Reaching Out Beyond the Clinic Setting

Dr. Michelle Hill pediatrician at the Prevea West De Pere Health Center
Dr. Michelle Hill pediatrician at the Prevea West De Pere Health Center

Reach Out and Read (ROR) has been one of the most fun and helpful additions to our pediatric practice at Prevea Health. The response from families and children who are receiving our books at their visits is so overwhelmingly positive. We wanted to work on even more ways to integrate this program, not only into our health centers, but also into our community.

Prevea Health has sponsored a children’s play area at Bay Park Square Mall in Green Bay for a few years. This play area is partially enclosed, with little slides and play pieces for kids to climb on. In brainstorming ways to best utilize that space, we felt it would be a great place to expand our messaging about the importance of families reading aloud with their children. Not only would we get to have fun interactions with children in the community, but also we would have the chance to promote the importance of early literacy promotion and model engaging reading behavior.

The mall is a central location to our patient population in Green Bay, which means we can reach people throughout the whole community. This includes children who may not see Prevea Pediatricians and who do not benefit from the ROR program in the clinic setting. It also offers families in the community something fun and educational to do, especially during the winter months in Wisconsin!

Prevea Pediatrics and the mall tried to find a way to incorporate story telling along with play time. Knowing how active children can be and that sometimes sitting still for a story is a challenge, we decided it would be a good idea to add some structured play to these events. This would give the children a chance to get their wiggles out before the story. Then, we could settle right in the middle of the play area to read several books.

Prevea Read and Play

We decided to call the event Prevea Read and Play, featuring our pediatricians or child life specialists reading books for the storytime portion. I find it important for the pediatricians to participate in the reading, in part, because it’s just fun to do, but also because I think it magnifies the message of how important reading is when parents see a doctor taking time out of their day to read to children. It also takes us out of the clinical setting and more into the real world of these families and shows them again that reading is a key part of childhood development. I also feel it’s important for children to know that reading is fun and exciting, so this is one more way to keep them interested in new stories.

As of now, this is a monthly program and the community response has been very positive. I participated in our most recent story time in March, around the time of Dr. Seuss Week. After doing some movement activities with the children at the play area, I read two Dr. Seuss stories to about a dozen children of various ages. Some of them had heard the stories before and were eager to chime in about trying Green Eggs and Ham or capturing Thing 1 and Thing 2. We were also able to take a moment to talk about trying different foods because you just might like them, like at the end of Green Eggs and Ham. I was very impressed with the children’s level of attention during my reading. They were all very engaged, even the younger ones who may not have been as interested in these longer stories.

The parents also seemed to enjoy watching storytime and taking a break from chasing their children around the play area. Some of the people attending this Read and Play were repeat visitors who knew about the storytime, but many happened to be passing by and stopped or were pleasantly surprised when they came to play.

After we finished reading, our child life specialist led the children on a fun scavenger hunt through the play area to get them up and moving again. They were able to find various objects like a teddy bear or a stethoscope. Then, they each were rewarded with a certificate and a ROR bookmark to finish up our Prevea Read and Play event. Literature was also available for the parents regarding the ROR program and our Prevea Pediatricians.

Overall, it was a very fun morning at the mall and another great way to expand reading farther into our community. I do think seeing reading in action from a physician sends a great message to our families and I am glad ROR has given us even more encouragement to send that message.

Information table at Prevea Read and Play with information about Reach Out and Read and Prevea Health
Information table at Prevea Read and Play

A day with the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin staff

With more than 210 Reach Out and Read (ROR) programs statewide our three staff, plus our medical director, stay busy. Whether we are visiting clinics, fundraising, giving presentations or assisting in building community partnerships, we are committed to promoting early literacy throughout Wisconsin.

ROR Wisconsin is a state affiliate of the national ROR organization. Since 2010, our office has helped launch more than 155 programs. We help clinics start their program, provide ongoing support (fundraising and technical assistance), quality assurance and books. However, working with clinics is just one piece of what we do.

Karin Mahony, MEd, MSW, Project Manager

Karin Mahony, our project manager, oversees all aspects of our work and is our resident fundraiser. Working with staff in our foundation office, she applies for grants, meets with potential and current funders, searches for new funding opportunities and provides book support to clinics in Wisconsin. If you have ever been to one of our annual meetings and had the chance to attend her fundraising breakout session, you will quickly learn why she has been so successful over the last seven years. Karin knows it is more than raising money, it is about building relationships with donors and organizations. She tells the story of ROR Wisconsin in a compelling and motivating way. “When I first started at ROR Wisconsin I had enough funds for my salary and some for clinics, everything else I had to fundraise for.” Our ability to grow our team while also becoming the seventh largest affiliate in the country, is proof of her success.

