Meet Dean Vivarelli

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KR2K Meet the Author with Dean Vivarelli

In this Q&A, Dean Viarelli, author of The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat, tells us about his journey towards becoming a published author.

1. Welcome to KidsRead2Kids, Dean! When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Reading and writing was something that I personally struggled with for years and writing a book was definitely not something I had ever aspired to do. However, all of that changed when I held my newborn son in my arms for the first time! In the weeks following his birth, I found myself scribbling down notes of fun and quirky ways to teach him about some of the larger issues he would face in his life.

I can’t remember the exact moment, but somewhere during the first six months of his life, I decided to write him a book. I wanted to teach him that even the smallest of actions can lead to the greatest of outcomes and articulating this in a children’s book just make sense. And this is how The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat came to be.

2. What inspired you to create the characters and the story?

There are two main characters in my book. Beau and the Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat. Beau’s character was the easiest to create. My inspiration for this character came from the type of person I hoped my son would grow into; someone who is caring, kind and thoughtful, yet brave enough to stand up and take action when faced with some of the harder challenges that life will undoubtedly throw at him.

The Little Frog, however, was a bit more complicated. This highly personified character was created to resemble something much more than an animal with human like qualities. While wearing his bottle top hat, the Little Frog resembles the fear and anxiety that often accompanies some of life’s hardest decisions. With his hat, the Little Frog is the voice in our head that often tells us we can’t and when he is not wearing the hat? Well, that’s another story to be told in my next book.

3. What were your biggest struggles in writing the book and what kept you motivated to continue?

Where do I start? That was literally by biggest challenge. Funnily enough, the answer to that question was, you just start. It doesn’t matter whether you start on the first page or the last page or with the idea that just popped into your head... you just start! My motivation to continue writing the book came from my strong desire to always finish the things I start. I think it’s really important to apply both of these principles to everything you do, otherwise you risk spending your whole life doing little bits of everything while never really accomplishing anything.

However, the biggest struggle of all was deciding to publish my book. As I had initially written the book as a keepsake for my son with no intention of publishing it, I had never prepared myself for the fear and anxiety that came with revealing my work to public scrutiny. Ironically, my

motivation to publish my book came from the moral of the story I had just written. Afterall, what was the point of writing a story about standing up and taking action if I was not willing to do it myself? So essentially, I had just written my own destiny.

4. What skills make you a good author?

I don’t know that I would say that I have good skills as such, but I am always looking for opportunities to learn something new and because I had never written a book before I was naturally drawn to the challenge.

When it comes to being labelled a good author, I think it’s all about perception. You need to ask yourself what your definition of a good author is, because ultimately that’s all that matters. Is it the number of books you sell or is it your ability to connect with even just one reader, to see them taken on an amazing journey? For me, my initial intention was to write a book for my son as a keep sake and not only did I achieve that, but I also wrote a book that he absolutely loves.

So, in that context, I consider myself to be a great author. I guess my point is, you don’t need to write a bestseller to be a good author. If you want to write a book, then write a book! And if you achieve what you set out to accomplish then from my point of view you are a good author.

5. What do you think makes a good story?

People need to be able to connect and believe in your story and its characters. I think a good story draws the reader in at an emotional level and creates sense of curiosity so that the reader remains engaged. However, I think the most important aspect of a good story is depth. It is really important that what can be read between the lines supports the story you are telling. Think of it as your stories body language or emotional front, it’s the little things like written tone, hidden messages and the choice of illustrations and colors (in the case of an illustration book) that provide heightened credibility at a subconscious level.

A couple of the many examples, in The Little Frog with the Bottle Top Hat, can be found on the first page, where the Little Frog is seen to be sad and tired after losing all of his friends and having nowhere to live. Although never written, I have tried to portray a deeper feeling of sadness on this page by having the illustrator place dying yellow tulips around the frog. Not only does this show that the frog’s home is dying around him but what a lot of readers don’t realize is that yellow tulips in their flourishing form actually resemble cheerful thoughts and hope. My intent was to hide a deeper meaning of sadness and dying hope. Now, I understand that one could argue the point about the tulips meaning, as only avid gardeners or botanists may know what they symbolize. However, eventually someone will notice the finer details of what you write and at that point you have sparked something special and unique for that reader, giving rise to depth.

