“Thank You, Teachers!”
There are two types of people I like to spend time listening to and talking with. First are teachers, particularly elementary school teachers, who have consistently been the most important influencers in my life. This started with my mother who was a public school teacher in Dedham, Massachusetts.
Teachers were the real heroes and celebrities when I was growing up. Every spring when I was a kid my mother would invite our teachers over for lunch and it was a real thrill to be able to socialize outside of the classroom with my teachers and hear their stories. It sounds old-fashioned and corny now but back then, it was one of the most significant days of the year and just one of the many ways I grew up with total respect and appreciation for teachers.
Decades later, as President of Scholastic Book Clubs, my job is to listen to teachers and partner with them in any way possible to help them get wonderful books into the hands of all students. I trace my career path directly back to those elementary school lunches.
The second category of people I like to spend time talking with are kids who aren’t great readers. I enjoy most young people, but I particularly like to hear from kids who don’t like to read; those who say “I am just not a reader,” who can’t find a book they like, and thus become practically allergic to books and reading. These kids don’t have the skills or the vocabulary or the confidence to keep up with complicated chapter books and they don’t want to be caught reading “baby books”. So they often get left behind or opt out. I spend lots of time talking with many such kids when I visit classrooms around the country. My interpretation of what I hear is that they need to connect with books that are funny, interesting, sometimes edgy, relatable, and easy enough for them to read and feel successful.
For years I thought about writing such a book myself but I had neither the self-confidence nor a specific idea. One day, one phrase popped into my head: “Bob the Slob.” It took me months to get over being self-conscious about actually sitting down to write (I would literally fall asleep from stress when I first sat down at my desk) but bit by bit, weekend by weekend, I pushed my self-doubt aside and kept at it.
Eventually, I developed that one phrase “Bob the Slob” into a rhyming chapter book about a family of slobs named Bob and a family of neat-niks named Tweet. These two families unwittingly move to the same place—Bonefish Street– and their not-so-friendly-neighborly adventures begin.
But the youngest in each family, Dean Bob and Lou Tweet, are not like the rest of their clans. Dean Bob is fastidious and orderly; and Lou Tweet loves rock ‘n’ roll and never cleans her room. They each struggle with their families’ extreme lifestyles and so it is lucky and wonderful when they meet each other and become best friends.
I found Kristy Caldwell, an illustrator on the SCBWI website and together we have been working on developing these characters and the world they live in and creating a series of funny, rhyming, fully illustrated chapter books geared for those kids who aren’t such great readers and have trouble finding something they want to read. Needless to say, we were thrilled when Meet the Bobs and Tweets was chosen by kids for the ILA Children’s Choices 2017 Reading List.
There are several themes that are important to me that run through these books: that kids can find creative and successful ways to navigate the nutty worlds of their families; that you can be best friends—like Dean and Lou—with someone who is very different from you; and that wonderful, creative teachers like Lou and Dean’s teacher, Ms. Pat, can make all the difference in a child’s life.
In Perfecto Pet Show, the second book in the series (pub date: June 27) readers meet Ms. Pat, Lou and Dean’s pet—and children’s literature—loving teacher. Ms. Pat brings her pets to school, (her cat, Donald Crews; Mandy, her hamster; her Piglet named Pippi along with a few others) to announce her idea for a Kid-Pet Talent Show. Like many great teachers I know, Ms. Pat is excited to find new ways to help her students express their creativity. Lou and Dean are dubious, and they dread the embarrassment of having their families come to school. But Ms. Pat prevails and the Kid-Pet Talent Show is, as the Bobs would say very loudly and in unison: PERFECTO!
Ms. Pat is the latest in a long line of wonderful teachers in my life. I am scheduled to go back to my elementary school alma mater, the John Ward School in Newton, MA and meet with students and share the Bobs and Tweets books with them. I will explain to them that my much of my inspiration for Ms. Pat came eons ago from teachers I had when I was sitting in the very classrooms they are in now.
I will also ask the students to fill out a very short survey letting me know whether they are a Bob or a Tweet—and why. We have been sending out surveys about these books to kids from the beginning and the answers we get are wonderful and inspiring, and are helping to shape future books in the series.
I recently surveyed a classroom of kids and received heartwarming responses like this one:
And even ideas for my next book!
And some that make me smile and keep me humble.
Thank you to all the wonderful teachers who are part of my family, my education, my career, and my own children’s books! And to all the kids I have met and hope to meet in the future. You all inspire me. I hope you will enjoy the Bobs and Tweets as much as I do!
To learn more about the books, see Kellee’s review of the first two books of the series!
About Pepper Springfield
Pepper Springfield was born and raised in Massachusetts. She loves rock ‘n’ roll, chocolate, reading, and crossword puzzles. Illustrator Kristy Caldwell received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts and lives in New York City.
Thank you Pepper for the guest post and Larissa at Claire McKinney PR for setting us up together!