangudi tiles render the clutter-free floors a joy to walk on, for feet big and little. In these open and orderly classrooms, elementary and primary aged children seamlessly explore their physical and intellectual independence.

Children by age six start to realize that the world is an enormous, interesting place. Continents, cultures, scientific concepts and great literature become part of the classroom catering to age-group 6-12. Elementary curriculum in Sharanalaya guides the child through multi-disciplinary areas of learning - math, geometry, language, zoology, paleontology, geography and history are all represented in a montessori classroom, which is filled with materials that lead to an understanding of fundamental concepts across disciplines, using both concrete and abstract methods.

With a meticulously planned play area, Neev Montessori in Injambakkam believes in letting children explore and experience their physical strengths in a myriad different ways. Hanging bridge, rope ladders, climbing nets, rope walking, and monkey bars are some of the many fun and challenging equipment the play area offers.

Neelu Dhungana, the co-founder of Neev, says “At Neev, primary environment for the age-group 3-6 is all about letting a child explore his or her physical independence and language development while ages 6-12, called the older primary or elementary environment, recognizes a child’s insatiable curiosity and excitement for learning.”

Free play works in a multitude of ways, and research points to its myriad benefits: it stimulates senses, develops fine and gross motor skills, enhances imagination, enables understanding of self, others and the world around. Neelu further elaborates, “Free uninterrupted play is a necessary component for cognitive development, which includes skills such as planning, organising, regulating, sequencing. These skills are necessary for carrying out executive functions in daily life and work.”

Housed in a red brick building with well-lit classrooms, arches, open spaces and hallways, architecturally unique Abacus Montessori in Perungudi on OMR was designed by well-known architect, Benny Kuriakose. Abacus’ recent farm program initiative has been a unique way of engaging children with the community and the environment during montessori’s older elementary years. Children work on organic farming through sustainable practices: they sow seeds, grow paddy and vegetables and grains, take care of cattle, and in the process learn to grow their own food, respecting Nature.

Temple Tree, Redwood and Besant Arundale school in Kalakshetra, Besant Nagar, Navadisha in Velachery, Learning Tree in Adyar, Sprouts and Vruksha in Alwarpet, Patashala in Nungambakkam are some of Chennai’s other montessori schools doing significant work in bringing this system of education to families across the city.

All pedagogies in early childhood education agree that every child needs time, space and freedom to explore learning on his/her own terms. Conventional schools abound in the city where exams and marks define education in every frame of mainstream thought. But thanks to Maria Montessori, families were introduced to an alternative system of schooling 80 years ago. To this end, these schools have gone out of their way to help parents understand the philosophy of Montessori.

Meena Nirmal, who has been a montessori parent for more than ten years says, “During the primary years, all five senses are equally stimulated, enabling learning through all of them. The child gets to progress at his or her own pace in a non-competitive environment, some areas fast while some slow, not at all affected by other kids in the environment.”

Meena further adds, “One more equally interesting fact is that the learning material in the classroom is very simple and non-distracting, absolutely no fancy stuff in the classroom with a lot of orderliness.” Meena also believes that the concrete presentation of the number system helps the kids develop a mental picture of the numeric system. This, she thinks, can be especially helpful in problem-solving, giving children a mental picture of the problem, combined with a realistic, hands-on way of coming up with a solution.

Sheela Preuitt, another Montessori parent says: "Fostering independence and encouraging self-care, Montessori’s Primary environment was the perfect place for my kids to become self-motivated learners, driven by curiosity and individual interests. The multi-age classroom in Elementary allowed them not only to improve their own learning process by observing the older children, but also gave them an opportunity to be a role model for the younger ones. The freedom to choose a subject or topic and delve as deeply as they want via self-initiated projects, until they are satiated and ready to move on to something else, has set them up for a lifelong journey of discovery, cultivating an unbridled joy of learning.”

Convenience can be a crucial factor when it comes to choosing schools, especially for a child’s early years of education. With more than fifteen Montessori schools spread across neighbourhoods, for parents who want their children to thrive as individuals joyfully learning without any comparisons and pressures of ranks and marks, and other unnecessary system-induced stress and anxiety, options to choose from schools following montessori education are plenty today, at least till the end of elementary years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thukpa for All

Karadi Tales
Reading age- 4 and above
Authors- Praba Ram and Sheela Preuitt
Illustrator- Shilpa Ranade

Big pleasures in our lives are derived from small uneventful days.