Project Manager Karin Mahony reading a book for her monthly book club
Karin reading for her monthly book club

Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Medical Director

Dipesh Navsaria is many things; a pediatrician, occasional children’s librarian, associate professor of pediatrics at UW Health’s School of Medicine and Public Health, child health advocate and founding medical director of ROR Wisconsin. Regardless of all these roles, on a weekly basis Dr. Navsaria travels around the state and country giving presentations about the importance of reading for brain development. He is a tireless advocate and promoter of our work and one of the reasons we believe our number of participating clinics has risen so quickly. He engages, motivates and educates people about how setting aside time each day to read aloud will have a positive, lasting impact.  For these presentations, he directs all honorariums to ROR Wisconsin, which provides us with unrestricted funds we can use for program supplies and special projects.

Medical Director Dipesh Navsaria speaking at a local event
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD speaking at a Wisconsin Medical Society event

Amber Bloom, MSW, CAPSW, Project Coordinator

Amber Bloom, joined our team in January 2017. Amber works in the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin Milwaukee office and assists clinics in the eastern part of the state. She conducts site visits, helps clinics wanting to develop new programs and manages our quality assurance efforts. She analyzes and prepares data from the parent literacy orientation survey to share with participating clinics. The purpose of this survey is to show any change in parents’ literacy behaviors after their clinic starts a ROR program. This data is then shared with clinics at site visits to show their impact within the community.

Amber’s background is in child welfare and she says, “I really appreciate the aspect of prevention that ROR provides. It offers families the opportunity to thrive through creating a nurturing environment at home, building parent skills and getting children ready for success in school. I’m glad to have a part in making those things happen.

young girl and parent reading aloud

 

Recent photo of Amber Bloom
Project Coordinator Amber Bloom MSW, CAPSW

Alex Rogers, Project Coordinator

Alex Rogers, joined the ROR team in January 2016 and works with clinics in the central part of the state, assisting with the application process and providing ongoing support. She also manages our marketing and communications, particularly with the launch and operation of this blog. She oversees our social media posts, annual program update and email campaigns. Each fall, she plans and organizes the annual meeting as an opportunity for ROR clinics and early literacy advocates to come together for education and networking. Alex enjoys working for ROR Wisconsin because it combines her love of reading and desire to help improve everyday life for children and families.

young girl reading in laundry basket

 

 

girl with favorite children's book Corduroy
Project Coordinator Alex Rogers “reading” when she was young and more recently with her favorite children’s book, Corduroy

ROR Wisconsin is the early literacy initiative of Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, which is affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Being part of this larger organization not only provides us with infrastructure funding, but support in communications, graphic design, website, data analysis and strategic planning. All this allows our staff to devote the majority of our time to the programmatic needs of our clinics.

Health Literacy: Removing Barriers to Understanding

Steve Sparks, Director Wisconsin Health Literacy
Steve Sparks, Director Wisconsin Health Literacy

Imagine yourself an elderly woman just diagnosed with diabetes. Or a new parent whose baby was born with a metabolic disorder. Or a recent immigrant suffering from a serious workplace injury. Then imagine how you would feel when you hear words like A1C, phenylketonuria or laceration.

Being sick or getting injured is bad enough. You don’t need the additional stress of not really understanding what’s wrong or how it can be fixed. The best way to have a great health care experience is to ensure patients leave confidently knowing what they need to do and why.

That is what health literacy is all about. Patients get lots of information—often when they are least able to absorb it. That information may be the bridge or the barrier to better health.

Health literacy is much more than understanding words. It is knowing where to get good information, what that information means and how to use the information to make the best decisions.

Who has low health literacy?

Some population groups are more at risk. But the real answer is “everyone.” Even people usually confident understanding health information can have low health literacy at times. I’m sure you can remember a time when you had trouble understanding health information because you were very sick, under a lot of stress or taking medications that affected your concentration. I always remember the time when my wife was in the emergency room with intense pain. A strong pain pill made her feel much better. The doctor came in and explained what was going on.  But not five minutes after he left, my wife turned to me and asked, “When will the doctor get here?” The pain pill had dropped her health literacy to near zero.

