Babes to Teens Past
By Beverly Rowe

Interview with Courtney Watkins


Banned books week - September 21-28
Banned Books Week - click here to see what its all about!

International Literacy Day - September 8

I take literacy and my freedom to read whatever strikes my fancy so much for granted that I tend to forget about the groups that want to censor my reading, and ban some of the best books ever written.  Ulysses by James Joyce was barred from the United States as obscene for 15 years and all of Jack London's works were banned in Italy and Yugoslavia as being too radical.  In the U. S. "Little Red Riding Hood," "Little Black Sambo," and even the Harry Potter Series have been banned in some places. It is generally conceded that some versions of "Little Black Sambo" were banned because of the illustrations rather than the text.  You can see the various illustrations here: The Story of Little Black Sambo.  (Scroll down the page for the whole story.)

I'm not sure I would have grown  with the same sense of compassion, if I had not been allowed to read the frequently banned "Huckleberry Finn."  It was one of the books that started my lifelong love of reading. I still remember laughing until my sides hurt over the passage where Huck's Pa kicked the washtub.  Oh, yes, I'll grant you, there was some racism and child abuse in the story, but to prevent generations of children from reading it is shameful. Many of the books that contain a great deal of racism show children why it is bad.

Even the Holy Bible was banned in the old Soviet Union, and some versions of the Bible in other countries...even the U. S.

Here is the link to an interesting site all about banned books: Banned BooksOnline.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them."  - Ray Bradbury, in Reader's Digest, January 1994.

Hey, Kids....don't forget that September 8 is GRANDPARENT'S DAY.

August's Question was: "What is the best way to break the ice with the new kid in school and begin a friendship?"

Answer: Talk to them at lunch, joke around some, and reach out to them in class.

Sent in by: A. Bullard, MI


Courtney Watkins
Courtney's Creative Adventures

I just finished reading "Courtney's Creative Adventures."  What an exciting imagination Courtney Watkins has!  This book puts at end to boredom!  Here's what Courtney had to say....


Courtney: Beverly, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for my book! I am really excited about it and am delighted to be able to share my story with your readers.   

And I have to tell you, when I was a kid-- I would spend hours creating questionnaires for me to fill out -- so I'm in heaven with this request! 


Bev: What was your source of inspiration and what gave you the idea for your book?  How long did you work on it? I think there is still a little girl inside for you to come up with all the anti-boredom ideas you have. Tell us about your childhood. 

Courtney: The idea for "Courtney's Creative Adventures" came about through a conversation with Megan Tingley (who was to become my future editor at Little, Brown).  Having sent her a couple of very specific ideas for kid books along with my background, she wondered if I had a broader idea on my specialty -- creativity for kids.  Loving a mission, I told her I'd root around in my grey matter and see what I could come up with.  Hmmm?  For two days, the assignment brewed between my ears -- and then one afternoon while helping Tate, my dog look for squirrels ... the idea hit!  Kablam! "Hey, I'm gonna spill the beans on the best secret I know!" I dashed back to my studio and began to write, to reveal the secret.  The secret to a fun, funny and creative childhood that has served me so well as an adult.  Essentially, in both words and pictures, my autobiography...up to age ten.

This "tell-all" story that reveals ideas for things to squish, wonder about, play, squint at, invent, decorate, imagine, investigate, puzzle over and dream is from my real-life adventures as a kid.  Because the story was all there in my head, it sped out and onto the paper -- words and pictures.  The most frustrating part was being forced to take breaks -- though my mind raced on ... my hand couldn't keep up and I'd have to stop and soak my mitt in bowls of warm water.


Bev: Who had the greatest influence on your life?

Courtney: My Mom, especially -- she is a magical, exciting, interested and interesting person.  She continues to be a GREAT influence.  As kids, she showed us (my big brother, Tuc and me) how to unearth the possibilities within everyday -- through games, questions, activities and projects. My Mom taught me to really look; to be curious.  And if ever we'd say, "Ugh!  I'm bored!" My Mom would respond-- "Oh?  Then let's clean out the garage!"  Talk about becoming self-sufficient in finding an antidote for boredom! 