Many of our memories tend to be food-centric. In fact, every child will have one or more special foods to relate to. And more often than not, that special food would have been made in his/her home. They look forward to it, savor it, brag about it and like to share it with their friends.

Prabha and Sheela take us on a journey to savour Tsering's thukpa as he announces to his friends and invites them home for a share of his grandma's special thukpa.

Prabha and Sheela (and the wonderful illustrator Shilpa Ranade) have recreated the locales with such  degree of detail, that it transports you to Ladakh.

It is a beautiful story of give and take in a community.  At the end of the story I was left with a longing for a Thukpa bowl and what is fantastic is that the book holds a recipe too to satiate that longing.

That Tsering is blind is woven subtly into the story. Everyone around him accepts it and you do too, because that becomes beside the point. You see him walking alone, meeting and greeting people enroute and helping around the house as any child would.

Where was Tsering coming from? What else happens in Tsering's life?
Wishing there will be more books ...

This is a review by Sreelatha - parent of 6 year old Kalyani.

You can look up the publishers' link here.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Pickle Mania by Srividhya Venkat

Author: Srividhya Venkat
Illustrations: Shailja Jain Chougule
Publisher: Tota Books
(Review Copy)

Grandma and grandpa aren’t too excited to let Nithya try their pickles. Nevertheless, Nithya can’t wait to sneak in, and have a taste of the pickles while her grandparents are away. What follows after much pleading and begging is that Nithya learns to make her own little pickle with grandma’s help. What happens during the process of pickle-making makes for the rest of the plot - one that is a riot of fun, color, filled with sensory explosion to tantalise your taste buds.

The attention to detail comes through the illustrations by Shailaja Jain Chougule. The cheerful and kid-friendly drawings capture the little girl’s fascination for pickles and evoke beautiful grandparent-granddaughter connections. Written by Srividhya Venkat, Pickle Mania is one “licky lick, dippy dip”, tangy-as- tamarind and sweet-as-jaggery kind of a delicious picture book that encourages problem-solving.

Zippy, light and fun descriptive words make it a great read-aloud book for the 4 to 8 age group. All in all, I found this to be a warm and likeable book, perfectly suited for the pickle-loving daughter in the family who promptly devoured it. A picture book that celebrates family traditions around pickles and the passing down of joys of these tastebud stimulating foods, while subtly encouraging kids to try new foods.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Amma Take Me to The Golden Temple

Amma Take Me to The Golden Temple
Ages- 4-10 years
Text- Bhakti Mathur, Illustrations- Priyankar Gupta

A mother of  two curious boys, embarks on a journey of discovery and bonding through stories. The destination- the awe inspiring Golden Temple , Amritsar.

The religious references are well balanced and backed by facts and stories that enrich a visit to any place. The language is easy for children to follow and the banter between the brothers impart a warmth to the narrative.

The significance and historical development of the monument ( ranging from the structure itself, to the religious tome, the water body and the trees of significance, the architecture and so on) and along with it, Sikhism and its precepts, are well highlighted. The social thread of the significance of Langar and the community volunteering  will inspire young minds. The summary page on the Sikh Gurus and the glossary are very useful.The author has steered clear of Operation Blue Star as her target reader belongs to the younger age group.

The illustrations are detailed and retro, a bit ACK like, a style you do not get to see often in picture books nowadays.  It met with mixed reactions from my children, one loved it and the other found them unexciting.

This is a good book to read before you set off on a visit and a great book to read if you wanted to visit and have not been able to. For those who have visited, like us, it still offers some refreshing perspective and takes us back to compare notes!

There will be more books in this series. Any guesses what places they will take us to?

This was a review  book copy from the publisher, but the review is unbiased.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Bedtime Stories -Unhappy Moon and Not Yet

Unhappy Moon

Written by Saras
Pictures by Proiti Roy
Published by Tulika Books

Simple storylines based on space themes come as a rare and delightful treat in the world of children’s literature. Here’s one recent book from Tulika Books titled Unhappy Moon that captured my attention.

