Sunday, May 11, 2008

Children’s Authors Discuss SIDS and Kids Books

I am excited to welcome acclaimed children’s author Wendie C. Old this week to talk about her book on a family’s experience with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) titled, STACY HAD A LITTLE SISTER.

Among Wendie’s writing accomplishments she has written several biographical books for middle school, one early elementary and three picture books. She has won many outstanding awards, honorable nominations and is found among notable children’s literature lists. Starting with her latest book titles and awards, they include: THE HALLOWEEN BOOK OF FACTS AND FUN, Albert Whitman 2007; THE GROUNDHOG DAY BOOK OF FACTS AND FUN, Albert Whitman 2004; and BUSY FINGERS, Charlesbridge 2003 (under the pen name of C.W. Bowie) which won 2004 Great Books Celebration, Committee's choice, 2005 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award and ABC Best Books for Children.

TO FLY, THE STORY OF THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, Clarion 2002 won the Boston Globe - Horn Book Honor Book, Orbis Pictus Honor book, 2003, ALA Notable Children’s Book 2003, BCCB -- Blue Ribbon List of Best Books of 2002, NCSS/CBC Notable Book, NSTA -- Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, Capitol Choices -- Best Books for Children 2002;

Old’s honorable nominations and children’s literature lists are the South Carolina -- 2004-2005 Children's Book Award nominee; Michigan -- 2005 Great Lakes Great Books Award Nominee;--2nd and 3rd grade, New Jersey: Garden State Children's Book Award Nominees: 2005, Bank Street College of Education--Best Children's Books of the Year, 2003; The Children's Literature Choice List, 2002; School Library Journal Book Review Stars, October 2002 and R-Star in Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books.

Wendie Old has the best of both worlds! She has worked with children for over thirty years, both as a Children’s Librarian and a writer. When she is not writing or working at the library she spends time with her family of two daughters, two hairy dogs, a horse and SEVERAL cats!

Welcome Wendie and thank you for taking time to be with us today.

I am happy to be here.

I have a special interest because I too have written a children's book about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, titled Flying Hugs and Kisses. I didn't know about your book until I was published and someone emailed me to ask me if I had read your story. My story was inspired by the loss of our infant grandson, Brennen.

I'm so sorry for your loss. There's nothing worse than when a baby just slips away.

Thank you Wendie for you kind words.

I would first like for you to share with us a little about the first story you remember writing.

I may have written before high school, but I remember doing a loooong involved story with my best friend called "Beware the Babysitting Job." It was about her going to an ordinary babysitting job which turned into a kidnapping and she had many adventures. Never published, of course, but it was fun to write.

I also wish my Junior year English teacher were still alive, Mrs. Schroder. She kept assigning us to write about various things and one time I just dashed off this slice-of-life about getting ready for a dance. I was so afraid that it was too off-beat and didn't really meet the assignment rules. However, she loved it and encouraged me to keep writing.

Now you have award-winning published books! Where did your inspiration for STACY HAD A LITTLE SISTER come from?

I am a children's librarian in a large public library system. All my co-workers knew I had been writing and submitting and getting rejected. We got several requests for books that could be read to a child who had had a sibling die of S.I.D.S. No matter where we looked, we could not find one. (Our library system even has a special collection of books to help children (and parents) deal with the problems of life such as: moving, a new baby, death, divorce, etc. We could find books about death of a tree, death of a grandparent, death of a pet, but no death of a baby from S.I.D.S.

"You're a writer, Wendie," my co-workers said. "Why don't you write one?"

Well, you actually cannot write to order. BUT, you can shove an idea into the back brain to cook for a while.

That back brain is a marvelous thing for writers. It keeps working on a problem long after you and your front brain have stopped.

Suddenly, one Sunday, a sentence kept going through my head. "Stacy had a little sister." Over and over again. (Past tense, of course, because I knew the kid dies, but you know -- nobody who picks up the book realizes that the title is in the past tense for a reason.)

I began writing things down.

I had a little sister. Description of a sudden trip to the hospital and mama coming back with a baby.

I had a little sister. Description of normal jealousy by the older child -- inspired by the reaction of my oldest child to my next child. (the editor removed some of this. She considered the scene where the older child takes the newborn picture and jabs holes in it with a pencil was too violent. But that's what my oldest did.)

I had a little sister. Description of strange worries of parents and sudden removal of baby.

Confusion of child. Funeral. No more baby. Sadness

I had a little sister. Child thinks it's all her fault because she had been angry about the attention the baby got. Will she get this too, and die? Real worries that the older child often has.

When the parents realize what the child is thinking, they reassure her and give many hugs.

The book ends with positive memories.

Anyone who has read the book will realize that there is NO repeating phrase "I had (or Stacy had) a little sister." That's because that is the first thing the editor removed. And yet, repeating that phrase is what kept me going with the flow of the book when I was writing it.

It is interesting that you discovered there were no books about SIDS for children. That is one of the reasons why I wrote Flying Hugs and Kisses. Our books are similar in that a baby dies and the children ask questions surrounding the issue of loss. But just like families are different in the number of children and how they cope with loss, our books show children how two families deal with their grief in completely different ways. Two great resources to have for Kids.

I love the family hug concept in your book. Where did this idea come from?

That's our family. We have a tradition of doing family hugs. In fact, our kids LOVE a sandwich hug -- where the parents are the bread and the kid is the jelly being hugged (squashed?) by the bread. They'll even grab us and shout, "Sandwich hug!" It makes them feel secure, I guess, to have both of us hugging them.

Interestingly enough, that's what the rejecting editors noticed, too. Hugs. Then complained that there was too much hugging in the book. I didn't remove it because a child in that situation NEEDS hugs.

