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! We have a very special treat for you all today, we were able to sit down and interview our multi-Mom’s Choice Award-Winning author Joan Ruddiman, EdD about her not one, but two new award-winning books, and see what she’s been up to since our last interview last September! Joan’s two new books, What Do You Call YOUR Grandfather? and What Do You Call YOUR Grandmother? are charming children’s books that stimulate conversations about grandparents while promoting awareness of the many ways to address grandparents from around the world, and around the diverse United States. These books present engaging ways to explore the many wonderful names for “grandmother” and “grandfather” to help children make connections with their friends and acquaintances. These are Joan’s third and fourth books to win Mom’s Choice Awards! Keep reading to find out more about Joan and her multiple award-winning books!
MCA: Hi Joan, thank you so much for joining us again! It is always such a delight whenever we get the opportunity to sit down and chat with you. Congratulations on your two new Mom’s Choice Awards! Can we start the interview with a little bit of personal background about yourself?
Joan: I retired from the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in 2015 after almost 30 years of happily teaching – mostly – middle schoolers. The passion of my life since my earliest memories has been books and reading. As a reading specialist, it was a joy to share this love of learning with my students.
Though retired from the classroom, I am now happily occupied with a range of activities that relate to my love of reading and research. Through my work with the New Jersey History Day program, I support teachers and students in their development of history projects. I work with the New Jersey Historical Commission on projects that develop and disseminate materials for educators in preparation for our country’s 250th anniversary.
I live in a village where I grew up, and where my husband and I raised our three children. For almost 50 years, I have been actively serving the local Library as a member of the Library Board. For the past several years, I have been researching the Library’s rich history which is intertwined with the story of this town and her people. This may be a book …someday.
And I golf. I play avidly — though not remarkably!
MCA: 30 years is quite a long time, congratulations on such a long career! Your library sounds like an amazing inspiration for a story! As R. David Lankes had said, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” Can you tell us a little bit about your path to being a writer?
Joan: Howard Gardner with his Theory of Multiple Intelligences illuminated our understanding of being “smart” in different ways. I have always been the “linguistic” intelligence, so reading and writing have always been constants in my life. I was a straight-up English major. My Master of Education has the reading specialist certification. My doctoral dissertation was a study of how students engage with reading. My career in teaching and my hobbies all connect to — words. But writing children’s books was completely unexpected. I really like teens. Though I loved my own children at all ages, I never thought of myself as being “good with children.”
Having grandchildren changed my psyche. I found myself telling stories in my head that had these precious grands at the center of the action. And then these stories demanded attention. Little Children, BIG Feelings and Today Cara Goes to Kindergarten were published in 2021. Both received the GOLD award from Mom’s Choice. What a thrill! Being published and honored — a major life moment! I am grateful beyond words that I found Jo Ann Kairys, a talented illustrator (a Mom’s Choice awardee!) and a lovely, wonderful woman who brought the stories to life.
Joan: The two latest books, What Do You Call YOUR Grandmother? and What Do You Call YOUR Grandfather? were inspired by a conversation my grandson John had with his daddy, my son Jake. Young John, having met his friend’s grandmother, sighed as he observed, “Daddy, I don’t have a grandmother.” His daddy replied, “Oh John. Noanie is your grandmother. She is my mother and YOUR grandmother.”
But this raises another question in John’s mind: “Daddy, why is she called Noanie?”
Why, indeed! In the book, as the boy and his father talk about the origin of Noanie’s name, they explore other grandmother names. In the companion book, the boy and his father continue their conversation about grandfather names.
My intention is that these books will inspire families to share the origin stories of their grandparent names. In the midst of gathering grandparent names from my social media contacts and website requests, one friend shared his grandmother’s unique name — with the admission that he had no idea of the story of her name. How sad! That story is lost forever!
My other intent with these books is to encourage children to discover the beauty of all types of grandparent names — from around this big country and around our big world. Again, the importance of this hit close to home with an account related by my daughter. Young Jamie came home one day early in his kindergarten school year rather sad. When asked why he seemed low, he said that his friend laughed at his name for his grandfather. “He said that PopPop was a silly name for a grandfather.”
PopPop is actually a very common grandfather name in the northeast where we are from, but to a little boy from the south where PePaw and Paw Paw, etc. are common, PopPop might sound strange.
How wonderful for children to revise that assessment of “strange” as they hear the love and charm in all grandparents names.
MCA: We absolutely love the concept of these books! It is such a great way to find out family information while starting a bigger conversation about diversity and where we all come from. What would you say are your intentions for these books?
Joan: I am so grateful for the GOLD honor from Mom’s Choice as my hope is that families will discover these books that are intended to foster these meaningful conversations in families. The GOLD award opened doors for Little Children, BIG Feelings and Today Cara Goes to Kindergarten. It has been very gratifying to hear from readers whose minds and hearts have been touched by the books. (Some of these stories are shared in my blog).
Joan: Ah! The pictures in the grandparent books are indeed – pictures! Jo Ann believed that since this was John and Jake’s story, they should tell the stories. We were blessed to have had Sally Gupton, a talented photographer who is brilliant in working with children to do the photographs that grace the books. And I am eternally grateful that a very young John was so willing and cooperative in this process! He was in front of a green screen, acting out the emotions needed for the book.
“Look excited!” “Look like you have a big question.” Noanie was quite nervous as I watched this process, but with Sally guiding it all, John and Jake did a beautiful job! John did have agency in helping to create “his” books. He decided Mr. Bear should be a character in the stories, as Mr. Bear is the most serious of all his stuffies.
Jo Ann was very pleased to have a wide array of images to use to illustrate the books.
MCA: What has the response been like from your readers waiting for these books to come out?
Joan: The books are due out this month, but many are very excited to have copies. So many people sent me their grandparent names, and each one is included in the books. Some are part of the narrative, and then talented Allie created beautiful graphics in each book that incorporate all the grandmother and grandfather names.
MCA: If you could leave your readers with one main lesson from both of these books, what would that lesson be?
Joan: On the last page of each book is an oval frame to insert a picture of grandmother, and then, grandfather with the heading, “I call MY grandmother (grandfather)…” with a line to add their special name. These books are keepsakes for children and their families to always remember the story shared of their grandparents’ special names.
MCA: Those are wonderful lessons to leave us with, thank you, Joan! We cannot wait to see what you come out with next!