BACK TO (BOARD BOOK) BASICS by Jennifer L. Holm
When my daughter Millie was a baby, she would often chill in her pack n’ play in my office while I worked.
We both loved board books. I loved the chunkiness and tactile feel. She loved looking at them and … chewing on them. So, it makes sense that years later this baby would help to inspire a new series of board books.
When Millie was in pre-k, her teacher asked me to come in and talk about my books. I typically spoke to first to fifth graders (the core Babymouse/Squish audience) and had a whole school visit presentation that I was used to doing. But I was in for a challenge when I showed up in that classroom of squirmy preschoolers rolling around on the rug.
Trying to teach pre-literate kids about comics was hard. Because, well, they couldn’t read yet. They forced me to slow down and go back to the basics of storytelling. I guess you could say they taught me a thing or two.
After I left that day, I started thinking about how to communicate with this audience very simply in pictures that they could easily recognize. Emotions were the core of everyday life for my pre-k kid (managing them, understanding them, dealing with other peoples’ emotions) and so I used this as my departure point.
I shared this with my brother and collaborator Matt. And that was how My First Comics was born (as you can see, there is a good reason that I am not an illustrator).
Over the next few years, Matt and I workshopped these ideas on the road when we were asked to present to pre-k and transitional kindergarten kids. It was a great experience because it made us realize something very basic: learning to read pictures is the first step in learning to read.
Comics do a great job of teaching the building blocks of reading in a visual way. Children can learn inference by studying the pictures. They learn about dialogue because they can “see” it in a speech bubble. They learn to navigate left to right on the page. They start to understand human emotions visually.
My baby is now eight years old. She is happy to claim credit for her part in the creation of I’m Sunny and I’m Grumpy. As for me? I’m looking forward to a new generation of children holding (and chewing) on these board books.
And maybe teaching me a few more things.
Jenni Holm is a 3-time Newbery Honor winning author. She and her brother Matt are the Eisner Award winning team behind Babymouse and Squish and Sunny Side Up.