What was the best part about writing this story? What was the worst part?

The best part was how quickly this story came to me. But it was after months of frontal thinking and months of letting the back brain mull it over. I find that things that come to me and I get down in a "white heat" are often the best things I write. (The annoying part of having a 'white heat' come is that it comes when it will -- sometimes coming at 5 am in the morning and waking me up and forcing me to get to the computer to get it down.

I used to have a pad of paper on a bedside table and would just turn on the light and write these things down, but nowadays I go to the computer. Probably because I can type almost as fast as I think, but writing it down is slower. (mainly because I have to be able to read what I wrote. Too many times I've written something down in the night and couldn't even read it in the morning, I was writing so quickly trying to get it down.

The worst part was the fact that I had the wrong viewpoint. It wouldn't sell with a first person viewpoint. Finally I had it critiqued and the agent/editor who critiqued it told me to back off. It was too close to the reader and they couldn't stand it emotionally. Put it into third person. So I did. Still, major publishers wouldn't handle it. They complained that it made them cry. That it didn't fit their needs.

Was it hard to find a publisher?

Yes it was hard. Finally I discovered that Albert Whitman did this type of book. They call this sort of book, concept books, because they discuss the concepts of moving, new baby, disasters and events in children's lives. They loved it. Offered me a contract. And told me to get rid of that annoying repeating phrase. I think it's only in the title and the first line, now.

It is eye opening to learn your book had changes after your manuscript was accepted by the publisher. I too had requests for changes to my manuscript. Sometimes as writers we are too close to our story to see that the changes will bring forth a quality book.

Are there any ideas or nuggets of wisdom you would like to share with SIDS families about helping their children through grief?

My book covers most of it. It's very sad for the whole family. I know that parents are fully involved in grieving for the baby, but please be aware that the older child/ children are feeling sad -- and wondering if it were any way their fault because they didn't love the baby enough -- and wondering if this could happen to them.

In fact, one of my co-workers had a very sick child for several years and suddenly realized that the older children were feeling neglected when one of them said, I'm still here, ya know.”

Indeed a parent or caregiver can get easily side-tracked and not fully understand their children need them. Children need their parents or caregivers to reassure them, keep their daily routine consistent, to hug or hold them and to listen to them.

One more question, are there any funny or unexpected incidents that have happened while doing a book signing, school visit, or attending a writer’s conference?

Besides the fact that I was totally embarrassed when I signed one of my books for a school library and wrote -- For the students at the Holy Angle....? Yikes! It was supposed to be Holy Angel. Luckily the school librarian just laughed and said that many of the students did the same thing when they tried to write the name of the school.

I learned quickly to ask how to spell everything. I carry post-a-notes with me just for this. I don't care if you are angry or disgusted with me for asking you how to spell your name. If it can be spelled wrong, I'll do it. It's just safer for me to have the correct way already written out in front of me. (and beside, there are often several ways to spell a name.)

I always carry goodies with me, especially at convention book signings. I have a groundhog puppet. (Our hero for the book THE GROUNDHOG DAY BOOK OF FACTS AND FUN.) As people walk by the publisher's booth, I'll say, "You can pet the groundhog." They look. And are startled to see that it looks like an actual groundhog. The braver ones will come over and pet it and we'll get into a conversation about how real it looks, and where to get a puppet like that and, by the way, could they get one of my books and will I sign it. Works every time.

I finally managed to find a black cat for the HALLOWEEN BOOK OF FACTS AND FUN. I hand out orange pencils, too.

In my blog, Wendie’s Wanderings, I have a post that discusses why I/we used a pen name for the two picture books -- Busy Toes and the companion book, Busy Fingers. (Three co-writers, no room on the spine for three names.) I'm just the "W" part of that name. These books also come in Board Book format.

As for individual funny incidents, I can't think of just one. I simply have great fun doing school visits and book signings. I enjoy working with kids and talking with them about books and writing and research and....

Thank you Wendie for stopping by Jewel’s Sand Box News today. Please visit us again and let us know what you are up too!

Thank you for the great discussion on writing for children.

For more information about Wendie C. Old's adventures as a writer and a children’s librarian please visit Wendie’s Wanderings.

Jewel Sample is an award-winning children’s author of Flying Hugs and Kisses (2006), also translated: Besos y abrazos al aire (2006, Spanish edition) and Flying Hugs and Kisses Activity Book (2007).

For more information about Jewel's background and publications visit her at Jewel’s Sand Box News

A Kid's Grief and Loss Book Review

Stacy Had A Little Sister
By Wendie C. Old
ISBN: 0807575984-1995
Fiction: Children, Death, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Siblings
Contact Reviewer: jmsample[at]
Publisher: Albert Whitman & CO
Publisher site:
May 10, 2008

Stacy demonstrates mixed feelings about her new little sister Ashley. When Ashley dies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Stacy has another set of mixed feelings and questions about Ashley; and how things have changed in her family. Stacy even wonders if she will get “peanut butter sandwich hugs” now that Ashley is gone. Stacy learns how to cope with the loss of her little sister with her parents help.

When a baby dies suddenly the family is overcome with shock and tremendous grief. The concept of death is very hard for young children to understand, however it is important to provide them with simple answers to their questions. Old provides straightforward and factual answers to questions SIDS families tend to have when this type of tragedy occurs.

When read with my grandchildren they became sad because they wanted the story to have a happier ending. However Stacy Had A Little Sister helped them to understand that SIDS families cope just as differently as they live in diverse communities. There are many ways to grieve over the loss of a loved one.

Reviewer recommends Stacy Had A Little Sister as a bereavement resource for educators, families, churches and mental health professionals to read with children.

For more information about her books visit Wendie C. Old