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Author Showcase

Spring 2008 Featured Author, Leona LaRosa Bodie

RT: Congratulations on the success of your first children's book, One is Fun. This is a great book, and I really love the collaboration with your Mom, who is the illustrator. Can you tell us about how you came to create a children's book together?

Leona: In April 2005, when my husband and I set out on a boat trip aboard our 34-foot trawler to Florida's west coast, publishing a children's book was the furthest thing from my mind. Sitting on “Cloud Chaser,” I never thought about writing a children's book, ever. But, then I first started writing a poem, and I couldn't let it go. The next thought was about my mom: wouldn't it be great if mom could illustrate it?

om first picked up a paintbrush and easel when she was in her mid-seventies. Before long she was showing her watercolor portraits and landscapes at local art shows and even won honorable mention in 1998 for one of her works submitted to a juried art show at the Bet Breira Gallery in Miami. Now 83, she wasn't that keen on painting the book's 32 images, Mom ikes to paint for pleasure, and she wasn't really enthusiastic about selling her work. At art shows, she would hike up the prices of her paintings at the art show, thinking that if she priced it high enough, they wouldn't buy it. To her surprise, they sold anyway.

Ultimately I convinced her to paint the images of her great grandson. It took about six months. She had to change her mindset and reduce the size of her painting. So what began as a poem written about my only grandchild, turned into a “labor of love” and our award-winning children's book.

RT: What was your favorite part of the process?

Leona: That we had an opportunity to learn and accomplish this journey together. Nothing is better. The day we received the galleys was especially memorable. I’m proud that this project was a family affair, and that we can share our story with other families.

RT: Have you and your Mom had a chance to share the story with your son and grandson (your mom's grandson/great-grandson) Logan, who is the featured character in One is Fun? What was that like?

Leona: Sharing the story with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson was as “good as it gets.” Definitely a defining moment. I was there when my grandson took his first breath, and the first time his eyes landed on mine, it was love at first sight. So, to capture in rhyming text and colorful illustrations the beauty and wonder of that first year of his life and to document a young child’s progress is more than a dream realized. Whenever we read One Is Fun, I watch my grandson’s face brighten with excitement. He recognizes every family member. It’s the best reward I could ever ask for. My goal is to hook other babies on reading and family fun.

RT: A link on your website suggests that this is the first title in the series. Can you give us a hint about the other subjects you will be covering?

Leona: Three, positive experience, age-specific books are planned in the series. They focus on a very young child’s capabilities while showcasing major family events, including vacations and holidays.

RT: One of your goals for One is Fun is to get toddlers and preschoolers hooked on reading. How did you become hooked on reading? Do you have a favorite book?

Leona: It’s ironic that I grew up to be an English teacher and a writer, even though my father was functionally illiterate. So carefully did he hide this challenge that, I didn’t realize my Dad’s disadvantage until I was in my teens. Thinking back on it now, what made the difference for me was my mother, who cultivated a love for books in our family. My fondest and earliest memories are of her reading Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes and an alphabet book to me. Mom read to me daily.

Although her native tongue is Portuguese, Mom learned English early in life and she filled our home with stories, books, encyclopedias and magazines for the five of us children. She infused in us a passion for exploring new worlds. Mom simply made reading fun and we read for enjoyment. As we grew older, she encouraged all of us, even my father, to find our answers about the world in books. Her passion gave us a head start in life.

It is amazing how clearly I still see those wonderful first books; I even remember the illustrations. My favorite books? As an adult, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. For a picture book, it would be The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle; and for my pre-teen reading, it was the Nancy Drew Series.

RT: You also raised two sons. Are they readers? As you know, studies keep telling us boys are the hardest audience to reach so we can keep them reading. Was there anything in particular that worked for you?

Leona: Both of my sons are readers. But, as they grew from toddlers to teens, my initial one-size-fits-all approach to skills and reading development didn’t work for them or me. They had very different styles. My oldest, easily hooked even as a toddler, always loved reading books. His early favorites included Mercer Mayer and Dr. Seuss. His passion for reading started early and continues to this day.

My youngest grew to hate books in his early teens and turned his nose up at novels. No Hardy Boys for him. It’s not that he couldn’t read; he didn’t enjoy it. He resisted, even picking up a book, complaining about the print, the length, etc. I learned that he needed glasses, even after he got them, he didn't like to read. So, I experimented and finally resorted to giving him non-traditional reading material…whatever he liked including Archie & Jughead comic books. It worked! The kid who wouldn’t read picked up a novel, then relished delving into 300-page technical manuals. He digested every word and built his own computer. Reading more computer manuals enabled him to troubleshoot for others, turning his newly found avocation into a job at 14. He became the neighborhood guru that built PCs and fixed them. Imagine my surprise when the CEO of a local company hired my teenage son as a part time computer consultant.

