Intro: This interview shares advice from former teacher, Donna Collins.

To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your job as a teacher?

Donna: I retired in 2017 and I taught across the curriculum for kindergarten through second grade. Mostly, my position was a first-grade teacher, which I truly loved.

How long did you teach?

Donna: Approximately 20 to 25 years. Maybe a little bit longer.

What was the most rewarding experience you had as a teacher?

Donna: The biggest reward was when children really learned from my class and loved to learn. That was my goal as a teacher—to make learning enjoyable and ensure my students had all the experiences they needed in every single area of curriculum, either hands-on or through reading books. Something important to note is that reading is cross-curricular. Not only do you read for information, but you can take a simple story and use it to teach lessons in many areas of study.

For example, my first graders would read the story, The Garden — Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel and create a science project out of it. In the story, Frog gave seeds to Toad for a garden. Toad, impatient by nature, wanted the plants to grow quickly so he would yell at them, sing to them, play music for them, and so on. My students for their project would plant seeds and mimic the toad by yelling at the plants, singing to them, reading to them, etc. They would then formulate a hypothesis on whether or not they thought any plants would grow more than others based on each method. It was a fun project. You can take any story and put it across the students’ curriculum. It’s a wonderful thing.

What would you say was the most challenging aspect of teaching?

Donna: Probably all the planning that went into it. Not only do you need to do your basic planning one time, but you end up doing it two, three, or four times because of all the ways the information needs to be recorded. So, the paperwork was the difficult part

In your opinion, what is the importance of children’s literatur

Donna: It builds bridges to new life experiences. As I said, it’s cross-curricular. You can read for information, for entertainment, or study why people do the things that they do. The basis for all knowledge starts with reading. It also brings joy and love to communication with adults. If you sit down and read a book with your child and discuss what you’ve read, that not only helps the child learn, but it’s also a bonding process. And that’s worldwide

Do you think that avidly reading helps children grow in their writing abilities?

Donna: Absolutely. With first graders, recording information was difficult because they have invented spelling. You have to be very good at reading things from a child’s perspective. But yes, putting down ideas in writing and developing those ideas is a great way to communicate real-world experiences. People often connect to something they’ve read, and if you have trouble talking, you can write your thoughts down to communicate with others.

What importance do illustrations play in children’s books?

Donna: My goodness, it opens up the imagination. You can close your eyes, listen to a passage, and envision what you think the images look like. And then, when you see something on the paper that is totally different, or even similar to what you saw, it just opens up a whole new avenue of learning that’s not just reading.

Illustrations are visual. But they’re more than what you see. They also represent what the reader hears, feels, and tastes. They are all those experiences put together.

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Did you have go-to’s as a teacher?

Donna: I did a lot of social building at the beginning of the day with Steven Gross books. They offer a moral at the end of each story that I then discussed with my students to help develop our classroom rules. At the end of the day with my first graders, I typically read things of high interest for them, such as the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I would also always choose books with chapters so that we could continue reading the story together throughout the week and talk about the plot, etc.

One of my favorite books to read was during Thanksgiving time and it was called A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting. It’s the humor in the book that makes it so wonderful. The book starts with Turkey, the main character, placing signs outside his door saying, “No turkey here” because he’s afraid he’ll be eaten for Thanksgiving dinner. However, a small group of animals planned a holiday feast and wanted to invite Turkey to celebrate with them. Turkey was nervously brought to the house but in the end, found out the other animals didn’t want to eat him but rather wanted his company. It’s a really cute story. 

What advice would you give to new children’s authors?

Donna: I would say, don’t make it too complicated. If it’s for young children, make it basic and simple. It’s important to be able to talk to children about the story after they’ve read it, so make sure it ties in with real life experiences. For an older child, plot is crucial.

I also tend to think that books need to be age-appropriate. Too many times, stories will talk about young teenagers getting involved in bad situations that you really wouldn’t want your child to read about as a parent. Parents shouldn’t have to monitor what books their kids are reading. So, I would say just be careful with that.

What messages do you feel are essential for kids to read about today?

Donna: Just given the flavor of today’s politics, important messages for kids to read about are to treat other people as you would want to be treated, value opinions of others, and always try your best to help whenever possible.

Do you have anything else you would like readers of this Q&A to know?

Donna: Just go out and conquer. The more you read, the better. Also, try to experience what you read about. If you’re reading about animals, go to the zoo. If you’re reading about musical instruments, go to the orchestra.

The Space Coast Symphony Orchestra always has a program available for schools. In the past, the orchestra came into my classroom to demonstrate sound to my students through instruments. It was an excellent experience for them to see how an instrument’s string length makes the pitch high or low.