Moon is not happy since nobody notices her. And that's because people sleep when she's out. Just like the Sun, she wants to be seen and appreciated too. So in a relentless pursuit, she decides to position herself in places where she can be seen - right from where the three seas meet at the tip of India all the way to the mountains, eager to seek attention. But things don't work out the way she imagines them to be, but the ending is a happy one, after all!

A tightly woven travel story that will get your family to embark on an adventure with the moon as she moves to various locations around India. The narrative, without a glitch, comes back to where it all starts from. In that sense, you can call it a circular tale too. The author, Saras, in writing for children has hit a home-run through Unhappy Moon.

This new fiction-nonfiction crossover story has opened yet another aspect of amazing India to children. This story is simple enough for a three year old to comprehend, and a great add on to text books for both educators, as well as parents. In that, the book can be paired as a teacher resource serving as a good introduction to moon cycle and geography for young readers.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed poring over the rich, vibrant colours of the illustrations in this book. The lively play of colors makes each page a pleasure to pore over. According to the 10 year old picture book aficionado in the household, the star attraction of the book are the illustrations and the various playful expressions on Moon’s face. Enjoy a little late-summer moon and star-gazing with your children, picking this picture book!

Not Yet/Abhi Nahin! (English-Hindi)
Author : Nandana Dev Sen
Illustrator : Niloufer Wadia

A little girl is lost in her own world where she must learn to kiss a kangaroo, snuggle a whale, fly with the birds in the sky, and it's no surprise that sleep is the last thing on her mind given that she has so much to do!

Not Yet is a playful trek at bedtime, along with a little girl who wants to interact and have fun with her imaginary animal, bird and insect friends. The text is simple enough for young readers because it can help the reader visualize each action she is eager to participate in. And it gently tells you, you can learn something new from everyone. A great book to be used within a preschool classroom for younger students to help learn about different animals, while also learning new words.

As for the illustrations, the luminous and bright landscape reveals a special beauty and the prevailing mood is one of celebration. Overall, a perfectly sweet, thoughtful and whimsical book that will ignite the imagination of wee little ones, while giving them a sense of warmth, wonder and delight, derived from life's simple and bountiful moments. Combining bright, cheerful illustrations and wonderful lines, Not Yet is bound to become a household favorite.

I was sent these two books for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Dream Writer

Title: Dream Writer
Author: Sandhya Rao
Illustrator: Tanvi Bhatt
Publisher: Tulika Books

Last winter, while scouting for writing supplies and reading materials at my local bookstore, the picture book cover, Dream Writer snagged my attention.

The dreamy-looking picture of a child with closed eyes and the intriguingly simple title piqued my writerly curiosity, and obviously, it was hard not to resist the temptation to pick up this brand new picture book from Tulika Books, written by my favorite editor and children's writer, Sandhya Rao.

The narrative revolves around the varied colourful dreams that a child named Shobha dreams, and she's only eager to know how all of her dreams end. With a gentle nudge from her English teacher, she quickly figures out a way to find a solution to her predicament.

A picture book plot in the hands of a great children's writer can sometimes pen itself - and this one probably did exactly that with its awe-inspiringly simple and clever pen-oriented theme.

The slightly poignant touch added to the pictures reveals a parallel thread that the reader sees unfolding - a hidden story element that does not needlessly parade pity, but one that speaks the state as is and deserves five stars for the not-at-all-heavy handling of it.

Dream Writer is one of the books that made my “Picture Book Picnic” children at the local art gallery, drool over the delightfully funny images, especially the page with Shobha’s nose growing like an elephant trunk.

Vibrant artwork by Tanvi Bhat speaks more than a thousand words, while the crisp and clear writing leaves you smiling and craving for more of Shobha’s bite-sized stories and their dreamy endings.

Coconuts flapping and buzzing like flies evoked many laughs. I started off asking my group of raucous children what they thought dreams were made of. I wanted them to get a little descriptive in describing what a dream was, and these were some interesting responses I got from the children.

