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Interview with Michelle Eastman

Michelle-EastmanOur next Wizard of Words is Michelle Eastman, the author of the new children’s picture book, The Legend of Dust Bunnies, a Fairy’s Tale. She began her career as an elementary teacher in the West Des Moines School District. At Iowa Public Television, she wrote educational content for the K-12 Connections Team, serving teachers and students in more than 200 Iowa school districts. When she’s not chasing dust bunnies or her cats, she likes to cuddle up with a good book and her son.

Thank you for contributing to Wizards of Words series, Michelle!

7 Magic Islands: Your picture book The Legend of Dust Bunnies is a delightful story, a Fairy’s Tale. What inspired you to write it?

Michelle Eastman: One of my favorite stories is The Shoemaker and the Elves. The thought of tiny, helpful creatures, sneaking around the house makes me smile. The main character, Artie, was inspired by my eight-year old son’s habit of collecting things. He sees the beauty in items that most of us would cast off as trash. Artie uses found items to create unique treasures and happily shares them with his fellow Dust Fairies.

7 Magic Islands: We like Artie’s imagination and innovation! You write picture books, but you are also a huge fan of the genre. What are the top 10 things you love about picture books?

  1. Picture books provide an ideal setting to connect with your child. Reading picture books provides a time for parent and child to just be, together. There is no better way to connect at the end of a hectic day than to get lost in a picture book together. This ritual is one that you can continue well into their teen years (yes, really, I promise). Trust me; these shared moments are what kids look back on. That child becomes a parent who reads to his/her child, and so on, and so on…
  2. Picture books are funny. Where else can you laugh out loud about a pigeon begging to drive a bus or a “crack-up” over a dog, who despite his farting habit, becomes a hero?
  3. Picture books are serious. Some of the heaviest social and personal issues seem more approachable when told through a picture book. This can be a fantastic opportunity to explore situations, fears, and events that children might otherwise be reluctant to explore.
  4. The Legend of Dust Bunnies Michelle EastmanPicture books are art. You don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy the limitless artistic styles waiting to be explored within a picture book.
  5. Picture books are ideal for reluctant readers. The illustrations in picture books help children understand the story better by providing visual clues of what is happening in the story and what might happen next. While a chapter book, filled with lines of text, might be intimidating-a picture book welcomes us to step inside-no special skills required. And wordless picture books provide an excellent opportunity to explore a story, without reading a single word. Wordless picture books can also be a great tool when working with English language learners.
  6. Picture books teach. I challenge you to find a non-fiction topic NOT explored in picture books. From world cultures and traditions, to life-cycles, or politics, picture books have it all. Teachers often use non-fiction picture books to supplement a specific topic or concept.
  7. Picture books are accessible. There is a reason librarians place picture books in bins on the floor and on low shelves. Picture books can take it; they are meant to be handled.
  8. Picture books make kids better readers. When we read picture books with our children, we are laying a strong foundation for their emergent literacy skills. The simple text helps them become skilled at sounding out words. They learn about the context and structure of stories, and recognize the relationship between cause and effect. All of these skills are crucial to becoming fluent readers.
  9. Picture books are NOT just for young children. As children get older, reading becomes a solitary adventure. We often push them (too fast, too soon) into chapter books and novels. But your child should not be denied this sacred time with you just because he/she is “growing up”. No one, nope, no one is EVER too old for picture books.
  10. Picture books are empowering. Children depend on adults for so much. We tell them what to eat, how to dress, what to say, and when to play. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for children to feel empowered. Going to the library and allowing your child to choose his/her own picture books is a great opportunity for him/her to feel independent. Very young children are able to memorize their favorite picture book stories. I don’t believe there is any better feeling of accomplishment than when a child can “read” a picture book to his/her parent. Can he/she truly read the words? No, but “reading” what he/she has memorized means he/she is internalizing the structure of a story. He/she knows it has a beginning, a middle and an end. He/she knows how to hold the book, and to turn the pages at the appropriate time. And this tiny person is reading, to you, all by him/herself! How cool is that?!