My dad gave me the gift of words.  At age four, he taught me to give our dog commands... backwards:  "Tis!"  "Nwod!"  I was hooked on word play when I saw the dog comply.  My dad, aka T. D. (the daddy) would toss a few foreign language phrases my way -- and helpful ones, too like: Quanto anos tiene su gato gordo?  And this began my journey into studying foreign languages which led me to France as an exchange student at age 15.  At dinner, he would pose interesting questions like- "How much is a bunch of nines?" or "Who was wearing red today?" 

My parents' gifts of keen sight and word play have been and still are invaluable tools.


Bev: What kind of books did you read as a child?  Who was your favorite author?

Courtney: I loved reading as a kid! The way my mom introduced us to the library was so exciting -- little did we know it was good for us -- this reading thing.  She would exclaim, "Choose any book -- whatever you like!" And she made a big deal about getting our library cards.  We felt extremely special to be part of the library, ooing and aweing at the royal treasures lined up on the shelves just waiting to come home with us!

My parents both read to us when we were little and then were very attentive audiences when we became readers ourselves.  Often times throughout grade school, we would read aloud from chapter books -- embarking on a shared adventure even at ages 10, 11, 12.  I now see how much time was spent nurturing a love for stories which in turn broadened our perspective and introduced us to the idea of endless possibilities.

Some of my favorite books over the course of my childhood include: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. (One of the highest praises from my Mom comes from this book -- when she was especially proud of something we'd done she'd exclaim, "Oh!   I feel just like Mrs. Mallard!"  and Tuc and I would beam with delight!); Corduroy by Don Freeman; The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse; Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins; Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey; Sylvester and the Magic  Pebble by William Steig; The Kingdom and the Cave by Joan Aiken; Bridge to Terabithia By Katherine Paterson; Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell; The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol; anything by Ed Emberley -- from whose books I learned to draw.


Bev: What do you read recreationally now?

Courtney: Of the books that I'm reading with my little friends summer, two favorites are This is My Hair by Todd Parr and Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley.
As for me, I always have a book going -- many are recommendations from my husband Jeff who is a voracious reader.  We both really enjoyed A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin which we read aloud one summer.  And I know I sound like I live in an herbal tea commercial -- but I highly recommend reading aloud with your family members regardless of age.  Try it -- you'll like it!  I also loved Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden; My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok; The Passion by Jeanette Winterson; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Currently, I'm in the middle of The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve -- don't tell me what happens!


Bev: Do you have any great website recommendations for kids?

Courtney: In addition to: and -- both great resources to find a good "kid" read, a new favorite place is


Bev: Tell us about "The Backyard."

Courtney: The Backyard is a creative enrichment program for children that I developed to entertain, inspire and bolster kids with an I-can-do confidence.  As an antidote to "I'm bored!"-- New York kids learned HOW to discover the possibilities in every day through art, play, language and games.  Now, living in Los Angeles, I miss those energetic, brain-buzzing afternoons in the Village with my school-age friends.  However, in other formats, I'm sharing those very same ideas from my New York program through my book and on various TV programs including HGTV's "Smart Solutions." (See, key word: Courtney Watkins.)


Bev: What else are you involved with now?

Courtney: I'm excited to go out there and "show n' tell" my book -- on TV, in bookstores, at schools -- to share creative ideas with kids, parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers.  Because this is a book with very tangible ideas, I'll demonstrate and draw and do while I talk.  I taught school for seven years -- using all of the material collected in my book -- so, here's the PLUS... "Courtney's Creative Adventures" is like vitamins for a child's mind!  Used as a resource book, parents and teachers will discover new ways to foster creativity, communication, self-esteem, independence and problem-solving. It's a book of creative adventures designed to inspire, enthuse and bolster the spirit and provide the skills for discovering the "Aha!" and entertainment of the everyday.