“Dreams are like a cloud. They float in your head when you sleep.”

“Dreams are like fantastic things that form in your mind when you sleep”

“Dreams tend to have a fuzzy quality. Some are blurry whereas some are very clear.”

Clearly, Sandhya Rao’s Dream Writer spoke to little minds in more ways than one. More power to stories that inspire children in a myriad different ways!

Monday, May 01, 2017

Jesper Jinx Series by Marko Kitti

Jesper Jinx (series)
by Marko Kitti

jesper jinx wonderfully wicked books by marko kitty

Quite by the sweetest coincidence, I e-met the author, Marko Kitti, and got to read his delightful set of books. Well, not all of seven of them yet -- but, enough of them to know that this is a light and fun chapter book series for kids to get hooked on.

"Jesper Jinx is eleven, and probably the unluckiest person in all of Puffington Hill. Everything he touches seems to end up in sweet disaster. Hence his nickname 'Jinx'"

In the first few pages of the first book, in the Intro Sequence, the author sets the tone and the mood that made me realize that kids would love this style of writing: the author has promised Jesper that he won't share Jesper's embarrassing moments in print; Yet, the author breaks "at least a zillion promises and moral obligations" and asks us readers to not breathe a word to Jesper about this breach. Conspiratorial, or what?!

Things always seem to happen to Jesper. His heart is in the right place. His intentions are usually nice (not always!). But he manages to come out fine in the end.

Finnish author Marko Kitti took up writing in English as a challenge and has come up with an entertaining set of books that are a pleasure to read.

I e-interviewed the author to know more about his writing journey and the various aspects of bringing Jesper to the readers.

1. Tell us about your writing journey - when did you start, what was your motivation for writing?

I've been writing fictional stories for as long as I can remember. As a child, I enjoyed writing all kinds of short stories, most of them which were actually my own versions of the stories I'd read. So my love of writing comes from my love of reading. But it wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I sent my scribblings to a publisher, and I've been a professional writer ever since.

2. Do you focus on writing only for children? What are some of your other works?

I have published several novels and short stories for adult and YA readers in the Finnish language, but for the past four years I've been focussing on writing only for children, mainly in the English language. I find writing for children wonderfully enjoyable, although it's one of the most difficult types of storytelling. I've always loved challenges and, funny enough, it didn't take long before I found my comfort zone in writing children's literature.

3. What was the inspiration for Jesper Jinx? Were you drawing from your own life perchance?

Jesper Jinx was born purely by accident. What started as a simple "experiment" soon turned into something completely different. Finnish is my mother tongue, and about five years ago someone challenged me to write something in English. More precisely, what that person actually said was: "I don't believe your English is good enough for writing a book.” That was a huge trigger for me. Being told "you can't” was all the motivation I needed, and a few months later Jesper Jinx was born. I wanted to create a character who was someone the young readers could identify with. I also wanted to involve the reader in the Jesper Jinx books by directly addressing them, making them feel like they are part of something important. I wanted to take a humorous approach to the stories, and that proved to be a good decision. After all, these days more than ever, children need laughter as well as a sense of security and acceptance in their lives.

4. Tell us about your favorite children's author(s) and book(s)?

As a child, my favourite children's author was Enid Blyton. I can honestly say I've read most of her books at least twice; The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Adventure series, you name it. I also gobbled through Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series, which I found absolutely fantastic. Nowadays, I enjoy reading all kinds of children's books. Some of my favourite authors include Roald Dahl, David Walliams, Jeff Kinney and Anthony Horowitz, and I'm also a great fan of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

5. How was the self-publishing experience? Do you handle the business-end and technical-end of self-publishing as well?

Yes, I'm involved in every step of the self-publishing process from writing and graphic design to the actual publishing and marketing, and I can honestly say I have enjoyed every minute of it all. But I haven't been doing the project alone. I'm lucky to have a fantastic team of editors, proofreaders and marketing professionals around me, so I can easily say that the Jesper Jinx series couldn't have become as successful as it has without a brilliant team effort from everyone involved.

6. What do you do when you are not writing? What are your other interests/passions?

I love travelling and exploring new places and cultures. I was born in Finland but I'm living in England now – and who knows, someday I might be living somewhere else. I also love baking and cooking and you will always see me in the kitchen.

