Alum writes children’s books
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 21:03
Early childhood education alumna Stephanie Guzman has published two children’s books in her own series, with the release date for the third expected in mid-May.
“Invitation Slip-Up” and “Acting Cool” attempt to address character issues in young children that Guzman thought other books failed to properly address, she says.
Her upcoming third book, “Sticky Fins,” deals with the issue of stealing, Guzman says.
Guzman currently works as a reading specialist at Magnolia Elementary School in Harford County, Md. where she also previously taught second grade for seven years.
Human development and family studies professor Martha Buell says Guzman’s was interested in ideas like fairness and social justice.
“I remember her being very full of advocacy,” Buell says. “She’s very compassionate and cares a lot about children. She really seemed committed to doing what was right, and to making a difference.”
Writing her own children’s book series was not always a goal for Guzman, she says.
“I always found writing somewhat difficult when it was someone else’s ideas or someone else telling me what it to write about,” Guzman says.
In college, Guzman’s mindset shifted when she had a professor who allowed the students to write about what they wanted. The class allowed her to realize that she had some things to say, she says.
After her first year of teaching, Guzman says she noticed a need for her students to talk about their problems and feelings.
In the classroom, Guzman says her books not only open up a lot of discussions, but also provide the opportunity for writing lessons for kids. She says she talks a bit about the “author’s craft”—explaining alliteration or the importance of taking audience into consideration, for example.
Buell says one approach to children’s books asks about the message and insight that children can gain from the world.
“It contains an instructional element that is delivered with fictionalized characters,” Buell says.
Sophomore elementary education major Whitney Wright says she enjoys the way Guzman’s series directly points to problems to which children can relate.
“‘Invitation Slip-Up’ definitely shows that everyone makes mistakes, but you learn from them,” Wright says.
Buell says “Acting Cool” has elements she finds particularly helpful. In the book, the main character Oliver and his friends mistreat a dolphin that looks very different from them, she says.
“Sometimes it’s easier if the characters in a book—especially a book trying to teach a lesson—don’t necessarily have human features,” Buell says. “By using a dolphin—who’s totally not human—to illustrate a human problem, the children must demonstrate the actual problem.”
Guzman says she has also created a feature called, “Ask Oliver,” a type of online forum that allows children to virtually interact with the series’ main character.
Submissions range from inquiries about Oliver’s family to questions seeking advice about a problem, she says. Guzman says she writes back to each one personally, in the voice of Oliver.
Wright says she thinks the feature allows children to feel as though they can engage with the book and better grasp the importance of the issues.
Buell says she is pleased with the way Guzman incorporates important developmental issues into literacy skills.
She says emotional aspects of children are being undervalued, and children today need to learn to be nice.
“It’s a learned skill, and we can’t leave it to chance,” Buell says. “There should be a real focus on helping children to build these skills so that they are happy and productive—and good friends. If we obsess about the test scores without paying attention to these other things, we haven’t done our job as teachers,” she says.
While her own titles are currently the only ones she’s published, she says many children are intrigued by the publishing process and want to know how they can do the same.
“I would love to try to provide a cost-effective way to publish their books and poems,” Guzman says. “That’s my thought for the future. Eventually, I would like to somewhat see how I can branch that out to children.”