Based on my experience, i would say read to your baby daily. You’re their first and best teacher. You can determine what your child needs and tailor your approach to help them find success. Remember, though, siblings are individuals. You need to be flexible because what might work for one might not work for the other. Your home library should have a wide variety of reading material, because what might appeal to your child’s inquiring mind might amaze you.

RT: Although this is your first illustrated children's book, you aren't a new writer. You have written a suspense novel; authored articles, feature stories, and newsletters on any number of topics. You have also been a contributing editor. Are you hooked on writing for young children now? Or do you think you'll expand your audiences and genre?

Leona: My writing interests vary. Right now, I write short stories, mainstream adult novels, articles, corporate newsletters, marine guides, business and medical reviews, as well as advertorials (business reviews with an advertising slant). I write for adults as well as children, and probably always will.

RT: After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson (English and Education), you became a teacher. You also have raised two sons. Given your experiences as an educator and parent, can you offer some ideas about how we can reach parents about just how important reading is?

Leona: Children who are read to learn two things. First, that reading is worthwhile; and second, that they are worthwhile. The most important result of reading together is that it builds a strong foundation for reading and learning later in life. The Reach Out and Read (“ROR”) Program is a great way for doctors to help families and parents understand how important it is to read to their babies. Let me share some of their statistics:
*Children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are more likely to learn to read on schedule.
*16% of parents of children age three years and younger do not read at all with their children, and 23% do so only once or twice a week.
*Percentages are even lower among low-income families, whose children face the highest risk of literacy problems.

Reading difficulty contributes to school failure. That increases the risk of absenteeism, leaving school, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy. Those things perpetuate the cycles of poverty and dependency. Educators and developmental psychologists have long considered reading aloud to children important in helping those children develop early literacy skills. But, it takes more than statistics to show parents how important reading is. My suggestions are to read about ideas.

*Take advantage of online resources. Go to the the ROR website. Check out the PBS website for five everyday ideas to help babies learn language.
* Feed your kids wholesome foods to maximize healthy brain development. At every well-child check-up, ask your doctors and nurses about age-appropriate tips and encouragement.
*Talk to and read to their babies in an animated way. Maintain eye contact and cuddle them. Parents who have difficulty reading can invent their own stories to go with picture books and spend time naming objects with their children. Make it fun. Make it a game.
*Take advantage of community resources, especially readings and other educational children’s programs, by visiting and consulting with local librarians and children’s book centers.

On my website, parents will find helpful links and resources that offer proven ways to make reading fun for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, plus shows parents easy, effective activities to keep a child’s reading skills sharp. Visit leonabodie.com

RT: In today's world, kids have the opportunity to experience, share, and learn about other cultures and languages. Do you foresee drawing on your own heritage and language in your children's books?

Leona: I wrestled with drawing on my own heritage and language even with One Is Fun. Initially I wanted to use both the Portuguese and Polish equivalents for grandma, because that was a more accurate presentation of what Logan was used to. I went back and forth over this, and finally changed everything to the mainstream “grandma,” so every English-speaking child could relate. At some point though, I want to write a sweet story with a great message about young Portuguese girl facing hardships, migrating from the old country, and successfully overcoming challenges in America. No, this wouldn’t be my own personal story, but I would love to write a fiction narrative that draws on the experiences of so many of my family members and friends.

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

Leona: Shower babies with books! As an alternative to toys and clothes, host a shower for a relative or a friend with a children’s book theme. One Is Fun is a picture book that makes an excellent first birthday or baby shower gift, because it opens new worlds for babies 0-4. My award-winning storybook teaches family values through positive experience and family interaction. Sturdy for little hands, this fun board book with its bright illustrations and rhyming words is sure to please infants and toddlers. Not only will your little ones love this sweet story, their older siblings will too. It is nice to have a picture book every one can enjoy. Inspired by life, this book is an excellent tool for learning, growing and venturing out.

My website leonabodie.com has resources for parents & teachers and is dedicated to child literacy, positive family interaction and empowering children. There are FREE newsletter, games, puzzles and activities to make reading fun.

Website: http://www.leonabodie.com


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