Jesper Jinx website

[image source:]

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Gory Story of Genghis Khan

The Gory Story of Genghis Khan a.k.a. Don't Mess with the Mongols  
Nayanika Mahtani
Puffin India
Age- 9 plus

When I heard the name of the book I expected something like the Horrible History series or the Duckbill historical fiction set. Instead here is a book that is rendered in a style and format, all its own.

It takes a close look at what drove the outcast child Temujin to become Genghis Khan, the conqueror of one sixth of the world! While not condoning his ways, it throws light on his foresight and adaptability. It humanizes one of history's leading villains and tells you that despite his failings, he had surprisingly commendable qualities- his respect for women, the religious tolerance he extended, the horse-powered postal system he started, the spy network that flourished under his rule and more.

There are many information nuggets dropped casually -from clothing to cultural norms to army tactics that existed then. Some scenes come with a "do not try it at home" clause but parents of younger readers could emphasize the message!

My only worry was that children may celebrate him like an unlikely hero - sort of like a Robinhood- but the atrocities are laid out openly for all to read.

The protagonist makes the read quite a ride. The puns are wonderfully witty and the tone is light for a subject who is distasteful in his ruthlessness. 

The breaking news format with Yuherdit Hearfirst and the narrator Yakkety Yak, the rap- like songs and rhymes, use of 'yakoo' to explain difficult words, are charming, clever, contemporary touches that would appeal to today's readers. The puns are there all over, some may get missed by the younger reader but they add irreverent fun to what could have been a drab narrative ( a traditional history text). 

The illustrations by Tapas Guha are apt and the book cover by Devangana Dash looks gory enough to get children curious. The closing notes, alongside the map and the family tree, will entice you to look up on more such books.

I am sure we can expect more in this series from the author. 
Would be a good read aloud in schools too!

This is based on a review copy but it is my candid opinion of the book

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Maharani the Cow

Author : Christy Shoba Sudhir
Illustrator : Nancy Raj
Published by: Tulika Books

As someone who is constantly in awe of picture book writers and illustrators, it is hard not to take notice, when a few simple and clever and witty books come along your way.

Picture books can get kids to ponder and wonder, inspire and imagine; and best of all, get them to guffaw uncontrollably, providing an endless source of giggles and laughs.

I will be reviewing a few recently published Tulika books, in no particular order, that managed to impress my “Picture Book Picnic” children (that I work with at a local art gallery), just as much as they managed to inspire me.

Maharani, an irresistibly “cool-as-a-cucumber” metro cow has decided to plonk herself on the road, and that too, right in the middle of a typically traffic-heavy city road. Well, what follows is a series of side-splittingly funny scenes as pedestrians, a policeman, school children, and auto drivers try tonudge Maharani to move.

The best part for me about Tulika’s style, and any such simple and clever books, is always the adoption of a no-fuss attitude toward the problem and solution elements. How the “ bovine-stops-traffic”, a frustratingly familiar problem, casually solves itself, much to everyone's relief, forms the crux of this funny tale.

Chirpy words describing the street as dusty, noisy, crowded thoroughly resonated with the children, while Nancy Raj’s illustrations were a delight to pore over down to the last detail. The charming streetscape artworks made the kids sit up and soak them all in. The zooming parakeets flying over the city scene in particular elevated our view to a whole new level.

There’s no way you can't notice the sophisticated presentation of the varied perspectives and views and angles of the cow, and the delightful expressions, sights and sounds, and frustrations of a stream of humans stuck in traffic. The pictures pop out of the page, transporting you straight to a zen-like zone with the gleeful charmer that is Maharani, and yes, you can't help yourself partaking in unseating-her-highness adventure.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Aboard a Paper Plane... and other poems

Aboard a Paper Plane... and other poems 
by Joe & Allison Kelly
illustrations by Supakit Chiangthong

When this poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane, by Allison & Joe Kelly came my way, I was absolutely delighted to read it! Not just to myself. I read it aloud to my kids, and, randomly tossed out some of the lovely lines to the other adult in residence as well.