6. What do you love most about storytelling?

Telling stories to children is not only a great way to enhance their language and vocabulary but is also allows us to stretch their imaginations and encourage innovative thinking, which is needed in our rapidly changing world. From a writer’s perspective, storytelling provides a creative outlet which allows us to reveal who we are and what we believe in, but more importantly it is an

incredibly powerful tool which can be used to inspire mighty change. In fact, storytelling is so powerful, it has been used by humans since the beginning of time to define values and shape cultures. Today, the benefits of storytelling in managing people is well recognized and it is taught as a leadership tool to executives in some of the world’s largest organizations. Worth thinking about next time you decide to put pen to paper.

7. What lessons do you hope readers will take from your story?

I really hope that young readers will realize the important role they play in looking after our planet and that even the smallest of actions can have the greatest of outcomes.

8. What were your favorite books growing up?

I never really read books growing up because it was something that I struggled with which wasn’t particularly helpful when it came to answering questions about a novel I was supposed to read for a school assignment. For me it was always easier to find the movie and watch that instead. I know! It’s the oldest trick in the book; and I never got away with it. Luckily for me I had some great teachers and what could have turned into trouble always ended in greater support and understanding with none of them ever giving up on me. It took some time, but years later all their support and understanding paid off and for that I am truly grateful.

9. What would you say to a child struggling to read? What advice would you give to help a child become a better writer?

My answer to both questions is the same. The most important thing is to never give up and be kind to yourself. Generally, we are our own worst critics and even when we are doing well and improving there can be a negative voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t. Get to know that voice and understand that it is just that... a voice. Ultimately, your actions are what define you, so if you choose to never give up and keep trying you will eventually get better! And never forget that reading and writing are a skill and any skill takes time to learn.

You wouldn’t expect to learn the piano overnight, so don’t expect to become a good reader or writer overnight. Placing these types of unrealistic expectations on yourself ultimately sets you up to fail and fuels the negative voice in your head. Expect to become a good reader over time and learn to take time to reflect on the progress you have made so you can give yourself credit for all the little improvements along the way.

Meet Cigdem Knebel

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KR2K Meet the Author with Cigdem Knebel, Simple Words Books

In this Q&A, Cigdem Knebel, founder of Simple Word Books, tells us about creating high-interest, low-level and decodable books for children who struggle to read.

1.     Welcome to KidsRead2Kids, Cigdem! When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Ironically, I never wanted to be a writer. I struggled with writing essays at school and it was always one of my least favorite subjects. After college, I wanted to publish a book, but it was a daunting overtaking. Even though I started to write a few non-fiction books, I never completed even the first chapter. I was totally overwhelmed.

My son was my inspiration to write my books. He was diagnosed with dyslexia. With a few months of Orton-Gillingham (OG) based training, he began reading simpler text rather than guessing. But he did not want to read babyish books. Unfortunately, that was all he could read.

When we could not find interesting chapter books for him to practice reading, improve fluency and comprehension and, most importantly, build reading confidence, I began writing the right-level books myself for him. My brained switched to a different gear and I was able to write in a way I never imagined. I realize now that I did not have a strong enough reason to get me through the long process of writing and publishing a book until it was for my son.

2.     What inspired you to create the characters and the story?

Again my son. He is a creative, energetic and fun kid. I keep in mind the characteristics of dyslexic kids when I write. They are bright kids. The story and the characters must be engaging and interesting, just like them.

In each story, the characters go through struggles and they learn not to give up. They learn that big rewards can and will be achieved if they push through the hard times. And they are never alone on their journey. And this is what life is for most of these struggling readers.

3.     What were you biggest struggles in writing your first book and what kept you motivated to continue?

When I switched into the gear to write, I realized my “limiting” mindset was one of my biggest setbacks in the past. This has been the biggest struggle in every step. I just told myself I was just not a good writer. I doubted myself to write in English, a second language for me. I was worried that some people may not like the books. But I realize that was all in my head.

Writing and publishing was such an unknown world to me. But once I believed that I could do it, with each step, my confidence grew. I also realized that even though there may be some people who may not like my books, if I helped a handful of readers to experience the fun and joy in reading, I have accomplished my goal. So, I looked at the positives rather than what I feared.

