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Author Showcase

Winter 2006 Featured Author John Luksetich

RT: Your newest story, No Small Change, subtly blends a medieval world, math, and self-acceptance. How difficult was it to capture the essence of each of those elements for your audience, who are 4 to 8-year-old children?

John: The story came about quite naturally from an experience with my oldest son, Sergio. When I gave him some leftover change, some pennies, he threw them on the ground. I was upset with his lack of respect for the smaller things of value and thought I would teach him a lesson through a children’s story. My experience as an elementary and junior high history teacher helped me with adapting the story for educational purposes of money math and medieval history. I wanted to make a story that teachers would use so students would learn both money math and a lesson in believing in themselves, since they often feel like the pennies in my story. They are often told by adults that their thoughts and feelings do not matter. I feel if we listened a little bit more to our children we may have a lot fewer problems in society.

RT: Can you offer families and teachers some ideas for creating complementary activities that can bring No Small Change to life, particularly for children struggling with math or self-esteem issues?

John: Probably the best learning experience parents and teachers can offer children is the one of real world experience. Have children start a penny jar. Let them count the contents at the end of the month and break the change into denominations of nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars. Then let the children use the money to buy something they desire. Repeat the process. It could be done with a whole classroom and students could estimate the total in the jar. The winner at the end of the month would receive the jar to spend as they like. Parents and teachers should use the end page of the book as a reference to break down pennies into other denominations. A fellow teacher did this with her daughter who had trouble with counting money. As far as self esteem, students could use the pennies they have to speak up with their opinions. For example, every penny they put in can give them the right to state one opinion to their class or in their home.

RT: As you mentioned, No Small Change was inspired by Sergio's simple act of throwing away some pennies. As a school teacher for many years, I’m sure you saw other, similar teaching opportunities. Have you collected any of these to become stories one day?

John: Yes, I have a collection of stories from experiences both in and out of the classroom. One story dealt with the cliques you see in school and students thinking they are better than others. “War of the Words” is a story about parts of speech, grammar, and punctuation marks in a world where order is disrupted because the words don’t respect the punctuation marks; soon words are at war with each other, leading to chaos. Once they realize that everything has a special place in their world and nothing is better than any thing else, chaos retreats. Sergio also inspired my story "Touched by the Sun," which was published by Jack and Jill magazine. It is a story about how society sees us as black and white and not the reasons for why we are truly special. My son Michael inspired Monster Training when he observed how my wife and I look like monsters when we argue. I realized many parents don’t know how they look to their children when they are angry. So I wrote a book where my son Michael trains us monsters how to behave. “Whose Home?” was a story inspired by my school’s program dedicated to save the rain forest. Now it is Aurora’s turn to save the forest for her animal friends.

RT: Could you tell us a little bit about your Cable Access show? How has your teaching career influenced your program choices?

John: Most of my program choices have come from problems I have had in my life both in and out of school. Also my choices reflect a desire to give the underdogs in society a chance to share their research with the public. For example, when I was ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I had my alternative health doctor on one of my first shows. Topics for my shows cover health, science, medicine, law, economics, history, and education, among others. We have had shows on Area 51, sound therapy, constitutional law, Waldorf schools, psychic pet readers, and just about anything imagined. We have aired more than 500 shows to date, with more than 14 years of production.

RT: Your first book, Whose Coat?, is described as the first children’s book about animal rights, and is the first in the Animal Strikes Back™ series. Can you tell us about the next book in the series (subject, when it will be published)?

John: Our next animal rights book in the series is Whose Home?. In this story Aurora helps the animals find their homes, which had been taken from them by developers. You’ll laugh at how the animals get back their homes and reach an agreement with the developers to share their habitat. This book is intended to bring awareness to children about the devastation of the rain forest and how animal homes are destroyed by developers. It is our hope that future generations will be even more sensitive to preserving this valuable resource. Our publication date for Whose Home? is January 2007. Future publications in this series include Caged about animals who want out of their captivity in a zoo; Put to the Test! about the animal testing and animals performing their own tests on their human subjects; and The Greatest Show on Earth about the circus and the animals making their trainers perform some tricks.

RT: Having worked as a reading mentor in multi-lingual classrooms for more than a decade, can you offer parents ideas about how to help children appreciate their language and, particularly for those who are non-native speakers, help their children learn to read?

John: Parents and teachers alike need to learn empathy for other cultures. Children need to be immersed into multicultural books in English and other languages. These simple books create a bridge between children and adults to learn together about other cultures and appreciate them. If students see books about their own culture and families of other cultures reading them too, they will feel proud of themselves and their parents. Our family lives by this example; I am from Iowa, my wife is from Spain, my stepson is African American, and one of our daughters has Down Syndrome. You might say we grew into our multicultural family and have found the similarities more than the differences that would divide us. We also appreciate the differences more. I took it upon myself to learn several languages. Since my wife’s family doesn’t speak English, I decided to learn Spanish. My class comprises mostly Spanish-speaking students, so it comes in handy and they really appreciate a gringo like myself speaking Spanish. It encourages them to try to learn English. Students will learn to read if they see their parents making an effort. And parents make more of an effort if they see you making an effort to learn their language.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

John: It is the goal of our publishing company to bring out a change among children that will uplift and inform them to make a better world for our future, just as the Chicken Soup for the Soul series did for adults. We hope our books will not only help children realize a better future but also uplift them to achieve a better world. These books are intended to help adults learn from their children as they read these simple books. Thanks for this opportunity and God bless you.




                 

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