We can’t tell who has low health literacy by looking. And they’re not likely to tell us. That’s why at Wisconsin Health Literacy we advocate the universal precautions approach. Just like using gloves and masks in the clinical setting, universal precautions in health literacy means taking action to minimize risk for everyone. Communicate in a way that everyone understands. Some people think this is dumbing down information and is a disservice to patients. The real disservice to patients is giving them information they can’t understand. Evidence shows even highly literate people prefer simple communications. 

Infographic about health literacy

Whose responsibility is it to improve health literacy?

Everyone: the patient, the provider and the health care system. 

All of us are patients, too. As patients we have responsibility to ask when we don’t understand.  But too often we don’t—whether because of language issues, cultural differences or to avoid feeling shame.  In one study, during an office visit the physician on average said four words patients didn’t understand. When asked why they didn’t ask what the words meant, most patients said, “I didn’t want to feel stupid.” Health care providers must take an active role in making sure their patients understand by learning and using proven techniques, such as plain language and the Teach Back method. Health care systems need to set policies and dedicate resources to support these techniques.

How many are affected by low health literacy?

We know from research that of every 10 adults, nine of them have difficulty understanding health information. Three of them are at the lowest levels of health literacy. They may have trouble completing health forms, communicating symptoms, managing chronic illness or understanding what to do when they leave the hospital or clinic.

These patients are more frequently readmitted to the hospital because they don’t take medications or follow self-care instructions the way they should.

Communication about medications

Medication directions are especially troubling. Wisconsin Heath Literacy is working with pharmacies to make prescription medication labels easier to understand. In a recent survey, 1 in 4 respondents said they had taken a medication wrong because they were confused about the directions. They also shared shocking stories, such as:

  • “The medication was oxycodone 5mg/5ml. The directions were to take 1ml every 4 hours as needed for pain. The mother gave her child 5ml because she thought the strength of the medication was supposed to be the dose she gave her child.”
  • “My grandmother accidentally took 3 times the dose of a medication for about 4 days. The label stated: take 1 1/2 pill twice daily. The instructions meant to take ½ of a pill 2 times a day. The way the instructions were typed on the label led Grandma to believe she should take 1 and ½ pills 2 times a day. She should have taken 1 pill per day, but she was taking 3 pills per day.”

Wisconsin Health Literacy offers workshops on how to use medications and you wouldn’t believe how common it is for one of the participants to say they take all their pills for the day at one time because they can’t remember how many they’re supposed to take when. Misunderstanding about medications often means the patient won’t get the full benefit. But, at worst, the results can be catastrophic.

Why is health literacy important?

People with low health literacy, sadly, are more likely to die earlier. They typically have poorer health knowledge, increased hospital and emergency department visits and higher health care costs. 

Health literacy is not a passing fad. It is a lens through which we view all health care communications. The first step is to become aware of the problem. Then take action.  Start a health literacy team. Arrange for training on health literacy, get a refresher course on how to use the Teach-Back method or make a plan to review written communications for plain language.

Call us if we can help. Health Literacy practices are quick and inexpensive to implement. They dramatically improve the chances that you and those around you can fully understand and take action on critical health information and services. For more information, contact Steve Sparks, steve@wisconsinliteracy.org, (608) 257-1655 ext. 2, or visit WisconsinHealthLiteracy.org.

Senator Moulton shares love of reading at Marshfield Clinic- Chippewa Falls Center

In our continuing effort to showcase local Reach Out and Read (ROR) programs and successful community collaborations around early literacy promotion, Sen. Terry Moulton was invited to visit Marshfield Clinic-Chippewa Falls Center Pediatric clinic on Feb. 7, 2018. During the visit, Sen. Moulton read two books aloud to a group of preschoolers, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” and “Pete the Cat.”

Also attending the event was Chris Seelen of Eau Claire, former ROR Wisconsin Advisory Council member and current Chippewa Valley ambassador. United Way of Greater Chippewa Valley’s executive director Jan Porath and Director of their Successful Children’s Network, Kari Stroede, also joined in the fun. The United Way of Greater Chippewa Valley shares a commitment to early literacy promotion and provides ongoing book support to Marshfield clinic’s area ROR programs.

