Words on a Limb Interviews Eric Litwin

EricWe were ever so fortunate to spend a moment with the entertaining storyteller, musician, teacher and prolific author of the first four Pete the Cat picturebooks, Eric Litwin … Mr. Eric. He is also the author of the new musical series The Nuts.

He has spent the better part of his career championing literacy through music and movement, particularly impacting new and emerging readers. Eric has travelled across the US, Canada and abroad spreading the message of building creative communities where children feel confident tackling their first reading experience, and having a fun time along the way.

He spoke to us from his home in Atlanta, where he is busy dreaming up the further adventures of the Nut Family. Here is his story:


Where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid? What still holds true for you?
I grew up in Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson, a small town in the Hudson River Valley. It’s very beautiful there. As a kid I would say I was creative and quiet. I loved to read.

This is an interesting question, I give about 300 performances every year, where I entertain in front of a group, it’s hard to claim that I’m introverted and shy, but I will say that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt shy.

You have been a teacher. What were your influences encouraging you towards writing?
Wonderful question! I was a special needs teacher. I have a masters degree in both education and administration. My main interest in education was to get my students engaged and interested in reading, and feel empowered about reading. I was also a musician at night, focusing on getting my audience involved with a lot of folk type of music with interactivity. So I started using music and movement along with interactive techniques. My influences were folk tales and songs – the whole American oral tradition of music and stories.

Tell us the story about the first turning point of your career?
I taught for 3 years – I found my favourite part of teaching was creating the content and writing the story. I realized this was where my greatest gift was, so I left the classroom to create content and performances. I became a very popular performer, doing 200-300 performances every year for almost 10 years. I would perform in schools, libraries – during assemblies. Believe it or not, it was during these performances that I started to develop a writing style, which I now call interactive literacy, because I don’t have a better name for it. It basically means stories told with sing-alongs and move-alongs. There’s call-response and repetition. These techniques engage the audience and they engage the reader. It not only makes a great performance piece, but it also makes it a great early reader. That was the key to the first four Pete the Cat books.

So during those ten years I guess I did what Malcolm Gladwell calls putting in your 10,000 hours. I wrote the story of a little girl and her white shoes. It was the best story I’d ever written, I knew it was special. It was a story that would work with different characters so I would swap her out for a cool cat or cool dog. Some time after, I saw Pete the Cat at an art festival, he was a folk art character created by illustrator James Dean. I felt that this cat and the story of the girl with her white shoes were a good fit. I had a vision to blend early literacy, folk art and music together.

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Back-to-School Favourites

GravatarHere it is – a collection of my favourite Back-to-School literature. Some are new, others are older classics. Please feel free to share your discovered gems in the Reply box below. I will continue to update this list, so please come back and check again (because we can never have too many).


The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten
Maureen Fergus
Kids Can Press

A kindergartener invites her mom to class and discovers there are some things kids are better at than parents. This book makes a perfect gift for readers who are about to start or have recently started school.


Llama Llama Misses Mama (Llama Llama)
Anna Dewdney
Viking Juvenile

Strange new teacher.
Strange new toys.
Lots of kids and lots of noise!

What would Llama like to do?

Llama Llama feels so new . . .

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of preschool! And Llama Llama’s mama makes sure he’s ready. They meet the teachers. See the other children. Look at all the books and games. But then it’s time for Mama to leave. And suddenly Llama Llama isn’t so excited anymore. Will Mama Llama come back?

Of course she will. But before she does, the other children show Llama Llama how much fun school can be!

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More of my favourite picture books …

Lora-Mauricio - 0018Here are some more of my favourite picture books.  In fact, you will find them all nestled in my kids’ book cases in their rooms.
Enjoy!


 

Back into Mommy's Tummy
Back into Mommy’s Tummy
Readers pick
by Thierry Robberecht
On her fifth birthday, a little girl has an unusual birthday wish. She wants to go back to being a baby in her mother’s tummy. That way she’d never have to go to bed early, and she’d always be close to her mommy. But when she realizes that babies in tummies can’t go to birthday parties or play with their friends, it suddenly doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Could the real reason for her wish be that there’s a new baby in Mommy’s tummy already?
Playfully exaggerated illustrations convey the child’s complex emotions about a new baby and capture the gentle humor of this fresh take on sibling rivalry.

Pete The Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Pete The Cat: I Love My White Shoes
by Eric Litwin
Pete the Cat goes walking down the street wearing his brand new white shoes. Along the way, his shoes change from white to red to blue to brown to WET as we steps in piles of strawberries, blueberries and other big messes! But no matter what color his shoes are are, Pete keeps movin’ and groovin’ and singing his song…because it’s all good.

 
 


Bear's Loose ToothBear’s Loose Tooth
by Karma Wilson

Bear and his friends are munching on their lunch when, all of sudden, Bear feels something wiggling and wobbling in his mouth. Oh, no! What can it be? It’s Bear’s first loose tooth!

From a cave in the forest
came a MUNCH, MUNCH, CRUNCH!
as Bear and his friends
all nibbled on their lunch. 

Bear and his friends are munching on their lunch, when all of sudden Bear feels something wiggling and wobbling in his mouth. Oh, no! What can it be? It’s Bear’s first loose tooth!

