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! Mom’s Choice is always proud to share the accomplishments of our Honorees. In an interview with our multi-Mom’s Choice Award-Winning author Joan Ruddiman, EdD, we get to hear not only about her personal background but also how she came to write her award-winning book, Little Children, BIG Feelings! Little Children, BIG Feelings is an excellent resource for parents looking for ways to help their children identify and express feelings and emotions. Little Children, BIG Feelings gives real-life examples for every type of feeling, then provides extended activities at the end to help the readers apply what they’ve learned. This is Joan’s second Mom’s Choice Award-Winning book, her first being Today Cara Goes to Kindergarten. We were honored to be able to sit down with Joan and hear more!
MCA: Hi Joan! Thank you so much for taking some time out to tell us how things are going. To start, why don’t you tell our readers a little bit more about yourself?
Joan: I am a retired teacher. I have worked with kindergarten through college-age students, but most of my years in teaching were with middle schoolers sharing my love of language arts and the humanities. I am a reading specialist (Rutgers, Graduate School of Education) and hold a doctorate in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College, Columbia.
My young grandchildren have inspired this new venture into writing children’s books.
I have long been a Board member with our local library, which has inspired an ongoing project of exploring and recording the interesting history of the library and the community that supports it.
I am an avid, albeit average, golfer. Prefer to walk courses to enjoy the landscapes.
I’ve been married to John for 46 years — have loved him since I met him when I was 13. Our 3 children are married with children — 5 with the 6th on the way.
MCA: Well I must say, your teaching experience really shines through in your writing. Can you tell us more about your new venture into writing children’s books and what inspired you along the way?
Joan: I’ve always been a writer. I remember writing poems and stories when I was very young. From my teen years, I have written for newspapers, long-form essays (wrote a weekly column for a local newspaper group for 20 years — Book Notes for the Princeton Packet- Messenger-Press), and as an educator, have published articles for a range of professional journals (The English Journal, International Reading Association, National History Day, etc.)
What inspires my writing? Ideas that I think are worth sharing. Interestingly, the children’s books have this intent. Little Children, BIG Feelings helps children discover words to express their emotions. Today Cara Goes to Kindergarten tells of the first day jitters that children — and their parents— experience. Books in the works have the same underlying intent — to share ideas that children and their reading partners can relate to in their own lives.
MCA: Little Children, BIG Feelings definitely shares great ideas and concepts that children and their reading partners can relate to in their own lives. Where did you get the inspiration to write it?
Joan: Little Children, BIG Feelings came to me as I dozed on a plane, leaving my grandson in NC. He is a born linguist. Loves words and ideas and books that help unlock all those wonders. There are words that capture the precise nuance of an emotion. I thought of children like me, like young John, who would appreciate learning new words.
The idea for the balloon as the graphic metaphor was mine and I am so grateful to Jo Ann Kairys for working with me to bring the balloons to life.
MCA: A big part of what makes Little Children, BIG Feelings so special is the beautiful illustrations that really help to show the different feelings that are present throughout the story. Tell us your relationship with the illustrator, Jo Ann Kairys, and how she helped bring Little Children, BIG Feelings to life.
Joan: Ah — Jo Ann. I was told that she was a book coach. I was at the point that I had stories in files on my computer. But I am not an artist. I had tried to find artists to illustrate but learned that illustrating children’s books takes unique skills and talents.
When I contacted Jo Ann about being a book coach, she asked how far along in the process I was and I shared how I was stymied by not being able to find an illustrator. “I illustrate books,” she offered quietly.
OH MY, does she!!
We forged a very good working relationship through Covid times over zoom. Weekly meetings where Jo Ann coached me through things I needed to do or would need to do (ISBN numbers! Social media! How to create a dynamic website!). And she illustrated Feelings — sending me images that we could discuss. It took me a bit of time to get comfortable with being “critical” but she pushed me to be honest and together, we found our way to a beautiful book. And then another — and now we are working on two more — with another waiting or attention. It is wonderful working with her!
Joan: Little Children, Big Feelings does address a child’s need to name things. Think of how little ones know the proper names of dinosaurs. Or stars. Or fish in the sea. (My first idea for a book — it is coming! — explores this with gardens. (Inspired by Alex Dawson at the Rutgers Writers’ Conference who spoke of Patricia MacLachlan’s “All the Places to Love” — naming things.). “Feelings” is the same premise — knowing the proper names for BIG feelings!
MCA: I’ve read great reviews online for Little Children, BIG Feelings! Can you tell us about the responses you’ve been receiving from readers?
Joan: I am honored to have such positive responses to the book. Educators, librarians, parents have sent great reviews to me, and posted on Amazon. (And have bought the book!) The ones that touch my heart are from children. AJ at 3 who said as his mommy finished the book, “Read it again!” And asked for the book dozens of times over.
And Jo Ann’s little kindergartener who replied to the teacher’s “How are we today,” — “I am euphoric!!”
I am in the process of sending the book to reviewers. OnlineBookClub gave it a 4 out of 4 stars. Jo Ann tells me this is important!
Of course, Mom’s Choice Awards recognition was wonderfully affirming that we are on the right track!
MCA: If you could ensure readers of your book walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?
Joan: One main lesson: Little children do have big feelings. Respect them — the child and the feelings. Help them find the words that will help them negotiate a complicated world.
MCA: That is wonderful and such an important message to leave us with, thank you, Joan!