After the book reading, Sen. Moulton participated in a mock well-child visit led by Dr. Robert Bullwinkel. During the well-child visit, Sen. Moulton learned how the ROR intervention fits seamlessly into preventative visits, how providers give advice and guidance to parents on signing, talking, playing and reading with their youngest children and how providers can assess a child’s developmental milestones just by watching how they interact with a book.

After the exam, Sen. Moulton spoke to the media about the importance of early literacy promotion. “It is very important to start reading to children at a very young age,” said Sen. Moulton. “I can see a difference in my grandchildren who have been read to regularly.” He also said he was surprised by the growth of the ROR Wisconsin, which now includes 210 clinics.

One of those programs, Marshfield Clinic-Chippewa Falls has participated in ROR for 19 years. Marshfield Clinic system has 18 clinics throughout the state with ROR programs. Since launching their ROR program, the Chippewa Falls Pediatric Clinic has provided literacy guidance and advice to countless parents and have distributed more than 54,000 books. That’s a lot of bedtime stories!

 

ROR Wisconsin hosts three to four legislative/ community leader visits a year. Our Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin AmeriCorp Health Member works to coordinate these visits which are designed to engage community and legislative leaders about early literacy and children’s health. The visits also provide advocacy skill development for medical providers, who talk to legislators about their early literacy promotion efforts and any unique issues facing their communities. 

ROR Wisconsin does not currently receive funding from the State of Wisconsin or federal government. Instead our funding is made up of contributions from health systems, grants and donations. ROR Wisconsin provides partial book support to eligible clinics. In 2016, ROR Wisconsin provided more than $48,000 in book funds to 68 clinics across the state.

Eight clinic systems in the state currently fund all book purchases for their participating clinics: Access Community Health Centers, Aspirus, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, Gundersen Health System, Monroe Clinic, UW Health and Watertown Regional Medical Center.

ROR Wisconsin is grateful for the opportunity to organize these visits and bring together state leaders and the medical community.

Fan mail for Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

Dear Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Staff, Advisory Council, Donors, Partners, Clinics, Care Providers, and Families,  

This is a fan letter. Read on to be reminded of how fantastic all of you are for being part of Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin!

The Origins of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin

Eight years ago, a group of leaders came together to officially launch ROR Wisconsin. We had great thought leadership and advocacy from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria. Dipesh is now the medical director of ROR Wisconsin. We had early adopter health care providers and clinics who were into ROR well before being into ROR was cool. But we did not have paid staff or an organizational home. We knew we were not reaching all the kids and families who could benefit from ROR. Several of us thought a partnership between the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the American Family Children’s Hospital would catalyze the creation of a Wisconsin affiliate, build a more secure home and expand the scope of this excellent program. 

And so, we brought partners together – children’s health care providers, thought leaders, experts in early literacy, a sponsoring organization – and we launched the Wisconsin affiliate of ROR in 2010.

Karen Timberlake and family, with Jim and Jessica Doyle, at the 2010 announcement of the Reach Out and Read Wisconsin affiliate.

Connecting ROR Wisconsin to Jim and Jessica Doyle’s Commitment to Kids

I had the privilege of serving as the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services from 2008 to 2010; during the time when the ROR Wisconsin affiliate was created. Of all the important work I did in partnership with others during my time as secretary, helping to launch this affiliate ranks right up there as one of the efforts I am personally most proud of. 

One of the honors of working for Governor Jim Doyle was the chance to make positive change happen, at scale, for kids and families across Wisconsin. Governor Doyle’s commitment to kids – their health, their education – and Jessica Doyle’s career as an educator – were an inspiration for my colleagues and me in pushing this affiliate across the starting line.   

We had terrific leadership from Peggy Troy, CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and Donna Katen Bahensky, then-CEO of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. We found the perfect organizational host in the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin (Alliance)– another organization built on trust, evidence, collaboration and the greater good. We found great staff and appointed a wonderful advisory council to work with Dipesh, still the capital-C Champion of this work, to make it all happen.

Simple Yet Powerful Success Factors

This effort was made possible by some simple but important fundamentals…as simple and fundamental as reading and just as worthy of lifting up and celebrating. What were the success factors that made ROR Wisconsin possible and continue to sustain it today? Leadership. Trust. Putting the greater good ahead of any one organization or person. Committing to and scaling up an evidence informed program. Learning from others’ successes and challenges, to make the Wisconsin program better. 

