Author Chats: Raven Howell
Children's poetry can be a small ship adrift in an endless sea of books for kids. It's a brave journey to be a poet writing for a small band of dedicated of readers who appreciate the form. Poetry is one of the few written works that can bring a sense of calm, comfort, belonging and wonder all in a few stanzas. Raven Howell writes children's poetry with an ear for the needs of readers with conditions like autism and ADHD. Her debut poetry book is Dozy Poems Cozy Days, a soothing collection for an anxious mind.
Tell us a little about you. Besides being an author, what else do you do?
I’m a full-time children’s author, writing mainly poetry and verse professionally for magazines and books for the past 25 years. The markets and the trends shift so much over the course of time, and it’s been fun to keep up with it all! I illustrate a bit also, and find drawing, coloring, and collage work a perfect addition and outlet for my creativity. It’s been fun to receive noteworthy reviews for the work on my animal art collage in my third book, Gibber, Animal Acrostics. I love artwork in general and particularly recently, have found so many talented illustrators that I enjoy following on social media.
I feel blessed being able to incorporate charity work with each one of my first three poetry picture books, donating proceeds from their sales to Autism Speaks, KaBoom! and the ASPCA and local animal shelters respectively.
What books have you written? Who is your ideal audience?
My debut book, Dozy Poems, Cozy Days, continues to have strong sales and is listed in the 2017 ALA Library Guide. The autistic and ADHD communities have been supportive of its message in delivering calm, ease, and focus. Dozy Poems was even voted “a top notch tool for ADD, ADHD and autism” a year after its release.
My second book, Spinning Circles: Action Poems, was written to inspire activity, exercise, family bond and creativity for both toddlers and their caretakers. I joined with non-profit organization, KaBoom! who create “play-spaces,” gardens and playgrounds for people of all classes and color across the nation – such a wonderful mission, and I’ve seen them create the most amazing “play spaces” from a desolate area of town – you wouldn’t believe your eyes! These beautiful parks are used now to get kids motivated to be outdoors and play and move their bodies.
My third poetry picture book is Gibber, Animal Acrostics. This fun and modern twist on an old poetry form, acrostics, was written to trigger any young reader, teen or adult imagination. A light-hearted book, here you can plunge into the mud with a pig, enjoy Christmas with a fox, and talk sense to a silly worm! A portion of the book’s proceeds is donated to the ASPCA and other animal shelters.
How do your books address the particular reading needs of Background Noise Books audiences?
Poetry has many benefits to all children including those twice-exceptional, gifted, learning disordered or disabled. In reading or writing poems, a child learns to express him or herself, become more aware of their surroundings, they can find their voice, and start inquiring.
More specifically, through rhymes and poems, children understand that there are words similar in sound but with different meanings. They learn what a pattern is, and become capable of recognizing them. They understand, through patterns, what a sequence is. They have fun memorizing rhymes which is linked to audio and visual benefits. Both listening to someone reading rhymes, or reading on their own is advantageous. Memory, patterns, and sequences are also extremely helpful for approaching math and new languages.
Which of the books you've written is your personal favorite?
That’s a tough one to answer because it’s like choosing your favorite child! Still, I may mention one of my poetry collections for children ages 7 and up, A Star Full of Sky, which will be releasing this fall through Daffydowndilly Press. It was a fun and challenging process writing this book since it had to be written in a certain format (formal metrical rhyme). Plus, a little trivia - all of the poems in that book were written literally outdoors, under the stars during the hours of twilight, midnight and dawn - a very magical time!
Who is your favorite author?
I enjoy John Irving and Sarah Addison Allen, but sticking with the poetry genre because there are far too many talented writers to mention, I simply adore and admire the children’s poems of Aileen Fisher, David McCord, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charles Ghigna, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Valerie Worth….ha! Just to name a few!
Is there a child with special needs in your family or classroom? How do you help them with reading?
I’ve had to help with Attention Deficit Disorder in my family and a cousin’s beautiful child is autistic. It’s funny how some teachers of Special Needs students are so surprised and happy when I reach out to them for school visits, and I work in many of these wonderful classrooms with terrific students! Usually, the children are all developing on different levels and different methods work for them. Regardless, I keep them engaged with activities. For example, I’ll blow bubbles if I’m reading one of my poems about bubbles. Blowing bubbles can be a fun sensory experience, and also work on oral motor skills. What's more, as I point to the bubbles and exaggerate my own reaction it helps work on joint attention, an important area for many autistic children. Another activity special needs students enjoy is playing I Spy in connection with the poetry we are reading. For students with more severe processing issues, I often describe one of two objects and have the child choose the correct one.
What are you working on next?
Presently I’m busy with fantastic book projects I’m very excited about! I have two new books scheduled for release this year (Shimmer, Songs of Night/Spork Books and A Star Full of Sky/Daffydowndilly Press), plus two more picture books being released in 2018. My October book launch for Shimmer is going to be quite a celebratory party!