September 11 – Grandparents Day and Q&A with Author Ellen Mayer

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About the Holiday

In the early 1970s Marion McQuade had the idea for a special day of the year when grandparents and grandchildren could show their love for one another. She further wanted it to be a day when grandparents could pass down the wisdom they had gained over their lifetime as well as share a bit of family history. Of course the same goes for grandparents learning the latest and greatest from the kids in their lives—from new technology to current fads. When all generations share their experiences, we’re all a lot smarter—and have closer relationships!

Rosa’s Very Big Job

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Sarah Vonthron-Laver

 

Rosa may be little, but she has big ideas about how to help. While Mama is out shopping for groceries for that night’s dinner, Rosa decides to surprise her by folding and putting away the laundry. The basket is piled high with fluffy dry clothes, sheets, and towels. Rosa watches her grandpa reading the newspaper. “‘Please help me, Grandpa!’” she says. She tugs on her grandpa’s hands, trying to pull him out of his chair. “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get up.”

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Grandpa seems to have a little trouble managing: “‘It’s difficult to carry these enormous piles,’” he sighs. But Rosa knows that smaller armloads work better. Grandpa’s clothes come unfolded as he puts them in the drawer. “‘Be neat. Like me,” Rosa says, showing him her tidy stack. Poor Grandpa! He has to keep hanging up the same jacket over and over. “‘It’s difficult to keep this jacket from sliding off the hanger,” he says. Rosa has the answer: “‘Zip it up,’” she explains. “‘Then it stays on.’”

Grandpa sinks back into his chair. “‘You are terrific at doing laundry, Rosa. And I am exhausted,’” he says. But this is no time to quit—Rosa has big plans. As she steps into the now empty laundry basket, she exclaims, “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get in the boat. Help me sail back to there.’” Rosa points to the linen closet.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Suddenly, the floor swells with ocean waves teeming with fish. Grandpa channels his inner sailor as he holds aloft a sheet as a sail. As the wind billows and they come perilously close to the kitchen table, he says, “‘It’s difficult to sail around this enormous rock!’” Contemplating the rising sea, he exclaims, “‘It’s difficult to sail over this enormous wave!’”

There’s a dangerous storm ahead, warns Grandpa, “‘I can’t hold the sail in this strong wind.’” Rosa is there to help and grabs one side of the sheet. “‘Hold tight,’” she orders. “‘Use both hands.’” At last the seas die down and Grandpa is ready to steer the laundry basket back to port, but Rosa has a more entertaining thought. Spying a sock on the floor, Rosa wants to catch the “enormous fish.” Grandpa obliges and picks up a hangar for a fishing pole. He holds Rosa as she stretches out over the edge of the laundry basket to land her fish.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Just as Rosa nabs the fish, Mama comes home with her bags of groceries. She’s surprised to see that the laundry is not in the basket. Rosa runs to her and proudly explains, “‘We put all the laundry away. It was a very big job. We carried enormous piles. Grandpa dropped things. And I picked them up. It was very difficult for Grandpa. He got exhausted. But not me. I am terrific at laundry!’” Mama agrees that Rosa is a terrific helper. Then Rosa leads her mother to see the most surprising thing of all—the fish she has caught for dinner!

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In her series of Small Talk Books® Ellen Mayer presents exciting stories for preschoolers full of imagination and rich language learning. Rosa’s Very Big Job introduces Rosa, a sweet girl bubbling with enthusiasm and the desire to help. The close relationships between Rosa, her mother, and her grandpa promote cooperation as well as effective modeling of speech patterns and a way to introduce larger words in an organic manner through play and common chores. Rosa’s inventive idea to turn the laundry basket into a boat is delightfully enhanced by her grandpa’s willingness to share in the story and expand on it. Humor, cheerful banter, and the easy camaraderie between Rosa and Grandpa invite young readers to join in the fun as they build confidence in their language learning.

Sarah Vonthron-Laver depicts Rosa’s afternoon with her Grandpa with joy and the spirited energy young children bring to everything they do. Grandpa is happy to spend time with his granddaughter, yet shows honest feelings of tiredness and frustration that spur on the plot. The transition from doing laundry to using the basket as a boat is as seamless as a child’s imagination, and the way Rosa and her grandpa use household items to create “sails,” “rocks,” “fish,” and “fishing poles” will give readers great ideas for post-reading play. Bright colors, an adorable kitten, and familiar surroundings welcome young children into the world of reading and expanded vocabulary.

Rosa’s Very Big Job would be a welcome addition to a young child’s bookshelf, not only for its fun story that kids will want to hear again and again, but for its leap into imagination that kids will want to replicate.