Shel Silverstein meets Kenn Nesbitt meets Kurt Cyrus.

That's what popped into my head immediately. The random everyday quirks with a deeper thought-provoking perspective à la Shel Silverstein, the laugh-out-loud aspect of Kenn Nesbitt's works, as well as the amazing wordplay that Kurt Cyrus brings to his creations, these are what struck me when I read the forty eight poems in this collection.

Some are long and showcase their wordsmithing perfectly while others are crisp and short and make you double up with laughter.

The younger child's favorite was, of course, Bath for the "Ewww..." factor, and Painter, as he had tried that once and found that it was not appreciated.

The older child loved the Secret Club and Pop Quiz, while chuckling at Clover and nodding along with If Only I had a Dollar.

Vegetables - a cautionary tale is at once brilliant and funny, one of my favorites. The wordplay in Broke is superb.

 Before I start listing the joys of each poem here, let me stop and share an informal interview with this talented couple.

1. Tell us about your writing journey - when did you start, what was your motivation for writing? 

J: I started writing children's poetry when I was fifteen - right around the time I met Allison, actually.  I love the variation inherent in a poetry collection, and I love it as both a reader and a writer.  The imagination's zigzag from character to character, situation to situation; not knowing to which world the next page is going to take you, only that it will be a place you're sure to enjoy.  I guess that's why we were drawn to the paper plane.

A: Like most writers, I'm sure, I'm thrilled by the idea of creating something new that wasn't there before: a character, a plot line, a turn of phrase. I've been enthralled with the writing experience since the age of six or so; it's truly been one of the constant joys in my life.

J: And me, right?

A: Yes, Joe.  And you.

2. Do you focus on writing only for children? What are some of your other works?

A: I will write for anyone! I recently started a small business in which I write and publish personal memoirs for people -- usually older folks whose children want to gather their stories and memories in one place before it's too late. I also write material for standardized tests for students ranging in age from kindergarten to high school, and for both native English speakers and English language learners.

J: I'm not quite as versatile as my wife.  It's been largely children's material to date - poetry, rhyming books, middle grade; even tried my hand at YA.  I'm drawn to the imagination bursting from the genre seemingly everywhere you look.  My "day job" is in finance, so I find balance in using the creative side of my brain after a long day or week of analytical thinking.

Aboard a Paper Plane is our first title.  While writing, however, we stumbled upon a few ideas that were too long to be part of the collection.  The game plan now is to turn those into stand-alone rhyming stories.  We've also started planning a second poetry collection.  We don't have any timelines or anything as of yet, but we're certainly having fun putting it all together.

3. What was the inspiration for this particular book? Why a poetry book? How did you settle on the 48 poems included, it's a tall order? Which of these are your top 3 favorites? 

A: A poetry book allowed us to experiment with a lot of tones, themes, characters, and settings.  We were writing the book in our free time (evenings, weekends), so we wanted to make sure the experience was always fresh and exciting.  And as for the inspiration, Joe's the idea generator, so I'll let him take it from here.

J: Thanks, Al!  The inspiration for the book was an odd collection of dozens of little things I've noticed throughout my day-to-day.  Normal things - things you see every day ,but maybe don't put much thought into.  Like a graveyard or a boomerang or a lobster - stuff like that.  If an object or situation catches my eye, I jot it down in the Notes app on my iPhone. It's also energizing to take lofty "life lessons" -- try not to compare with others, be grateful for what you're given, and so on -- and repurpose them in a fun and accessible way through poetry.  In terms of the forty-eight, we were trying to assemble a nice variety of lengths and subjects and styles. There were a handful that didn't fit with Aboard a Paper Plane.  We hope to find a home for them in the next collection!

A: My favorites are probably The Runner, Guardian Angel, and The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear. They're all very different, and I think they give a good idea of our versatility. I think they best showcase our humor, wordsmithing, and wit.

J: I wouldn't say I necessarily have a favorite poem, but I do have a few favorite lines.  Like in the "Octopus Barber", the line about the monkfish.  Or in "Fortune Teller" when the narrator daydreams about body surfing.  Or in "Aboard a Paper Plane" - the part that goes, "You'll cartwheel to the moon and then you'll swim from here to Spain / Or close your eyes and scrunch your face to sprout a lion's mane."  That makes me smile every time.

