Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Holly DiBella-McCarthy

Holly DiBella-McCarthy Featured Image

Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you all so much for joining us for an interview with one of our fabulous honorees. For this interview, MCA was able to sit down with Holly DiBella-McCarthy, author of the Mom’s Choice Award-winning picture book, Dilly Duck Plays All Day! Dilly Duck Plays All Day is a rhyming picture book written to expand pre-reading skills, math skills, and emotional vocabulary for children ages 2-6. Parents and teachers can use this book as a school readiness tool as well as an anchor for extension activities. Keep reading to find out more about Holly and her award-winning book, Dilly Duck Plays All Day!

MCA: Hi Holly, thank you so much for joining us today, and a huge congratulations on your Mom’s Choice Award! I’d first like to start the interview by finding out a little bit about you. Tell us about your background!

Mom's Choice Award-winning Author, Holly DiBella-McCarthy!

Mom’s Choice Award-winning Author, Holly DiBella-McCarthy!

Holly: I grew up, raised my family, and spent my professional career working in lovely northeast Connecticut. I am the proud parent of 3 grown children, an artist, a mechanic, and a special education teacher. I am happily married to my husband of 38 years, and we now live in North Carolina near the shore. We spend our time together exploring beach towns and traveling. I am currently enjoying writing books for children and creating Raising Kindergarten Ready Kids resources for parents and teachers. I hope to continue to make a difference for young children by sharing best practices to prepare for preschool, kindergarten, and future school success.

As a certified special education teacher and school administrator, I spent over 35 years teaching pre-k through college. My journey began in preschool teaching children with special education needs. Continuing as an elementary resource room teacher, I was inspired to make learning fun while teaching pre-reading skills to students who benefited from repetition and a boost of confidence. As a public school Director of Special Education, I supported students, teachers, therapists, and parents. Teaching university students in teacher prep programs completed my Pre-K through college teaching career.

I have written and published many educational journal articles, non-fiction books, a Chicken Soup for the Soul story, blog articles exploring topics related to school readiness, and children’s books including Dilly Duck Plays All Day, Dilly and Pals See Me Read Level 1 Reader, and Dilly and Friends Coloring Activity Book.

MCA: You are quite an accomplished writer! What lead you on your path to becoming an award-winning author?

Holly: I have been writing stories in my head since I began teaching! My inspiration came from the hundreds of children’s book authors who inspired me to bring their books to life while teaching children. I loved matching that perfect story to whatever unit I was teaching. I loved extending instruction based on the chosen book with activities geared toward practicing whatever skills the students were working on. I loved making learning fun! When I retired from my public school position, I finally had the time to learn the art of writing for kids. I soon learned writing children’s books is very different than writing for adults!

MCA: What was your inspiration for writing Dilly Duck Plays All Day?

Holly: When it was time to choose my focus for my first children’s book, I chose to write a story about an animal who made a difference in my life as a young girl. Dilly was my pet duck. My late dad, a police officer at the time rescued her and her brother and brought them home for my sister and me. I was a painfully shy little girl. I also had a speech delay and spoke using only vowel sounds. After my dad crafted a harness for Dilly, I would take her for walks around the neighborhood. Of course, both kids and parents wanted to talk to me about her. So, Dilly helped me grow my confidence and find my voice!

MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in Dilly Duck Plays All Day?

Holly: My goals in writing this story were to make learning fun for young children, and the adults who read to them while at the same time teaching essential school readiness skills. With learning through fun focus, lessons found in Dilly Duck Plays All Day include counting practice such as counting and adding by 1; pre-reading skills including rhyming, sight word vocabulary, story setting and sequence; emotional vocabulary development; and social skill development. So a family member or teacher can read this book over and over directing a child’s attention to target any one of these essential school readiness skills.

MCA: Tell us more about the resources you create for parents and teachers!

Holly: My Raising Kindergarten Ready Kids resources are created to extend learning. For this book, I created an S.T.R.E.T.CH Activity Guide (Story Time Ready Extension Tools for Children.) This 12-page Extension Skill Development guide is aligned with Common Core Standards. It offers ideas for math, pre-reading, and emotional vocabulary activities before, during, and after reading the book. It also includes music and movement-related activities. Conversation starter questions correlate to kindergarten-ready curricula. Resources include duck facts and words to songs and games. This and all my resources are free to download on my website.

Other resources include kid-friendly activities such as a take and make Field Guide, How to draw a duck lesson, coloring and activity pages, duck crafts, memory games, sight word lists, and more.

I also write articles for parents including Why Read to the Dog? How To do a Picture Book Walk, 11 Word Games to Help Kids with Dyslexia Recognize Sight Words, How to Make Chore List Your Child Will Love, Celebrate the Magic of Pretend Reading, and many other topics that give parents, grandparents, and caregivers helpful tips to prepare their children for kindergarten and future school success.

MCA: How can family pets teach us important life lessons?

Holly: Pets provide opportunities for kids to learn responsibility, patience, and compassion. Pets are non-judgmental, do not correct mistakes, are consistent listeners, and give a child a sense of purpose. Pets provide opportunities to grow confidence and an awareness that the world is bigger than oneself.

MCA: What kind of response from readers have you received?

Child reading Dilly at school

Child reading Dilly at school

Holly: I am most impressed with the reviewers who found an unintended message or benefit when reading my book- concepts and lessons that I didn’t specifically target, but emerged through the story:

“…the message that is left behind – “Together is Better” – is a wonderful statement/sentiment of inclusiveness which is a great reminder for us all.”

“…In a sad but important lesson within the story, one of Dilly’s friends falls victim to lake debris which traps them under a littered net. This is made into a conversation topic at the book’s conclusion and asks, “Why isn’t play time with friends happy all the time?” I am always mentally tabulating conversation prompts for my kids so the pleasant surprise of having the work done for me, and done so well, was amazing.”

As a teacher, not only does it help the students learn how to count, but it lets them learn more about friendship and hardship.

“…I like to use this book to describe character traits and their differences. This book is great to discuss the story elements of characters, settings, problems, and solutions, as well as retelling a sequential story with a beginning, middle and end.”

The child reviewers warm my heart. Children are connecting with Dilly:

“She just hugged the book wearing a big smile after we read it and insisted on bringing it to bed with her.”

“…My 3-year-old and 1-year-old love Dilly Duck! They love to count the ducks and say “Quack Quack”, and they love to turn the pages and mimic all the different emotions on each page. We’ve read it every night before bed since it arrived!”

MCA: Thank you for sharing that with us, Holly! We can’t wait to see what you come out with next!

You can learn more about Holly DiBella-McCarthy and her award-winning book, Dilly Duck Plays All Day by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

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