Dr. Betty Bardige, an expert on young children’s language and literacy development, provides tips for parents, grandparents, and caregivers following the text.

Ages 2 – 6

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727497

Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as book-related activities and literacy initiatives she’s involved with on her website!

Find Sarah Vonthron-Laver on Facebook!

Grandparents Day Activity

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Original illustrations by Saran Vonthron-Laver, Copyrights © 2016 Star Bright Books. Paper dolls created by AislingArt and Celebrate Picture Books, copyrights © 2016

Rosa’s Very Big Job Paper Dolls

Rosa loves helping out at home. She’s terrific at doing laundry – folding and putting away the family’s clothes, socks, and linens. You are terrific at helping too! Can you help Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa get dressed and ready for the day with these printable paper dolls? You’ll even find a laundry basket, socks, and Rosa’s sweet kitty to play with! 

Supplies

Printable Paper Dolls, Clothes, and Extras

  • Heavy stock paper and/or poster board
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Print dolls on regular paper or heavy stock paper. Dolls printed on heavy stock paper may stand on their own with the supplied stand cross piece. For dolls printed on regular paper, you can cut the supplied stand templates from poster board or card stock and glue the dolls to the backing.
  2. Rosa’s kitty and the laundry basket can also be attached to the supplied template if needed
  3. Print clothes for each figure
  4. Color the blank clothes templates any way you’d like
  5. Cut out clothes and extra items
  6. Fit outfits onto dolls
  7. Make up your own stories about Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa!

Interview with Author Ellen Mayer

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Today, I’m happy to present a fascinating interview with Ellen Mayer, a writer and expert in early literacy, in which she discusses her involvement with various organizations and programs, her baby granddaughter, why Hug Your Cat Day is at the top of her list of holidays, and gives us a peek at a very special sugar egg.

I’m really interested in your work in the education and literacy fields. Could you talk a little bit about your job as an education researcher and an early literacy home visitor, and how you got into those fields?

I got into these fields after leaving a Sociology PhD program right near the end.  I didn’t want to be an academic and teach, I wanted to do applied research – to solve practical problems out in the world and to make a difference in the lives of those who were struggling. At the Harvard Family Research Project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I studied the ways that families from underserved communities were engaged in supporting their children’s learning and education, and created research-based materials for families and schools to promote effective engagement. One of these was the Family Involvement Storybook Corner—curated picture book selections with family engagement themes. That got me interested in early literacy and picture books.

After researching family engagement in children’s learning for many years, I decided I wanted to go out into the field and be a practitioner and work directly with families on this topic. I worked as an early literacy home visitor with diverse families with the Parent-Child Home Program, modeling ways to share stories with little ones to build early language. I actually got paid to read picture books and play with families in their homes!

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At the same time, I was pitching my Small Talk Books®, a collection of playful stories about everyday activities that provide fun for kids and ideas for adults – Rosa’s Very Big Job is one. The adults in the stories are engaged with children’s learning, modeling conversational ways to build young children’s language.

I read that your book Red Socks, another of the Small Talk Books®, is being used in a program to turn wash time at Laundromats into talk time for literacy development. Could you discuss this early literacy initiative?

Yes! Wash Time/Talk Time is a terrific campaign led by Too Small To Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute teaming up with a host of partners to turn Laundromats in underserved areas into venues for early literacy. This campaign distributes free books and information to families in Laundromats about building early language to help close what’s called the “word gap” by promoting parent conversation with babies and young children. Almost 60% of children in our country start kindergarten behind in their language development and this then sets them on a downward path and they get even further behind in school.

Red Socks was a natural fit for this program. In it a Mama narrates what she is doing for her little pre-verbal child as she folds the laundry and dresses the child—and as they search for a missing sock!

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Illustration © 2015 by Ying-Hwa Hu, text © 2015 Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books

I have to say that it’s a dream come true that Too Small To Fail is using my book.

Wash Time/Talk Time is really reaching the families on the other side of the word gap who most need the ideas and inspiration in Red Socks. When I began writing the Small Talk Books® I wanted to include stories about doing laundry, as it’s something we all do as parents and provides lots of things to talk about with children. (Like the color of socks!) In fact, I used to sit in Laundromats and observe families when I was thinking up ideas for stories. I guess that’s the sociologist in me.

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We just had the opportunity to visit one of the Laundromats in the campaign—at the Free Laundry Day in Tampa, FL hosted by The Laundry Project—and share Red Socks with families. You can see some of the fun illustrator Ying-Hwa Hu and I had here: 

What inspired you to begin writing picture books?