Bev: Did you do the illustrations for "Courtney's Creative Adventures?"

Courtney: Yes!  I wrote and illustrated the book -- the two go hand in hand when I'm writing, helping to literally illustrate my point, a pictorial cousin of adjectives, you could say.  Similarly, when I talk -- I speak with my hands.  You want me on your Charades team for sure!


Bev: Do you have other books planned?  Where do you plan to go from here?

Courtney: Of all the zillion projects I've been involved in, my favorite so far has been writing this book.  The process involves everything I would choose to do even if I won the lottery!  Combining words, pictures, "Ahas!"; stories and ideas is my dream job! 

I do have other ideas in mind (and in hand!) and would love to continue in this vein of writing and illustrating.  Certainly, I could write another hundred pages of real-life creative adventures -- I was a busy kid. Another idea I'm excited about is my fast, funny and foolproof invention for learning a foreign language that I call See It - Say It.

With the idea of being spontaneous in creativity, I have designed a series of 'creative adventure' kits for kids. And I'm exploring the possibilities of a television or video series version of "Courtney's Creative Adventures."  I'm picturing an engaging how-to/check this out/did-ja-know sort of thing. 

With a degree in advertising, too- I love to look at the market place and discover where there is a need and niche for my creative ideas.  The bottom line is, I am so grateful for the gift of an enriching, entertaining, thought-provoking, boundless childhood that I'm determined to share the secret with as many people as possible.


Bev: How hard is it to get a children's book published in today's market?

Courtney: Persevere!  Talk up your project.  Make contacts.  I sent out my first idea when I was 22 and was certain there'd be a huge, national-headline, bidding war!  Ahem, this wasn't the case.  But I persisted -- honing my craft of writing and illustrating and gaining experience as a teacher, tutor and exposure as the "creative thinker" on TV.  I kept coming up with ideas -- and executing them -- I feel this is the key.  Make your idea real -- something tangible to see, read, hold, walk around, share, enjoy, consider -- regardless what your medium is.  Remember the old joke, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" Practice, practice, practice!  And connect with people in the field via friends and query letters.  Through a group of my students' parents who knew about and championed my ideas, my work landed on the desk of Megan Tingley, my editor at Little, Brown.


Bev: Do you have advice for beginning children's authors?

Courtney: "Write about what you know!"  Oft repeated, this is such good advice.  What better way to spin a colorful tale than from a familiar base?  Grab a few real-life moments from your memory to bolster your story, dialogue, setting, description. Recollect the view from your childhood bedroom window. The feel of creek mud between your toes.  The smells of the city.  The funny things your grandmother said. The butterflies from the first day of school.  You have a ton of "slices of life" on file in your head!


Bev: Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share with us?

Courtney: For parents who want their children to be interested in reading -- introduce the idea in a fun and whimsical manner.  Warning: If kids get a whiff that reading is good for them -- you'll be serving up a plate of Brussels sprouts.  Blech!  Opening the doors onto new worlds, this reading thing is fun -- make it so!  Exclaim, "Choose any book at all!"  Celebrate, "Your very own library card!"  Shout, "Off we go on an adventure!" as you turn the first page.

Share the stories that you loved as a kid.  While reading, ask questions like, "What would you do if you were the cat?" or "How do you think the little sister is feeling?" or "What is your favorite thing about this page?"  Asking questions begins a dialogue -- and we all know that talking with kids is essential!  Engaging in daily conversation from the onset provides a base of communication that can grow throughout the teen years.

Wishing you and the kids in your life a zillion, colorful, real-life creative adventures starting... NOW! 

Bev: Courtney, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.  You have such wonderful ideas, and so much's just contagious!  I'm ready to go have an adventure...I guess I'll go see if I can find some grandsons to explore with me!

Celebrate Literacy:   KidBibs

Cool Stuff to Do:   Kids Domain

Kid's Writing Contests:   Amazing Kids! Contests 

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