And now I have eight books published and sold in 8 different countries around the world. I own a publishing company, work with a great team of people and have about a dozen more books in the pipeline.

When I changed the way I looked at myself, my struggles could not block my true path anymore.

4.     What skills make you a good author?

My resilience and ability to define the writing process in a way that works for my books and me. This probably is a very unexpected answer for the line business I am in: Publishing.

In reality, I melted my engineering background with the diverse language exposures I had (I speak three languages daily and have training in three others) and created a unique writing style that creates engaging big-kid chapter books for struggling readers.

One of my natural skills has been to be able to breakdown a process and rebuilt it in a totally different way. I feel like this is how I write as well. It is certainly a unique skill that I believe sets me apart from majority of the authors. I feel like I redefined what writing is with my “unique technique”, if I may say. This technique enables me to create decoable books with high interest levels.

5.     What do you think makes a good story?

For me, what makes it a good story is that when a struggling reader picks up the book, they can read it without tears and still enjoy the plot, characters and how they grow through their experiences. With a good story, the reader has improved fluency. He improved comprehension. And most importantly, he improved reading confidence and a seed is planted in his mind about resilience.

My ultimate goal is to write the most decodable story. So, the decodable words determine where the story goes.

6.     What do you love most about storytelling?

I love knowing that the story I am telling may be the first one a struggling reader is able read independently, finish the entire story and enjoy reading for the first time. I love that I can share the most important lesson I learned in life in every story: Do not give up, believe in yourself, reach for the stars...

Also, because the story must be highly decodable, writing is more of a structured process than a creative story telling. If the decodable words do not follow where I want the story to go, I have to change the story. And I love anything process oriented.

7.     What lessons do you hope readers will take from your story?

I think I just answered this one already. In every story, the underlying lesson s are: Do not give up, believe in yourself, reach for the stars...

8.     What were your favorite books growing up?

I really did not enjoy reading for fun growing up. It was a chore for me. I felt like I had enough reading to do for schoolwork and I had no interest to read beyond what I had to. I had no access to audio books either, so I just really never read. After high school, I remember coming across Agatha Christie’s novels. They were the first books that I could not stop reading. I was so impressed to learn she was dyslexic as well!

I found the joy of reading as a young adult. And that is one of the reasons why giving the younger generations a chance to find the joy in reading much earlier in their lives.

9.     What would you say to a child struggling to read?

I would say: I understand reading is difficult. Find the right level books and begin there. Reading is just like sports. Or playing an instrument. Or learning to draw. It takes time – and longer for some of us – to master.

I always say learning a new skill is just like going to the gym. If the workout is too weak, our muscles do not grow. If the workout is too difficult, we get injured or frustrated. But with right level of stress we put on the body, we grow stronger. Reading is just like that as well. Start with the right level material and build slowly but steadily.

10.  What advice would you give to help a child become a better writer?

For creative writing, just write from the heart as if your hair is on fire.

 

Living a Balanced Life

“Everything in moderation”

Have you ever been overwhelmed with choices?

With food, school, and activities, things can be stressful!

That is why is it SO important to keep things balanced.

 

Food 

If you’re having trouble deciding what to eat, look to this daily checklist for inspiration.

  • Protein (can be lean meat, eggs, beans, peas, nuts)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains (can be whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice)
  • Dairy (fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Water

Have you checked off all the items on this list today?

If you don't like the examples, look online for more options!

 

School

School can be tiring, so it is especially important to find a good balance.

You can do this by getting enough sleep (9-11 hours!) and figuring out a system with your homework.

Here are a few tips:

  • Have a study routine—stick to the same time every day!
  • Work with your teacher—don't be afraid to ask for help
  • Take breaks every 10 to 20 minutes (eat a snack, drink some water, shake it out, and get back to it!)
  • Make a list of what needs to get done

 

Activities

While you may want to relax after a long school day, it actually benefits you to keep moving.

Exercising helps clear your mind and makes it easier to think and focus.

If you want to hang out with friends, you can all join something together! Ask your parents about signing up for something that interests you.