4. Tell us about your favorite children's author(s)? Favorite children's book(s)?

J: When I was very young, my favorite book was Richard Scarry's "Best Ride Ever". In retrospect, it was a pretty odd story.  Essentially, the plot line revolved around this dog named Dingo.  Dingo Dog had a really, really cool red car.  What Dingo Dog did not have was much respect for traffic laws.  Dingo would drive his car down the sidewalk, through the supermarket - I think at one point he even drove through someone's living room?  At end of the day, the whole book was a pretty airtight case study on why we don't let animals operate machinery.  According to my dad, I would laugh nonstop through the whole story.  Guess I was kind of a weird kid...

A: You were a weird kid?  According to my mom, my favorite book as a little kid was "The Book of Virtues".  It was 1,000 pages and had no pictures.  I would ask my dad to read it to me every night...

J: Okay - you got me there. But since my Dingo Dog-days of childhood, I've accumulated a whole host of both authors and stories I admire.  Just to name a few: Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" & Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for their wordplay and structure.  Shel Silverstein for his characters and situations.  R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" for their zany twists.  But my absolute favorite?  I love "Oh, the Places You'll Go".  My grandparents gave me a copy when I graduated high school.  It's been on my desk ever since.

A: I loved the Berenstain Bears series -- the cute stories, the colorful full-page pictures! But most of the formative works I read as a child were when I was a little older, eight or nine or so. I loved "Little Women" most of all, followed closely by "A Wrinkle in Time" and the Babysitter's Club series.

5. How does the collaboration work? Each writes, and also edits the other's?

A: Writing children's poems has always been Joe's passion.  He comes up with the idea, any clever turns of phrase or characters, and writes a first draft.  Then, we both sit down in front of it to comb through line by line and word by word.  I'll suggest changes, shore up the scheme, and do my best to make sure every word counts.  We find that this process makes the best use of both of our skills.

J: That said, there were a few poems in the collection that we wrote pretty much top-to-bottom together.  These were, most notably: The Tiniest Ant & the Giantest Bear, If I Only Had a Dollar, Patient Pat, and The Gadget.  My favorite part about writing is being able to work with Allison.  I love having this as a shared experience.

6. Why eBook? And how was the self-publishing experience? Were you interested in submitting to the traditional publishers?

A: At this point, self-publishing Aboard a Paper Plane as an eBook was our most practical and expedient option.  We've also submitted to some literary agents and traditional publishers.  We're hopeful that our run as an eBook isn't the destination, but rather a step on the journey.

7. How did you "meet and collaborate" with the illustrator? On behalf of the illustrator, will you be able to share how they created the art, and whether they are open for working with other authors interested in self-publishing?

J: We met Supakit on Fiverr (which - by the way - is a great platform for children's book authors to partner with illustrators).  Our experience with him was fantastic - he was professional, easy to work with, and very talented. For each poem, we'd put together a detailed description of what we were looking for in the picture, shoot it over to Supakit, and then let him work his magic.  Unfortunately, we don't know too much about his process.  As of today, Supakit has taken his profile down on Fiverr.  He was a student during most of our collaboration, and we got the sense that he was taking on other time-intensive responsibilities as he got closer to graduating.

8. What do you do when you are not writing? What are your other interests/passions?

J: When I'm not writing or working, I enjoy running on the treadmill while watching a movie or show (currently, season 1 of True Detective), practicing the piano, drinking Guinness, all things personal finance, and spending time with my friends, family, and beautiful wife.

A: I love trying new recipes, learning languages (I'm currently taking a Spanish class!), reading, entertaining, and slowwwly decorating our house. And of course, spending time with my family, friends, and Joe!

Our sincerest gratitude to the Saffron Tree team for featuring us and our debut poetry collection, Aboard a Paper Plane! We truly appreciate all you do to promote children's literature. We hope you enjoy Aboard a Paper Plane; please reach out at if you have any questions or comments! Happy reading!

[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book but the opinions shared here are entirely my own. Review policy for this blog is available.]

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