ROR: An Innovative Program that Addresses a Critical Root Cause of Child Wellbeing

I am drawn to innovation. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison, who is reported to have said, “There is a way to do it better. Find it.” ROR is a great example of one of my favorite types of innovations. It goes to a root cause, early literacy, of important priorities for every family and every community: child readiness for school and ongoing school achievement. It meets kids and their care givers where they are, in the doctor’s office or clinic, without requiring them to go anywhere else to get a quick literacy assessment, a book and a boost for their early learning. It bridges professional disciplines and organizational boundaries in the name of what really matters – promoting early literacy for kids and supporting their parents and caregivers. It’s cost effective, conducts and uses evaluations of effectiveness and stretches every dollar and volunteer hour as far as it can be stretched.

Celebrating Reading in My Children’s Lives

I am also a proud mom of a son and daughter who are both voracious readers. I have seen the impact of reading in my children’s lives from their earliest years.

Grandmother and small child reading together
Karen’s mother and daughter reading together at a 1st birthday celebration.

I have observed the ways reading builds their imagination, their knowledge and their independence. I want every child and every family to have the relationship with reading that my children have.

Child sharing book in classroom
Karen’s daughter sharing a favorite book with her first grade class.

We know kids need love, support and positive early learning experiences. We are learning more and more about how truly essential those early experiences are to children’s lifelong health and happiness. ROR takes those principles to heart and delivers, child by child, family by family.

Good For You!

So as I said, this is nothing but fan mail for all of you supporting ROR Wisconsin and continuing the great work Dipesh and others started many years ago. Good For You, all of you who have helped get ROR Wisconsin to this point. Kids and families across Wisconsin are the better for your efforts.

For an update on ROR Wisconsin’s latest impact click here

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin’s first legislative visit of 2018

On Jan. 29, 2018, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Next Door Pediatrics clinic hosted a legislative site visit with Senator LaTonya Johnson. During the visit, Senator Johnson read aloud from the books If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Pete the Cat: Snow Daze to a group of students from Next Door’s Head Start program. One of the highlights of the visit was watching the children’s enjoyment while Sen. Johnson read aloud.

Senator LaTonya Johnson reads aloud to a group of headstart children
Senator LaTonya Johnson reading aloud from If You Give A Mouse a Cookie
Children’s Health Alliance AmeriCorp Member Rebecca Lee and Next Door Pediatrics Medical Consultant Brilliant Nimmer, MD
From left: Clinic Manager Cara Schuhart, Senator LaTonya Johnson, Children’s Health Alliance AmeriCorp Member Rebecca Lee and Next Door Pediatrics Medical Consultant Brilliant Nimmer, MD

After the reading, Sen. Johnson participated in a tour of the medical clinic led by Dr. Brilliant Nimmer, the clinic’s Reach Out and Read (ROR) medical champion. Dr. Nimmer talked about the success of the program and its impact on the community. Since starting ROR in 2010, Next Door Pediatrics has given out almost 6,000 books to children ages 6 months to 5 years.

ROR Wisconsin is grateful for the opportunity to bring together legislative leaders and the medical community to promote, educate and engage around early literacy and children’s health.

Bob’s Discount Furniture gives generous donation to Reach Out and Read

On Feb. 1, 2018 Reach Out and Read (ROR) Wisconsin hosted an event in Madison, Wisconsin to highlight the ongoing support of Bob’s Discount Furniture to Reach Out and Read. During the event Cathy Poulin, Bob’s Discount Furniture public relations and outreach director, dressed up as Cat in the Hat. She read aloud from the book Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good For You by Tish Rabe to a group of preschoolers from the Waisman Center’s Early Childhood Program.  

Bob's Discount Furniture public relations director Cathy Poulin reads aloud at an event to a group of preschoolers as Cat in the Hat
Bob’s Discount Furniture public relations and outreach director, Cathy Poulin reads aloud to a group of preschoolers at the Waisman Early Childhood Program

Prior to the classroom reading, Ms. Poulin presented a $25,000 donation to ROR National Center, in Boston. ROR Wisconsin’s medical director and National Center board of director’s member, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD accepted the check on behalf of ROR National Center. 

