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.