Clayton Early Learning
21Mar/16Off

The Process of Creating a Story Book

Peter Blank

Lorrel Esterbrook, Mentor Coach for Family Engagement at Clayton Early Learning, has years of experience working with various center and family based programs. In addition to overseeing the Play and Learn programs here at Clayton, she has a wealth of knowledge about the HIPPY program (read more about HIPPY here). She recently transformed this wealth of knowledge into a published story book rooted in the HIPPY curriculum, "What I Saw". I asked Lorrel about her experience in family engagement, her wonderful book, and life as a published author. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

PB: What drew you to a career in ECE and specifically home and family based instruction?

LE: While I was in college I started working for a community center in Denver’s Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhoods teaching art classes and job readiness skills to adolescents that were either already gang affiliated or at risk for drugs, violence, and gang affiliation. While doing that work the importance of family engagement became even more apparent to me. I also saw the critical role that programs like Head Start played in fostering parent engagement. Eventually I started working with a Head Start program and then I started working with a school based early childhood and family engagement program. That’s when I was introduced to home visiting. I was fortunate to work with a small but passionate team that was conducting home visits in three different languages to immigrant and refugee families from around the world. The families we served taught me about a wide range of wonderful family and parenting practices. Parents would sometimes ask me for “the right way” to parent their child. That broke my heart because it implied that they were in some way doing something wrong. My goal became honoring their cultural style of parenting while giving them a buffet of options they could try out as they learned the culture of their new home.

PB: When did you first get involved with the HIPPY program?

LE: As happens in our field, the grant for the ECE and parent engagement program I was working with ended. I stumbled upon a position as a HIPPY Coordinator for a county Head Start program. I knew HIPPY by name, but little else. Within a few days of accepting the position I was in Little Rock, Arkansas attending the HIPPY pre-service training for coordinators. By the end of the week I was hooked! HIPPY is rooted in some of my core beliefs. All parents want good things for their children. HIPPY strives to honor the parenting tools that families have already, and introduces them to new strategies to help their child learn and grow.

PB: You were a HIPPY coordinator for ten years and work as a National Trainer for HIPPY USA. How did you become involved with the program as an author?

LE: A few years ago the HIPPY curriculum underwent a major rewrite. That revision was led by a team from Clayton Early Learning including Michelle Mackin-Brown and Jan Hommes. My decision to apply for a position at Clayton was influenced in part by the positive experience I had working with this curriculum development team. Several HIPPY sites were selected to pilot the new curriculum and the site I was working with was one of those. In that capacity I had an opportunity to provide feedback to the curriculum revision team and helped rewrite the coordinators manual for the model. I attended a curriculum meeting at the HIPPY USA 2014 Leadership Conference in Washington DC. During that meeting there was discussion about updating the story books for the curriculum. We were asked for our thoughts on what was needed for a new story and I had a lot to say and a lot of ideas. A few weeks later I got a call from HIPPY USA asking me if I would like to try putting all of my ideas into book form. I was thrilled with the idea and jumped right on the opportunity.

PB: What inspired you to write “What I Saw”?

LE: “What I Saw” is about a kindergartner named Tasha who is nervous about talking in front of the class during show and tell. The teacher Mrs. Hart has asked all of the children to bring pictures of animals they have seen. Mrs. Hart provides encouragement and opportunities for the children to expand their language and learning around animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Mrs. Hart accepts each child where they are at, while giving them opportunities for growth. This leads Tasha to feel more comfortable talking.Lorrel Esterbrook Book

I’m a huge animal and nature lover. When I was a kid I loved books about animals. I felt this was an opportunity to introduce some big vocabulary and science to preschool age children. I tried to pick a wide range of animals so that every child reading the book could identify with seeing at least one of those animals. But I also wanted to provide opportunities for children to be introduced to animals they might not have seen. I specifically chose the North American Wood Duck as one of the birds in the story. This type of duck was hugely important to me as a child and was considered endangered during the 1970’s. My family worked with and supported these ducks on our property as part of a species conservation plan. Because of the program my family participated in you can now see North American Wood Ducks living all over the country including Denver’s City Park.

All of the children in “What I Saw” are named and modeled after children in my own family and family friends. The teacher in the story is one of my HIPPY Mentors, Gayle Hart. Illustrator Debbie Clark, did an amazing job of portraying all of the characters. I wanted all of the children in my life to be able to look at the book and see a child that they could identify with on some level. Maybe they identify with a child because of the way they look, or they might identify with a personality trait, or the structure of the family.

PB: Why is it important that children have access to literature like this?

LE: There are three main points that stick out for me: First of all “What I Saw” is designed to prompt parents to talk with their children about the book. To ask children open ended questions. It models questions that parents can ask, it shows possible responses and how parents can build on their child’s response. Secondly it gives children an opportunity to learn some new big vocabulary in a very age appropriate manner. I love hearing children tell their parents “That’s a dog, it’s a mammal because it has fur”. Lastly, but maybe most important, I think it’s important for children to see themselves in the stories they read. As I said before, all of the children and the teacher are modeled on real people, people I love, respect and care about. Some of those individuals had expressed that they didn’t see people like them in children’s stories. I wanted to change that. I wanted those individuals to know how important they are and their unique qualities are to me.

PB: What advice would you give other education professionals who are interested in becoming authors?

LE: Have someone who can give you good honest and constructive feedback. Writing taps into your emotions. I put a lot of heart and soul into this story. Getting constructive criticism could have been a painful experience, but it wasn’t because the person in charge of filtering the feedback back to me took the time to honor and respect my feelings on my work. For every hour you spend writing you will probably spend ten hours thinking, researching, and problem solving. I think that might have been the biggest surprise to me. Children need to hear stories told from many perspectives and many voices. Add your unique voice and perspective to the world of children’s literature. Write about who and what you love.

PB: You are attending the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference next month. What is the focus of this conference? What is your role at this conference?

LE: The conference is held every other year and is an opportunity for HIPPY coordinators and staff to meet, engage in professional development and learn about new developments with the HIPPY model and curriculum. This year there will be a book signing event where some of the HIPPY authors and illustrators will be signing books for the conference participants. I will be co-presenting a workshop called “HIPPY Hacks”. We will be presenting and crowd sourcing ideas on how to save time, money, and sanity while running a HIPPY program.

 

You can find more information on the upcoming  HIPPY Leadership Conference by following the link.

 

Peter Blank

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