Bob's Discount Furniture generously donates $25,000 to Reach Out and Read
Reach Out and Read Wisconsin medical director and National Center board of directors member Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD accepts Bob’s Discount Furniture’s donation on behalf of ROR National Center

Bob’s Discount Furniture also donated 100 copies of Tish Rabe’s book, 100 fleece blankets and boxes of Cat in Hat-style hats to the American Family Children’s Hospital. In addition, Bob’s Discount Furniture donated $1,200 in gift cards to ROR Wisconsin clinics to be used to assist clinics in developing literacy-rich waiting rooms.

Thank you

Thank you Bob’s Discount Furniture for the generous donations to ROR National Center, American Family Children’s Hospital and ROR Wisconsin. We hope the Cat in the Hat comes back to visit Madison again!

Interview with author Julie Bowe

Today on the blog, we have our first ever interview with author Julie Bowe. Julie has written books for kids of all ages and currently lives in Wisconsin. Her latest book Big and Little Questions (according to Wren Jo Byrd) received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

headshot of children's author Julie Bowe for interview post

When your kids were young, did you read aloud to them?

Yes! From the time they were babies into their early teens. It was a great way to spend time together, plus it gave us a chance to talk about the stories we were reading and relate them to our own lives.

How did you incorporate reading with them into your daily routines?

I read books to them every evening, even after they were old enough to read on their own. We also loved audio books. My son, especially, loved listening to stories while he played, or when we were driving in the car. We visited the library often! We regularly attended story time and checked out stacks of books to bring home and read together.

What were some of your favorite books you and your kids read together?

We read tons of picture books as well as chapter books and novels. We all enjoyed getting into series books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. My daughter and I read many of the American Girl series books together and my son couldn’t get enough of Artemis Fowl, The Ranger’s Apprentice, and the Warriors series. I loved reading childhood “classics” to them too, like Charlotte’s Web, Harriet the Spy, and all the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We also totally enjoyed non-fiction books about animals, planets, and historical events.

Why did you decide to write children’s books?

A big part of my desire to write for kids came from reading to my own kids. I had also worked with children at camps and churches for a number of years before staying at home with my daughter and son. I have always been passionate about helping kids figure out who they are and how they want to make a difference in the world. I began freelance writing curriculum for children when my daughter was a toddler and that grew into an interest in writing books for children too. I love writing stories about kids who are in a transitional place in their lives (moving away, making new friends, etc.) and discovering how they make the transition in their own way.

What does the creative process look like for you? Where do you get inspiration for new books and characters?

I especially like to write in the morning when my brain is fresh and the coffee is hot! But when I’m working on a story, it’s always on my mind. Often ideas for a scene, or a snatch of dialogue will pop into my mind while I’m doing something else during the day. So I’m always jotting down ideas or portions of scenes on scraps of paper. Then I’ll take the scraps of ideas to my computer and type them into the story. I do most of my writing at my home computer, but I also like to write in public places so I can observe people and hear the rhythm of language. I think it helps me create characters who seem like real people when I do some of my writing with people, especially kids, around. The kids I see are often inspiring. I once met a young girl at a school visit who inspired the idea for my book, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd). Another time I saw a girl at a mall who inspired the character named Randi, in my Friends for Keeps series. The main character in that series, Ida May, was very much inspired by my own daughter, who was in elementary school at the time I was writing the first book in the series, My Last Best Friend.

What do you hope children (and maybe their parents) take away from your books?

I hope they will see a little bit of themselves in my stories and learn something new about who they are and how they want to thrive in the world. All of my stories deal with the ups and downs of friendship, so I hope they inspire young readers to strive to be kind and supportive friends to one another.

What was it like to find out your book, Big & Little Questions, was named to Barnes and Noble’s Best Books of the Year 2017 list?

I was very happy to hear the news! It’s always affirming when my books are well received by major reviewers, but my favorite reviews come from young readers themselves when they write to tell me they love my books. Such reviews make the hard job of writing good stories really worthwhile.

What is one piece of advice you would give to children or young adults, who want to become authors or illustrators when they get older?

The best way to become a good writer is to be an avid reader! Read lots and lots of books. Write lots and lots of stories. Don’t worry about whether or not your stories are “good enough” to be published. Write because you love to write.

Any additional thoughts/comments on early literacy, the importance of books, or family engagement and reading?

I truly believe the greatest gift you, as a parent or caregiver, can give to a child is to read to them. Make reading a part of your child’s daily routine. Even just fifteen minutes a day will make a positive impact on a child’s life. And chances are it will make a positive impact on your life too.

For more information about Julie and her books please visit her website