Author Features

October 28, 2015
It is with great pleasure that I enter our second author feature.  Linda Booth Sweeney, a systems educator, works with people of all ages to develop systems literacy,  a deeper understanding of living systems.  Fortunately for us she also authors children's books.  Here is what she had to say about writing and her book When the Wind Blows.

Q:  Where do you get inspiration for your books?
A:  Much of my inspiration comes from the natural world, and from just being with kids.  For the When the Wind Blows book, the inspiration came from a stroll I took with my oldest son, Jack.  He was two years old at the time.  We were living in Cambridge while I was in graduate school. It was a bright, sunny day when we left, but as we headed back home, a storm came in.  The wind blew, and blew.  When his stroller lifted off the side walk, I knew this was no ordinary storm!  As his mom, all I could think about was getting him home safely, but Jack love the whole thing.  While I bent my head down and pushed the stroller toward home, Jack squealed: "mommy, mommy, look!"  as the wind whipped up the world around him.  Signs shook so hard they looked like they'd fall off the post, the awnings billowed and snapped, puddles shimmered.  His excitement was contagious!  Soon, I too had that wide-eyed wonder about the wind.  I found myself laughing and skipping home, and loving every minute of it.  When we got home, I wrote down all the things we noticed.  And then from there, I began to fill it out and develop the rhyme.  That's how the first draft was born.
Q: What do you want kids to walk away with after reading your books?
A:  Well each book is different.  For the When the Wind Blows book, I wanted kids to see weather as an invitation, to be a part of it, and to revel in it.  I wanted them to think more "player" than "spectator" when it came to being outdoors.  One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, in her poem Instructions for living a life puts it this way:
"Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."
What happens when the wind blows?  When the snow falls?  When the rains plop down?  Get out there and get your nose in it.   Be amazed, and tell about it!
Q:  What is the most timeless element in your book?
A:  Nature is of course timeless. I think the simple act of spending time with a grandparent is too.  I can't tell you the number of women who tell me, "I want to be like the grandmother in your book" She is fun and feisty, which I love.  One of my favorite illustrations is of the grandma splashing in the puddles with her grandson.
Q:  How do the visuals in your book connect to the printed message?
A:  More than any book I've done so far, illustrations in my When the Wind Blows book all directly connect to the text.  When the verse reads,
"Trees dance.
Spiders curl.
Mice shiver.
Leaves swirl."
Jana Christy's gorgeous illustrations capture all the windswept action.  I feel quite grateful to have been matched with such a masterful illustrator.
Q: How do your books help children make connections?
A: Up until this point, all my books have to do with systems--either directly teaching about systems thinking or highlighting systems in nature.  In Connected Wisdom I adapted 12 folktales from different cultures, many of which revealed ancient wisdom about connections in nature and our everyday lives.
Q:  What systems thinking concepts are embedded in your books?
A:  Well, the wind itself is part of a system.  So that's a great place to start.  There's a standards-based "wind as a system" activity in the When the Wind Blows educator's guide.  There are a lot of resources for educators, parents and librarians on my website.
Q:  What is something you really want readers to know about you?
A:  I believe that gathering up the pieces and reconnecting the parts generates wholeness, and often, improves health, whether it's the health of a family, an ecosystem, a school or community.  Indeed the root of the word health comes from the Old English hǣlth, which is related to the word whole.  I have seen this over and over, and that has got to be one of the reasons why I've been at this systems thinking for so long now (20+ years).  Beyond that, I am a writer, speaker, game maker and trampoline jumper.  I write fiction and non-fiction for children and non-fiction for adults (so far).  I love doing school visits, Skype visits and in-school residencies.

June 8, 2015
Reading children's literature is a joyful experience devoid of any extraneous rules, commentary or conditions; however, sometimes it is a bonus to have a little bit of background.  So in addition to providing specific ways to use children's literature to support the teaching of systems thinking, Literature Connects also features some interviews with authors to give readers a bit more insight into connections that the authors themselves make to their text.

Many thanks to Jane Sutton for being our first featured author as we seek to launch this new sections of the blog.

Jane is the author of several books including The Trouble with Cauliflower, Don't Call Me Sidney and Esther's Hanukkah Disaster and the forthcoming What's Up With This Chicken? (Sept. '15).  Jane lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.  To learn more about Jane and find out about school visits, check out her website.

Without further delay, here is a Q & A with Jane Sutton

Q:  What do kids say about your books?
A:  The most frequent comment I hear from kids is that the books are funny. Parents often tell me their children want to hear the books over and over.  That makes me happy!
Q:  Where do you get inspiration for your books?
A:  Some of my books, especially the middle grade novels, are based on my childhood experiences. With picture books I generally start with a theme I consider meaningful and then come up with plots and characters to explore the theme in an entertaining way.
Q:  What do you want kids to walk away with after reading your books?
A:  First of all, I'd like them to enjoy the experience of reading or listening to the book, reinforcing that reading is fun.  I want them to empathize with the characters' emotions and dilemmas, which helps them learn to put themselves in others' places and develop compassion.  And I hope they glean a message, applying what the main character learns in the course of the story to their own lives.
Q:  What is the most timeless element in your books?
A:  Good question! A friend once pointed out to me that all my books in a variety of ways, show the importance of being yourself.
Q:  How do the visuals in your book connect to the printed message?
A:  I am always impressed by illustrators' ability to depict emotion, which greatly enhances the reader's understanding of the characters' inner conflicts, etc.  In Don't Call Me Sidney, for instance, we can see on Sidney's face his pride about being a poet, distress about choosing a name for himself and his love for his mother.  In my book Esther's Hanukkah Disaster, Esther the purple gorilla's body language and facial expressions communicate her dismay when she realizes she chose inappropriate gifts for her jungle friends and joy at coming up with a solution.
Q:  What is something you really want readers to know about you?
A: I love doing school visits, talking to children about my writing process and sharing my enthusiasm for writing...and revising.

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