7 Magic Islands: Tell us a little bit about your background. How much reading did you do as a child? What was your favorite book?

Michelle Eastman: Books were not a part of my very young life. We were poor, and books were just not part of our family time. When I started school, I began to gobble up books. I especially liked biographies and books about different cultures and times. One of my happiest memories is when the Bookmobile would roll into our neighborhood. It was a huge bus converted into a library. There was something truly exciting about climbing aboard and exploring its shelves. My favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. It was given to me as 1st prize for a school-wide writing contest. Sadly, it was later stolen.

7 Magic Islands: Oh no! We hope you found a new copy. What do you read now?

Michelle Eastman: I love short stories, especially science-fiction. I frequently re-read favorites from The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I like reading stories that were in the 50’s and 60’s. It is amazing to see what was once fiction is now our reality.

7 Magic Islands: Name a few of your favorite children’s authors.

Michelle Eastman: I adore anything written by Shel Silverstein. I also enjoy Mac Barnett’s books and illustrations.

7 Magic Islands: Our readers are always looking for more author recommendations! You chose self-publishing rather than seeking a traditional publisher for your book. Are you happy with your decision?

Michelle Eastman: The process of building a book from scratch is daunting, and self-publishing was not an easy decision. But, once I was committed to it, I never looked back.

7 Magic Islands: How does a mom in Iowa connect with an illustrator in Great Britain?

Michelle Eastman: I connected with Kevin Richter via an online freelance site. I received submissions from artists from many different parts of the world, and Kevin was among the first to reply to my request. Kevin has years of experience as a comic illustrator and also works in computer games, animation, and graphic design. Although he had never illustrated a children’s book, I was attracted to his work. Once I saw his first sketch of the main character, Artie, I knew he was the right person. Collaborating with him on the book was one of the best experiences of my life.

Michelle-Eastman with fairy fans

7 Magic Islands: It’s, dare we say, magic when the right illustrator meets the right author! What are you working on for your next project as an author?

Michelle Eastman: I am working to complete the manuscript for next book in the Dust Fairy series. The next story features a girl fairy who doesn’t quite fit in. Kevin Richter is illustrating the book. I have not decided if I will self-publish or go the traditional route with this one.

7 Magic Islands: No matter your choice, we’re looking forward to the book! What advice would you give parents trying to encourage children to read more?

Michelle Eastman: Visit the library each week. Let your child choose his/her own books. Choose books you love too. Read picture books together every night, and don’t push your child into chapter books too early. Savor your time together getting lost in a picture book.

7 Magic Islands: In addition to writing books for children, you recently started a literacy initiative. Can you tell us more about it?

Michelle Eastman: When I learned that nearly two-thirds of low-income families own no books, I wanted to take action, so I started Picture Book Pass it On. I started the initiative in November, 2014. It has caught on in the US, and we also have people “Passing it On” in the UK and Australia. Many children’s book authors are participating by giving local kids in need, copies of the books they’ve written.

I encourage people to help get books to kids in need by accepting 3 calls to action:

#1 Post a “shout-out” to celebrate your favorite picture book. It can be anything from posting a selfie of you and your favorite picture book to tweeting a line from one of your favorite characters or scenes.

#2 Pledge to donate a new or gently used book/s to a local children’s charity or cause (battered women’s shelter, prison waiting room where children wait to visit an incarcerated parent, a struggling school, etc.)

#3 Tag a friend and pass it on. Challenge him/her to accept the 3 calls to action, and Picture Book Pass it On

 

To learn more about Michelle Eastman and her work, visit her online at:

Author Website: www.michelleeastmanbooks.com

Picture Book Pass it On: www.facebook.com/PBPiO

Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/michelleeastman

Blog: www.michelleeastmanbooks.wordpress.com

 

More author interviews in our Wizard of Words series: