“The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary,” is the first book Jean Reidy remembers reading. She would sit on the couch with her Italian grandmother Nonna Fortuna reading it with funny voices and laughing at the pictures. “Nonna spoke very little English,” Jean told Cracking the Cover. “So we were on our reading journey together. I still have my original copy. And when I flip through that book, it evokes those warm and wonderful memories and all that hilarious humor. I can’t wait to share it with my own grandchildren.”
Jean, who is the author of “Too Purpley,” and “All Through My Town,” says she writes for the very young because she has a chance to do what Dr. Seuss did for her — reach children at the beginning of their reading journeys.
“To play even a small part in those journeys is an awesome opportunity, because beloved books not only launch young kids into the wonderful world of reading but also plant the seeds for their imaginations to blossom. Picture books can help kids make sense of themselves and their world — whether it’s their town, their time-out corner, their closet of clothes or even their cozy bed.
“So I love every step in the process — finding those perfect, few, fun and sometimes whimsical words; presenting a concept with pacing and page turns to keep a kid captivated; and leaving room for amazing art to complete the story. In other words, creating a book that a kid will love. It’s a far-reaching, challenging, and delightful responsibility.”
Jean’s latest book, “Busy Builders, Busy Week!” follows construction workers as they build a playground. Each day of the week features a different construction activity. The concept for “Busy Builders, Busy Week” was a bit of a mash-up, Jean says, combining a request from her Bloomsbury editors to write a days-of-the-week book and Jean’s desire to write a construction trucks book.
“Busy Builders, Busy Week!” reteams Jean with illustrator Leo Timmers, who also illustrated “All Through My Town.” As is usually the case, Jean started out her writing without knowing who the illustrator would be.
“I experimented with several days-of-the-week ideas before I landed on a construction theme,” she said. “But once I did, my editor and I knew Leo would be the perfect illustrator to ‘nail’ those construction scenes — pun fully intended… Plus, Leo’s art adds so many layers to the story that young readers love to explore and discover. I was thrilled when he agreed to take on the project.”
Writing a picture book is harder than it first appears. You have to get all the pieces to fit together just right, Jean says. “Voice, language, art, relatability, love-ability — all in under 500 words.”
But watching a child fall in love with one of her books, makes it all worth it. Jean recently received an email from a school librarian that she says, “simply made me swoon”: “I just wanted to share something I noticed today. One of my 1st graders kissed your book, TOO PRINCESSY!, goodbye as she dropped it in the return book drop. I’ve never seen that before! I just had to tell you.”
Jean is thrilled to have young readers attracted to her books. She tries to explore relatable topics in an engaging and honest way. “Take ‘Too Purpley!’ I still get the most fan mail about that little book. I think kids, young and old, can relate. Yet, the simplicity of the text along with the rhythm and rhyme pattern allows very young kids to read the book themselves. So their exuberant pride comes into play. And perhaps, most importantly, I have the privilege of working with the most fabulous illustrators who deeply understand our audience and give young readers so much to explore.”
A curriculum guide for “Busy Builders, Busy Week!” featuring storytime ideas, questions and activities is available on Jean’s website.
Jean Reidy is a two-time winner of the Colorado Book Award. She is a member of the Colorado Council International Reading Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and she serves on the board of Reach Out and Read Colorado. Jean writes from her home in Colorado where she lives right across the street from her neighborhood library, which she visits nearly every day. Visit her online and on Twitter.