Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. She holds a BS in English education and an MA in journalism from Ohio State, and has taught middle school and high school English as well as college newswriting and factual writing at OSU.
I’m thrilled to be chatting with Carole Gerber today about how adults can have fun with her new book, how she gets everyone participating at school visits, and a favorite part of her writing routine.
The rhythm of If You’re Scary and You Know It comes from a favorite child’s interactive song, but your clever verses go well beyond the simple repetition of the original. What inspired you to adapt this song for Halloween? I love the examples of scary that you chose and your other fun, evocative words. How did you choose your scary adjectives and develop each verse?
It’s much easier to write a story or song based on an existing one, because the structure is already there. Most kids and adults know the tune “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” so I decided to use it as a template. I then looked on Amazon to see what similar Halloween books were already on the market. If there were dozens, I would not have written mine. Luckily, I saw only one. It was titled If You’re Spooky and You Know It. I love the word “spooky” and had at first thought to use that word in my title. However, I did not want my book to compete with a title already published. I wanted a story/song that kids could act out, so I chose eight characters and thought up different silly but logical actions for each. For example, the pirate shouts “Yo ho!” and waves his sword, the witch “cackles” as she mixes her brew, the black cat arches her back and spreads her claws, and so on.
If You’re Scary and You Know It lends itself to singing and acting out as well as reading. Do you have any advice for adults on sharing this book with kids and “playing” with it?
Get into it along with the kids! Be playful and happy and sing your heart out. Kids love it when adults act silly. It’s fun to cackle like a witch, shout like a pirate, and shout “Meeeoow” as you spread your “claws.” Plus, the funny-sounding descriptors like “vampy,” “fiendish” and “hairy” are fun for everyone to sing. And, without realizing it, kids will learn some interesting vocabulary.
Noël Ill’s enchanting illustrations are adorably kid-centric. They also really invite kids to join in on the fun. Did you get to collaborate on the illustrations? I know it must be hard to choose a favorite illustration—but do you have one?
The publisher’s art director let me choose among the work of three artists he thought would do a good job. All were talented, but Noël’s illustrations were so sweet, bright, and clever that I knew she would come up with pictures that perfectly complemented my words. And she did! As is customary, I got to see sketches before she did final illustrations, and my input was honored. The first thing she illustrated was the cover – and I was thrilled! When all illustrations were complete, I learned from her short online video that the illustration of the black cat is based on her own childhood Halloween costume. After seeing the resemblance, the black cat became my favorite illustration! You can see it here: https://youtu.be/NPsn7syYvJo
You sponsor children around the world through World Vision. Does this experience influence your writing in any way?
Some of the money I earn as a writer helps children in less fortunate parts of the world get fed and educated. I became a World Vision sponsor 34 years ago when my daughter Jess was born and began adding more children as she grew up. I became a sponsor for another Christian relief organization, Feed My Starving Children, 20+ years ago when I learned about their amazing organization while researching an article for a magazine. Contributing regularly to these charities for children is one small way I can consistently thank God for giving me the opportunities I’ve had as a writer and also the great good fortune to be born in the United States.
In addition to your fiction for children, you’ve authored a long list of school reading and science texts for all grade levels and about a wide range of topics. How did you get started writing for this market? What kind of research goes into each book? Do you have a favorite and why?
I got into the education market as a result of writing textbook ad copy for McGraw-Hill. The product manager put me in touch with some editors. Each book I wrote had to be written at a specific reading level, and often I was required to use certain vocabulary words. Many of them required extensive research, which I mostly did online using reputable sources. One of my favorites was Once There Were Two: The Negro Baseball League. It was enlightening to learn about how African-Americans were forced to play in a separate league and had to stay in “colored” hotels. The most challenging were the books I wrote as part of a series called “Retold Classics.” I had to summarize and rewrite very simply The Iliad and other stories based on an oral tradition. Eeek! It was challenging to boil these lengthy tales down to their “bones.”
Your school visits sound amazing – especially the “poetry jams” and creating a class poem collaboratively with students. Can you talk about what you love about visiting schools? Do you have an anecdote from one you’d like to share?
After showing a funny slide show of my “creative process,” I let kids use the microphone (which they love) to do the talking. They read from my book Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More: Poems for Two Voices. I also wrote funny, tricky riddle poems specifically for school visits that kids read in pairs. The poems give clues about common objects (i.e., pencil, basketball). The first student in the audience to guess the correct answer chooses a partner and they read the next poem. To guess correctly, students must LISTEN! 😊. At the end, those who haven’t yet participated read from my poem for 13 voices titled “Cats!” Kids who are shy or not good readers get their chance to shine. As a lesson extension, the teacher is given a format for collaboratively writing a class poem if she or he chooses.
Do you have a special place you like to write or routine while writing?
I prefer to write on my desktop computer, which is in my home office. I have a laptop I can use if I am away, but I prefer the keyboard on my desktop. My routine requires me to drive to Starbucks to buy a chai latte before I seriously spend any time writing. I periodically attempt to stop this addiction. I did quit once for a few months but went back to buying one as an occasional treat and soon was back my costly morning habit. Sigh.
What’s up next for you?
I have another holiday book out this year: The Gifts of the Animals, A Christmas Tale. It is loosely based on an old Latin hymn and tells in verse about gifts the stable animals gave to prepare the manger. It is beautifully illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara, who lives in Japan and speaks very little English. There’s an interesting story about how she was chosen. I’d love to share it with your readers if you invite me back.
