Springing Into the Future
Back in the early fall, my husband Steve and I were told by our youngest son and his wife and our youngest daughter that we were to be grandparents come spring. We have been anxiously and excitedly waiting for our family’s new additions scheduled to make their arrivals in May. Much to our grandson, Jason’s disappointment, there will be no brother or boy cousin to play ball with but the idea of a sister and a girl cousin is not such a bad thing especially if they are as pretty and nice as he thinks his mama is. Both young families are having girls, and our oldest daughter and husband have two daughters leaving J.J. the sole male, to date, in this new generation. Our oldest son and bachelor uncle has wisely decided that he will not tell the little guy the truth of what pains sisters can be having survived two sisters himself.
At any rate, this family has probably done a good job of supporting the economy while making preparations for the new arrivals—buying cribs, diapers, pink outfits, etc. and recycling outgrown baby gear from one sibling to the next. I’m not a shopper by inclination, but I do make the exception for baby things and children’s books. I firmly believe new parents should be given a book to read to the new baby with every outfit they receive to start feeding those open little minds right away and giving them the joy of books, words and reading.
Another momentous thing happened this autumn, as well. I was very fortunate to have been selected as a judge for the Publisher’s Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. It wasn’t the first time I’d applied, but when word came that I was to be a judge I was thrilled. The work over the few months between November and March is over. The votes have been tabulated by Terry Nathan and his staff. The winners will be posted on their website and feted with a banquet in New York City at the end of May. I can hardly wait to read the final tallies. I was given the task of being one of the editorial judges for children’s books. I truly had no idea what to expect. This is strictly a volunteer endeavor, but the judges keep the books they are given to evaluate with the proviso that they not be sold. I did not expect that. I was ecstatic. I spent countless hours reading these books and evaluating them; far more hours than I’d ever imagined could be spent reading box after box after box of children’s books.
Reading children’s books was something I did in a mindless sort of way when my kids were little, making up voices and acting out the parts and answering the host of questions my posse of four was able to come up with at story time. I never thought very much about what constituted an excellent children’s book. Back then one book was as good as the next, as long as it was a book. The PMA judgeship has changed that. Over the years, in my writing endeavors, I have never been very successful in coming up with a children’s tale that really worked. I cannot say that any more.
Being one of the judges taught me more than I ever imagined. Really looking at what made a good story for a child has improved my own writing skills in ways I never dreamed, especially when it comes to my own projects. I had expected that each book I reviewed would be excellent. I was surprised at how many were not. I was aghast at how many of these tiny tomes were preachy or just plain boring. There were others that made me laugh and some that made me cry, so touched was I by the story between the beautifully illustrated covers. Other books I read again and again so happy, upbeat and positive was the message inside.
One thing I did learn is that children really have to learn to solve their own problems, to reason things through and to be permitted the space to do that. The best books allowed the characters to do that. Those were the stories that made me feel the absolute best, and made me know what has been wrong with the stories I’ve been writing all these years. I’ve been writing like a “mom” and solving the problems for my characters. It’s what moms do, after all. But I had to learn, for the judging, how to hang the adult in me on the back of the chair and fall into a kid’s book with the wide-eyed interest they do. It is truly a delicious kind of feeling to read a child’s book with the same pleasure and delight I read with one written for my age group.
My grandchildren, as you might expect, were all sent the books I enjoyed the most. Even the two little girls who will be arriving with the flowers of May have parcels waiting for them. The remainder of the books were donated to the Montessori School in New Jersey where my best friend of 40 years is the Director of Education. Their library is on the thin side these days, though my donation fattened the shelves up just a bit. I kept a couple of my favorites for my bookshelf for when my new granddaughters come to visit. I can hardly wait to read to them in light of my new found appreciation and understanding of what constitutes a good children’s book.
In the midst of writing this, little Allisabeth Grayce arrived in New Jersey, weighing in at 6 lbs. 1 oz. almost a month ahead of schedule. I wonder if her big brother, J.J., told her that Granny sent books for her. I wonder if he’s waiting to read to her even if she can’t play ball yet. The other one is due any day. I keep imagining I hear the phone ringing.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at