In addition, feel free to fill your schedule with non-athletic activities! Sing in a choir, act in a school play, take an art class—stretching your brain creatively is also important.

 

Start Living a Balanced Life Today!

See if any of these tricks help!

It may take a little while, but I promise you’ll find what works best for you.

 

We would love to hear from you. Share your stories on how you live a balanced life.

My Foggy Brain

“It’s clouding my brain”

Do you often feel confused or forgetful?

Do you usually have a lack of focus or clarity?

You may have brain fog.

 

What is brain fog?

People with brain fog usually experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness or trouble remembering information
  • Low motivation, feeling hopeless or depressed
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty exercising

Don't worry—if you are experiencing these symptoms, there are things you can do. But, although brain fog is common, it is not normal.  

So, when you’re feeling foggy or unfocused and are unable to think, you need to address the issue.

 

Possible Causes & Solutions

While the specific cause is unknown, there are many contributing factors associated with brain fog, such as:

Lack of sleep

o  Do your best to get 9-11 hours of sleep each night! If you exercise regularly, eat healthy, and limit electronics before bed, you should have an easier time falling asleep. A helpful tip is to go to sleep at the same time each night so that your body knows when it’s bedtime.

Too much sugar

o  Eating a lot of sugar sends your blood pressure up fast, and then crashing down. Stay away from sugary foods (every once in a while and for a special occasion is okay—everything in moderation!) and you will feel much better.

Poor diet

o  Be aware of what you eat throughout the day and how it can affect you. Eat enough protein (meat, dairy, fish, eggs, etc.) and healthy fats (avocados, butter, etc.)

o  Check my blog on healthy eating called, “Change Your Diet, Change Your World” for more information.

Lack of nutrition

o  To make sure you get the nutrition you need, take a multivitamin!

o  For more information, refer to my previous blog, “Change Your Diet, Change Your World”

Celiac Disease (when you eat gluten!)

o  Brain fog is actually a symptom people with Celiac Disease experience after they’ve eaten gluten. For those of you who don't know, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease and those who have it cannot eat gluten.

Dehydration

Not enough exercise

o  If you don’t like athletics, you don't have to do any tiring activities to improve. Just get moving by taking a walk and recognize when you’ve been sitting for too long.

Chronic Stress

o  Meditate! It may sound silly, but it’ll have you feeling happier, smarter, and stronger throughout the day. A great app for meditation (I use it all the time!) is called Insight Timer. Find it on the app store!

o  If that doesn't work for you, look up Mind Body Relaxation Techniques. There are plenty online and maybe you’ll find one that helps you relax J

o  You can also exercise, write in a journal, read, spend time in nature, or do anything you love!

Allergies

o  If you have seasonal allergies, you know the toll they can take on your body. Because your body is working so hard to protect itself, it makes sense that it may not be as strong in other areas, like thinking. To cope with this, take allergy medication, stay clean, and do your best to stay away from things you’re allergic to.

o  It could also be any unknown allergy or sensitivity. For example, if you don't know you are lactose intolerant and eat dairy, you are likely to experience brain fog.

 

Takeaway

Just living a little healthier can make a huge difference on the way your brain functions. When you’re faced with difficult decisions, like having to choose between a treat or a healthy snack, going to sleep early or late, exercising or relaxing, or anything really, think about how your body will react.

You will feel better. We promise!

 

We would love to hear from you. Share your brain fog stories.

Starting the Day Off Strong: Take a Break for Breakfast

“The most important meal of the day”

Do you ever feel tired in the morning (even if you’ve gotten enough sleep)?

Do you ever find it almost impossible to engage in school?

Well… do you eat breakfast?

 

What’s the point?

You may be sick of people telling you to eat breakfast, but there really is a reason.

Think about it. We sleep for several hours at night (hopefully around 9-11 hours). That’s a lot of time to go without eating! That’s why it’s super important to break your fast and make some time for breakfast.

How is your body supposed to function properly without it? Breakfast gives your body energy to start a new day (and has other benefits as well!).

So, even if you don't feel like it or don't think you are hungry, remember that your body needs it.

 

What are the benefits?

