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Five Questions for Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama… author-illustrator and rock star to preschoolers Anna Dewdney will be our special guest at the Fostering Lifelong Learners conference on April 25th, joining in the conversation about making and sharing great books for preschoolers. Here are five questions for her.

1.What did your own children teach you about creating books for preschoolers?

My own children taught me several things about the reality of picture books.  First, that a book has to have compelling relevance to a child’s inner world to get picked up more than once or twice.  Second, that a picture book should be fun for everyone in the room (if it isn’t fun for the parent, then it is likely not fun for the child).  And third, that sometimes kids like seemingly unappealing books simply because those kinds of books address some developmental need; in other words, sometimes a parent will have to read Disney’s version of Cinderella every night for weeks…no matter how painful that is.  Most importantly, reading with my children taught me that “reading time” is often the most intimate moment of the day, and that its power in a child’s (or caregiver’s) world cannot be underestimated.

2.I enjoyed playing the Llama Llama game on your website. What are your thoughts about toddlers and iPhones?

I think that iPhones, iPads, Nooks, Droids, and all those gizmos are simply toys.  Whether or not a caregiver chooses to give that type of toy to a child is a personal decision.  As a parent, I can understand the use of a toy that has educational and entertainment value…after all, there are only so many car games a person can play on a six hour trip to Grandma’s house, and sometimes everyone (including a parent) needs down time.  I can also see value in a child learning some autonomous play skills, if they have a toy that teaches manual dexterity and/or reading.  However, if the toy is constantly being used as a substitute for the important stuff (creative play, interpersonal relationships, reading, and a sense of living on the real planet with living, breathing creatures), then I think it is no longer a toy for a child – it is a crutch for a parent, much like driving through McDonald’s instead of cooking real food.  I like a Big Mac as much as the next person, but I know it isn’t giving me real nourishment.

3.Why do you think young children accept the concept of animals dressed in clothing so easily?

What?  Are you implying that animals DON’T wear clothes? You haven’t met my bulldog!  (Just kidding.)

That’s a great question.  I think the answer may be that children can relate to animals.  Children know that animals are “people” too…they live, breathe, and exist on the planet, just as we do.  I don’t think children give a hoot about clothes until they start to see clothes as costumes that define them, and those costumes tend to be just that: costumes.  Why can’t dogs and cats (and llamas) wear costumes, too?  To children, animals aren’t the “other.”  After all, it is easier for a toddler to look right into the face of a lab than an adult; they can be eye to eye.

I think children are far more like animals than they are like adults.  In other words, I think that what differentiates an adult from a child is that an adult is often motivated from and controlled by things outside themselves, or by what Freud would call a strong ego and super-ego.  Small children are “unadulterated” beings.  They experience and recognize feelings in themselves and others much like animals do, without all that other stuff on top.

4.How does a picture book keep the reader-aloud and the read-to equally engaged?

A good picture book has to be engaging to the reader as well as the read-to, as I mentioned before.   It should allow the reader to become part of the action, to make the book a performance piece.   The reading of a picture book should be a special moment of mutual understanding that the reader, readee, and author all share.

5.Do kids ever ask you why llama has two ls?


Fostering Lifelong Learners

Join us on Thursday, April 25, 2013, for a big day focused on the littlest people.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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