What’s your favorite holiday and why?
Clearly, I love both Halloween and Christmas! I have had two Halloween books published and three Christmas books. I grew up in a small town in a simpler time. My mother helped us make our Halloween costumes and my sister and I went trick-or-treating with our neighborhood friends. Everyone’s parents stayed home to hand out treats. At Christmas, we participated in church children’s productions.
Do you have an anecdote from any holiday (or holiday-themed book) that you’d like to share?
I admit to soaping a few windows of people who turned out their lights and did not answer their doors on Halloween. This was one of the “tricks” played on those did not “treat.” Once for the church Christmas play, my sister and I got to play the parts of shepherds. We wore our chenille bathrobes as costumes and got to sing a Christmas song with nine parts in which each letter of “Christmas” had a line. I don’t recall her letter, but mine was “A’s for all he stands for.”
Thanks so much, Carole! It’s been wonderful learning about your work and about your love of chai lattes—they’re my favorite too! I can’t wait to talk to you again soon about your upcoming Christmas book The Gifts of the Animals, A Christmas Tale!
Kids Music Day Review
About the Holiday
Kids Music Day was established in 2016 by Keep Music Alive to raise awareness of the importance of music education for children. The day includes events like student performances, opportunities for kids to see and try a wide range of instruments, instrument donation drives and more. On the first Kids Music Day, 80 music schools in 24 US states took part. In 2017 that number jumped to over 400 participants in more than 40 states and Canada. Last year 600 music schools and retail shops in 10 countries participated with free music lessons and other activities. Keep Music Alive is a nonprofit whose mission is to demonstrate the importance of music in everyone’s life from listening for pleasure to participating as an instrumentalist or composer to partaking in music therapy and more. To learn more, visit keepmusicalive.org and kidsmusicday.org.
I received a copy of If You’re Scary and You Know It! from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Familius in a giveaway of the book. See details below.
If You’re Scary and You Know It!
Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Noël Ill
Your kids have it, right? That giddy energy as they prepare for the big night of chills and thrills and decide on the most pressing question: What will I be? Carole Gerber and Noël Ill know exactly how that feels, and their book, a rollicking adaptation of the participatory favorite “If You’re Happy and You Know It” will keep readers moving and giggling all month long—and beyond.
Perfectly suited for singing or reading, If You’re Scary and You Know It! Introduces eight adorably creepy characters for kids to play and play with. Kids under the Halloween spell may be feeling a bit witchy these days. If that’s true, there’s only one thing to do: “If you’re witchy and you know it, mix a brew. / Throw some frog legs in your potion—icky poo! / Cackle as the cauldron bubbles. / Add a taste of trolls and troubles. / If you’re witchy and you know it, mix a brew.”
Kids got a taste for spooky tricks instead? Then they’ll love to “…moan and groan. Float around and haunt the people in your home.” Especially any younger siblings! Now that the fun is truly out of the bag, kids can brandish their pirate sword, flash a fiendish vampire smile, howl at the full moon, shoo crows away from the pumpkin patch, and perform other bits of mischief.
By this time their teeth may be chattering and their bones rattling. Well then, “If you’re bony and you know it, touch your toes. / You can bend and twist to strike a funny pose. / Spread your arms and bend your knees— / move in any way you please! / If you’re bony and you know it, touch your toes.” Finally, that most anticipated day arrives! What now? You know! It’s time to “meet up with your friends out in the street. / Walk together door-to-door, to get candy and lots more! If you’re scary and you know it—Trick or Treat!
Kids and adults alike will fully get into the spirit of Halloween with Carole Gerber’s clever and enticingly impish rhymes that will have them moving their feet, yowling ghoulishly, and laughing together. Gerber’s rich language and detailed action-packed storytelling are a joy to sing or read aloud and give kids plenty to imitate as they listen. Children will love joining in on the repeated phrases, and older kids will learn the jaunty verses in no time.
In her delightful, spritely illustrations, Noël Ill replicates the eerie autumn atmosphere that adds to the thrill of Halloween while also clearly depicting motions that children can perform with each verse. Ill’s diverse kids float, dance, growl, screech, and shake with the same enthusiasm as little readers. The final two-page spreads invite children to that nighttime world of magic and treats.
A must inclusion in any Halloween collection, If You’re Scary and You Know It! is a book you’ll want to keep out year-round for energetic, active story times. It is a perfect book to share with groups and as an activity at Halloween parties. Published in a board book format, this book will also appeal to older children.
Ages 3 – 6
Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701464
Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.
To learn more about Noël Ill, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Kids Music Day Activity
With carefully chosen rocks you can create one jack-o’-lantern or a whole pumpkin patch!
- Round, smooth rock ( or rocks in a variety of sizes)
- Orange craft paint, and other colors for a multi-hued pumpkin patch
- Black permanent marker or black craft paint
- Short sturdy twig (one for each rock)
- Hot glue gun or strong glue
- Clean and dry the rock
- Paint the rock, let dry
- Draw or paint a jack-o’-lantern face on the rock, let dry
- Glue the short twig to the top of the rock pumpkin
Picture Book Review
You can find If You’re Scary and You Know It! at these booksellers
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound
Picture Book Review