For the Love of Books Breakfast is February 15th at the Uptown Theater. At Reach Out and Read Kansas City, preparations are in full swing.
We are so excited to introduce Keynote Speaker and local Kansas City children’s book author Alastair Heim. Besides writing a number of popular children’s books filled with humor and lots of fun, he is an avid supporter of early literacy. Alastair was kind enough to answer a few questions about everything from writing to reading to children’s books.
Please tell us a little bit about how and why you started writing books.
While I’ve always had a passion for creative writing, I officially started trying to write picture books shortly after my first child was born. My wife and I received dozens upon dozens of children’s books as baby shower gifts and, after diving into each and every one of them, I was inspired to try and write my own stories. More than anything, though, I thought it would be super cool if my kids could read a book that daddy wrote (it is!).
How and why did you become involved with Reach Out and Read KC?
I have known about Reach Out and Read for a number of years, but only recently became directly involved with them through a friend of mine (she was gracious enough to introduce me to the wonderful KC folks). I am thrilled to be working with such an incredible organization that does so much to advocate for children and the positive, life-changing influences that reading can have on their lives. The read aloud experience shapes every picture book I write and I’m incredibly honored to support their mission.
What were some of your favorite children’s books growing up?
My absolute favorite book to read, when I was very young, was Barney Beagle Plays Baseball by Jean Bethell. My brother and I also had a ton of Berenstain Bears books and, when I got a bit older, I started gravitating toward anything written by Shel Silverstein.
What are some of your (or your girls’) favorite children’s books that you read today?
I actually had my kids answer this question and here are a few of their current favorites: THE BOOK OF MISTAKES (by Corinna Luyken), PIG AND PUG (Sue Lowell Gallion), BABYMOUSE DRAGONSLAYER (Jennifer Holm), A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC (Shel Silverstein), LITTLE BIRD’S BAD WORD (Jacob Grant), GHOST (Raina Telgemeier), REAL FRIENDS (Shannon Hale), MUSTACHE BABY (Bridget Heos), THAT NEIGHBOR KID (Daniel Miyares), LITTLE MISS, BIG SIS (Amy Krouse Rosenthal), BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER (Andria Rosenbaum), ENGINERDS (Jarrett Lerner) and, of course, NO TOOTING AT TEA (Me).
What’s your favorite childhood reading memory?
The most vivid memories I have about reading are being at my elementary school library and picking out books to take home. I went to a fairly small school in rural Wisconsin, but the library was always full of books for me to pour over. In fact, that’s where I first discovered Shel Silverstein. I recently had the opportunity to read my books to First Graders at that same library, which was an absolutely surreal dream come true.
Why is reading important to you?
This is, by far, the hardest question for me to answer…because there are SO many reasons. For me, reading was literally my first introduction to creativity – as it is for most children. Picture books are a gateway for a child’s imagination to flourish, whether it be the words or pictures that capture their hearts and minds. Reading was also one of the first and most meaningful ways I connected with my own children. To see their eyes light up and to hear them giggle when I read aloud to them has been a gift that has shaped who I am as a dad and as a writer.
Beyond my own experiences, though, is the fact that every writer was a reader first. When today’s authors have written their last stories, a new generation of writers will emerge and fill these same shoes. The world needs great storytellers and the more we can do to fan the flames of creativity – by reading to kids at a very early age – the better the stories of tomorrow are going to be.
What makes a great story time?
I am a firm believer that the parent should have just as much fun as the child does during story time. In my opinion, it’s the overall experience between parent and child that creates the most lasting connections. My favorite books to read with my kids have a few things in common – effortless-to-read rhyme, clever writing, unexpected humor and great endings. When I write my books, I always try to keep mom and dad in mind. Does the rhyming make for a good read aloud experience? Is there humor that the parent will find funny, too? How can I end this story in a way people will be surprised and delighted by? Ultimately, I want my books to be the ones children pick out at bedtime and their parents are delighted to read with them, over and over again.
Learn more about Alastair and his books on his website: www.alastairheim.com