In the first Bear book in three years, Bear’s friends ease his concerns about his wiggly, wobbly tooth and help him understand losing a baby tooth is perfectly natural. This funny and reassuring story will delight anyone who’s ever had a loose tooth.


Where the Wild Things AreWhere the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max’s room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins. But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco
There’s nothing worse than a rotten redheaded older brother who can do everything you can do better! Patricia’s brother Richard could run the fastest, climb the highest, and spit the farthest and still smile his extra-rotten, greeny-toothed, weasel-eyed grin. But when little Patricia wishes on a shooting star that she could do something — anything — to show him up, she finds out just what wishes — and rotten redheaded older brothers — can really do. Patricia Polacco’s boldly and exuberantly painted pictures tell a lively and warmhearted tale of comic one-upsmanship and brotherly love.

My Wild Sister and Me
My Wild Sister and Me
by Iris Wewer
Having a wild big sister—who can be a giraffe one day, a giant bear the next, and a racing rabbit the day after that—is just about the very best thing that can happen to little brother.  Iris Wewer’s rollicking illustrations perfectly match this playful story of imagination and adventure!

 
 


The Gruffalo's Child
The Gruffalo’s Child
by Julia Donaldson
The Gruffalo said that no gruffalo should Ever set foot in the deep dark wood. But one wild and windy night the Gruffalo’s child ignores her father’s warning and tiptoes out into the snow. After all, the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t really exist …does he? Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are on dazzling form in this captivating sequel to the classic picture book “The Gruffalo”.

 


The Keeping Quilt
The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco
“We will make a quilt to help us always remember home,” Anna’s mother said. “It will be like heaving the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night.And so it was. From a basket of old clothes, Anna’s babushka, Uncle Vladimir’s shirt, Aunt Havalah’s nightdress and an apron of Aunt Natasha’s become The Keeping Quilt, passed along from mother to daughter for almost a century. For four generations the quilt is a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket that welcomes babies warmly into the world.
In strongly moving pictures that are as heartwarming as they are real, Patricia Polacco tells the story of her own family, and the quilt that remains a symbol of their enduring love and faith.

Penelope and the Humongous Burp
Penelope and the Humongous Burp
by Sheri Radford 
Let’s face it… kids think bodily functions are hilarious. Enter our charming little heroine, Penelope, who literally brings down the house with her boisterous belching.
Summon the doctors! Phone the fire fighters! Call the police! Too thirsty to heed her mother’s warnings, Penelope soon learns the disastrous consequences of gulping a few glass of grape soda too quickly! This first misadventure in the Penelope series will win kids over from the very first page and teach them a thing or two about manners by the last.

Don't Forget to Come Back!
Don’t Forget to Come Back!
by Robie H. Harris

With warmth, empathy, and a healthy dose of hilarity, Robie H. Harris captures the many emotions children feel when parents go out and a babysitter comes in!

Guess what? The babysitter is coming!

That means:

1. Mommy and Daddy are going out
2. the feisty heroine of this book is not going out . . .
3. and she doesn’t like that one bit!

Parents, kids, and babysitters alike will relate to and laugh at this all-too-familiar tale, wisely and wittily penned by an expert in child development and brought wickedly to life with detailed illustrations by a noted New Yorker cartoonist.


Franny B. Kranny, There's a Bird in Your Hair!
Franny B. Kranny, There’s a Bird in Your Hair!
by Harriet Lerner

Franny B. Kranny’s long, frizzy hair is big trouble. It ties itself in knots on the buttons of her dress and gets stuck in the refrigerator door! But Franny B. Kranny loves her hair. She refuses to cut it and is furious when she has to get a fancy new hairdo for a family reunion. Then a bird decides to make Franny B. Kranny’s hair its home, and suddenly Franny B. Kranny starts to like her new hairdo….

Best-selling author and psychologist Harriet Lerner and her big sister, biologist Susan Goldhor, co-authored the children’s book What’s So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?. They team up again here with this hilarious and heartfelt story about daring to be different. World-renowned British illustrator Helen Oxenbury brings Franny B. Kranny, her wild hair, and her unique family delightfully to life.

Children’s Choice Award winner for 2002.


Penelope and the Monsters
Penelope and the Monsters
by Sheri Radford
Penelope won’t go to sleep. Never ever not in a million trillion gazillion years. Her father doesn’t believe her, but Penelope knows there are monsters lurking in the dark. How else can she explain the dancing drawers, creeeeaking closet, and bounce-bouncing bed? Will Penelope have the confidence to turn on the lights and call out the things that go bump in the night?
Our spunky heroine takes on gnomes and trolls and giants with the same comic flair that brought down the house in Penelope and the Humongous Burp.

Do Not Open

Do Not Open
Miss moody lived at land’s end with Captain Kidd. Captain Kidd wasn’t the famous pirate; he was a cat. One morning after a storm, Miss Moody found him washed up on the beach. He was nearly drowned. She nursed him until he was well, and he repaid her kindness by keeping her cottage free of mice.

  
 
 
 


John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat (Picture Puffin)
John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat
Rose lived with her dog, John Brown. `Just the two of us,’ said Rose, until the mysterious midnight cat came along, and things began to change.