I came to picture book writing through a backdoor. When I was at Harvard Family Research Project, I was thinking about new ways to convey our ideas from research into practice for parents, and it occurred to me that a read-aloud picture book could address an audience of parents, as well as the primary one of children. My boss was enthusiastic about the idea, and so I enrolled in an adult ed class on writing for children. Then I turned one of our research case studies about challenges an immigrant Latino family had in communicating with their son’s teacher into a picture book, Tomasito’s Mother Comes to School/La mamá de Tomasito visita la escuela. Joe Cepeda did the art for it, and we made it downloadable for free.

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Illustration ©2007 Joe Cepeda

What’s up for you next?

Some new things! I have a fellowship with the Storytelling Math Project that’s funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and coordinated by TERC, a not-for profit STEM research and development organization here in Cambridge, MA. I’ll be a member of a group that’s identifying, creating, and promoting math-infused storybooks for diverse young children and I hope to create a couple of Small Talk Books® along these lines—probably about supermarket shopping! I also was asked to help out the Highlights magazine editorial team that creates HELLO magazine for 0-2 years and be an outside reviewer for issues before they go to publication. And then I’ll be volunteering as a visiting children’s book author to the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative, the family engagement and early childhood hub of the Somerville, MA Public Schools, sharing my books with playgroups and new parent groups.  

But mostly, I plan to write! I have a bunch of picture book manuscripts in various states, and ideas for new ones. These manuscripts are different from the Small Talk Books®; they don’t have a deliberate educational underpinning to them. They are fun, and just fun. One, for example, is called What To Do With Ruby-Lou and it’s about a baby who doesn’t laugh, no matter what her family does. Who is going to be able to get a laugh out of Lou? Well, it’s a surprise and it just might require some audience participation. I’ve had an agent in the past and hope to find a new one to rep me with these picture books.

You recently became a grandmother. Can you tell me a little about your granddaughter?

I thought our granddaughter was the most wonderful and expressive baby in the world when was she born – of course! She and my advance copy of the new Rosa book arrived into the world at just about the same time.

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At three months now my granddaughter is a big reader and is riveted on the B&W hi-contrast board book genre, especially one board book about cars and trucks. She moves her head back and forth, from one end of the spread to the other, scanning the images on the page like a studious scholar of some ancient text.

What is the best part about being a grandmother?

For me the best part about being a grandmother is being able to simply enjoy my granddaughter and play with her and watch her develop, and not have to worry about taking care of her daily needs. I didn’t have to stress when she refused to take the bottle before starting full-day childcare. That wasn’t my job. (She did take it – of course!) They live nearby, and seeing her once or twice a week, I love noticing small changes on each visit. I also love seeing our daughter and son-in-law parent.

Have you given thought to what you’d like your granddaughter to call you?

Our daughter asked us ahead of time what we’d like to be called when we became grandparents. I thought it was a wise idea to be proactive and select a name immediately, to avoid being named by the grandchild something like “Grandma GA-GOO-GA.” My great aunt Jane is called “Nini” as a grandmother, and I’ve always loved that, but I didn’t want to steal it. So I chose “Mimi.”

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It sounds as if Grandparents Day may be one of your top holidays! Do you have another favorite?

When I was little, I liked Easter a lot because it combined a lot of my favorite things: crafts, springtime, running around outside, candy. Also, we didn’t dress up much as kids, but I do remember Easter bonnets!

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When our children were little, their birthdays became my favorite holiday celebrations. Now that they are grown, maybe I need to pick a new favorite holiday? I see that June 4th is Hug Your Cat Day. That might be just right: we have a rather large and ferocious cat and when she actually lets you hug her, well, it’s a cause for celebration.

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Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

When I was six years old, I saw the Easter Bunny. I was staying at my Grandparents’ house, and I looked down the stairwell, and there he was, crossing the landing at the foot of the stairs. He was quite tall, wore a yellow slicker that was too small for him, and he was carrying a large Easter basket. I’m afraid I didn’t have my Brownie camera with me at the time to snap a photo.

But I do have an unwrapped sugar Easter egg that I’ve saved from that era.

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Thanks for sharing so much about your work and life, Ellen! I wish you all the best with Rosa’s Very Big Job, your other Small Talk Books®, and of all your other ventures!

You can also find Ellen Mayer on Facebook and Twitter

Rosa’s Very Big Job can be found at

Star Bright Books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Other Small Talk Books® available from Ellen Mayer and Star Bright Books include Cake Day, Red Socks, and A Fish to Feed and can also be found at the above booksellers.

Visit Ellen Mayer on her:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

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