I am thrilled to present Roni Schotter, an award-winning author of 29 books for children (one more to come in 2016), including picture books and story picture books for middle readers, as well as middle-grade and young adult novels. I recently reviewed her book, The Boy Who Loved Words and wanted to ask her some questions about the book, her writing style and tips for parents on helping to expand language with their children.
Roni also has a wonderful website that can be helpful to both parents and educators. She has many ideas on using her books in the classroom and provides a curriculum connections for many of her books on her website here. Roni will also be participating in the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival on September 27th in Chappaqua, NY.
1. What inspired you to write The Boy Who Loved Words?
There’s no one thing I can put my finger on, but when I speak to children about the book, I call myself “The Lady Who Loves Words.” The hero of the story, Selig, is a stand-in for me. In fact, his odd name is the surname of my great-grandmother–whose name was Roni Selig. I wasn’t consciously making this naming decision when I first named Selig. His name just seemed to fit. It was only later on that I realized that under the surface, I was Selig.
I have a huge passion and enthusiasm for the sound and meaning of words. I love how certain words, like flabbergasted and giggle, feel in my mouth. I love the music of particular words when they rub up against one another. I love alliteration. In The Boy Who Loved Words, I wrote, “Selig loved everything about words . . . the taste of them on his tongue (tantalizing!) . . .” (I love the sound of those “t”s together.) When I write, I want my words to be contagious. I want children to want to repeat them out loud and use them in their own way. Children’s books are important. They are first words. So I feel they have to be chosen carefully and they need to be appealing.
People often ask me about the genie in the story—when I first wrote him I laughed out loud. I wondered why he spoke the way he did. Here again, I wasn’t fully aware of where he came from. Genies, of course, come from far away, but it wasn’t until I had to give a speech about the book that I realized that he speaks like my grandmother did, (she was the daughter of Roni Selig). She spoke accented English. And I loved hearing the peppery way she spoke. Her first words, whenever my family visited her were, “What do you want?” She said them in the language she spoke most easily–Yiddish, and I quickly learned their meaning. She meant, “what did we want to eat?” But I would think about ALL the things I wanted back then. And they weren’t simply food! So, I guess, unconsciously, the genie’s first words, “Vat do you vant? A vish?” came out of this first exposure to accented English.
Finally, I wanted to convey the importance I place in words, so I had Selig be a kind of Johnny Appleseed of words—sprinkling them here and there as he travels across the land helping people find the right word to use in a poem or the perfect words to convey their feelings to another person. I wanted to whet the appetite of young readers to the importance and joy of words, again, hoping my story would convey the passion I have for using good words to tell my stories and to share my feelings.
2. Do you have any tips for parents on how to help their child learn all of the wonderful vocabulary in your book?
Just be sure to have fun with the book. Words shouldn’t be work. They should be pleasure. The pleasure of what they mean and how they sound. I’ve met many adults who find words in my story that they themselves are unfamiliar with, most especially the word, “tintinnabulating.” It’s a word that once-upon-a-time I didn’t know. I love it because it’s onomotopoeia (to use ANOTHER great-sounding word). It sounds just like what it is—the sound of bells ringing.
I’d just PLAY with the words. Maybe say, “Let’s see if I can make dinner LICKETY-SPLIT.” And I’d emphasize the fact that it isn’t just children–parents too are always hearing/learning/reading new words, or remembering words they haven’t heard or used in a while. For instance, I love the word SAUSAGE, (even though I don’t like eating sausage). But I love saying it! I think I used to call my son “sausage,” when he was little. It was one of dozens of little love phrases I called him. In short, just have fun with words—new and old!
3. What was your favorite book as a child?
It was THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. I realized years later that in some sense I write that story over and over again. Many of my characters are shy or not-at-the-center of things (like Selig/Wordsworth) and though they start out happy, they then go through something not-so-easy/happy to be happy again. That’s the plot line of THE LITTLE HOUSE. Of course, I also adored CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White, a perfect book. And, like both of these books, and many children’s books—not just for children!
4. I love your ideas on your website about curriculum connections. Do you have any suggestions for teachers in how to use The Boy Who Loved Words in the classroom?
Here’s a link to a Teachers Guide to the book, from Random House.
5. I love your focus on multiculturalism. How does this influence your writing?
Thanks so much for this compliment. Like flowers, we come in different colors and sizes. Together we make a bouquet. So I always try to be as inclusive as possible in my stories. I want my books to resonate and be accessible to as many people as possible.