Eating breakfast will help you perform better in the classroom and on the playground by helping with these skills:

-      Concentration

-      Problem solving

-      Eye-hand coordination

It will also raise your energy and your mood!

If you think that skipping breakfast is better for your weight: It actually has the opposite effect and will make you gain weight.

 

What should I eat for breakfast?

Eating a balanced breakfast is super important.

Try to include:

-      Carbohydrates

o  Gives immediate energy!

-      Protein

o  Gives energy after the carbs run out

-      Fiber

o  Fills you up, discourages hunger

Suggestions:

-      Whole-grain cereals, bagels and muffins are great options because you can take them to-go if needed.

-      Fruit is also always a good choice and can be added onto anything you choose to eat.

-      Low-fat or nonfat yogurt or milk are an easy, healthy choice.

Choose one thing from each bullet point to put together an awesome breakfast.

If you want to spice is up, fruit smoothies are super fun and healthy. There are tons of healthy recipes online. Check them out!

Or, if you’re in a rush, here are some of my go-to foods:

-      Cereal or fruit in a bag

-      Small bottle of milk

-      Granola bar

 

Takeaway

Be sure to eat breakfast every day—even if it means you need to wake up a few minutes earlier! I promise it’ll be worth it.

Remember to stick to healthy choices to keep your body running throughout the day. You’ll find it’ll be much easier to focus and to be successful in school.

 

We would love to hear from you. Share your stories on how you start off your day.

Tips and Tricks for Paying Attention

“Help I can’t focus!”

Do you have trouble sitting still?

Are you easily distracted?

Do you have a hard time staying focused?

 

We can help! 

Whether you’re a daydreamer, a fidgeter, or all of the above, learning to focus can be difficult.

It may seem impossible now, but it will get easier.

Developing this skill will make a huge difference in your everyday activities and will take you through school and life.

Day by day, you will get better.

So, we have put together a list of tricks to help you stay in focus!

 

You can do it!

1.  Exercise, exercise, exercise!!!

Many people don’t know this, but exercising is a great way to improve focus. Moving your body motivates your brain and helps you think and learn better!

Tip: Join a sports team, take a dance class, go on a walk, go bike riding, or do anything enjoyable to you that gets your body moving!

2.  Don't be afraid to take breaks.

Your brain can get tired after working too long, so make sure to come up for air every once in a while!

Tip: Get up, move around, get a drink, and eat a snack if you need one! No one can focus on an empty stomach. Try not to get distracted during your relaxation time!

3.  Turn off all electronics (unless needed for homework).

It’s really easy to get off track when you’re surrounded by so many distractions! Keep your focus on your current assignment and do your best to cut out all other possible disruptions.

Tip: Stay away from anything that may tempt you to lose focus (computers, phones, televisions, etc.). If someone near you is making noise or being distracting, move away from them!

4.  Change your diet!

Just eating healthy can make a world of difference. Eating the right foods can boost your productivity and make it easier to stay focused. Stick to a balanced diet and stay away from junk food.

Tip: Eat lots of fruit and vegetables! Never skip breakfast. You need to start your day off strong! Remember to drink lots of milk and try oatmeal, whole-grain cereal (like Cheerios!), and eggs!

5.  Get enough sleep.

Getting the right amount of sleep is key to being in focus. If you’re sleep deprived, your brain is too tired to think straight! Give yourself the rest you need to maintain enough energy to focus.

Tip: Try your best to get 9-11 hours of sleep each night. You’ll feel SO much better!

6.  Drink LOTS of water!

Staying hydrated is another important part of maintaining your focus. When you’re dehydrated, you’re likely to get headaches, have poor concentration, and have trouble with your short-term memory.

Tip: Carry a water bottle with you at all times throughout the day. Drink even when you’re not thirsty—you need it! 

 

We would love to hear from you. Share your stories on how you focus best.

 

The Benefits of Listening to Stories...

  • Allows me to practice paying attention, listening carefully, and remembering what was said
  • Helps me focus on the sounds of the words read without interruption
  • Provides me with a model for fluent reading
  • Guides me in the learning of punctuation, enunciation, and emphasis (which all help me understand the meaning of a sentence!)
  • Inspires my imagination as I bring the story to life in my mind

... Helps me become a focused learner