Included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012 for her first book, award-winning author Carole P. Roman started writing after a dare from one of her sons. Using an imaginary game she played with her grandson as a base, Captain No Beard was born. There are now four more books to the series.
She has also written a groundbreaking new nonfiction series about culture around the world. “If You Were Me and Lived in…,” which combines her teaching past with her love of exploration and interest in the world around us.
Roman lives on Long Island with her husband and near her children.
Will you tell us a little about the “If You Were Me and Lived in …” series itself, its goals, and the age group of children it’s suitable for?
I created the series for children aged three to eight. I wrote the first book based on a conversation I had with my grandchildren when I tried to explain cultures of other countries. I wanted to do something very basic, that a three-year-old could understand and relate to. I also wanted an older child to be able to read and then expand a discussion about each area. The whole idea is for children to learn that while we all have some differences, there are things we can find in common.
What made you choose Kenya to be the newest location for the series?
When I picked countries for the series, I started with Mexico because it’s our nearest neighbor and we have so many people of Mexican descent living here in the United States. We ate at a French restaurant the next day and so I picked France. I then decided to pick countries from the “four corners” of the world and tried to choose the ones I knew very little about. Norway, South Korea, Turkey followed. I knew I was going to pick an African country and chose Kenya because of President Obama. His father came from there.
The books try to find things about different countries’ culture that children can identify with. What are some of those things in Kenya they can identify with?
While some countries had many things children in the States would identify with, Kenya was more diverse. The word for mommy in the language of Kenya, Maasai, is Mzazi. They call daddy Baba. A child may feel those are somewhat familiar. I showed an illustration of children going to the Maasai Mara National Park, where they can see many different types of animals. For those who live near drive-through animal parks, perhaps they can relate. Though the children were eating goat meat for dinner, it was barbequed and I am sure many children can link cricket to baseball. Lastly, the word for school is shule and sounds similar in so many countries.
What do you think children will most enjoy about the book?
Kelsea Wierenga’s illustrations are beautiful. I would love to frame the National Park picture. I also think they will enjoy discussing the many ways life is similar and the exciting ways it is not.
I have to edit it and keep it simple. It’s really important not to overwhelm the reader with too much information. The educator or parent can expand the lesson as they see fit for their child. There are a wealth of ways to make the books come alive, like a shopping trip to the market to recreate a meal, or create your own galimoto, or homemade toys.
Will you tell us a little about the illustrations and how they add to the book and its message?
I asked Kelsea to keep the characters ethnically correct without stereotyping them. I wanted the readers to be able to place themselves in the characters’ shoes and try to experience the country from their perspective.
Would you tell us a little about your research and writing process and how you go from an idea to a manuscript ready to be published?
After I pick a country, I then start looking things up on the Internet. After I choose what I will be highlighting, I then go to other sources to make sure the information is correct. I have spoken with secretaries at the consulates; I have searched for people from these countries and read the information to them. I have an editor who helps by double checking pronunciation as well as accent marks. If we find an error after publication, I have gone back and corrected them.
I know that children’s books usually have a 32-page format, so do you have to plan out the text and illustration for each page, and do you do that yourself or do you and Kelsea do it together? Do you ever change the text because of the illustrations?
I first write my text or story and add illustrations more if I think it warrants it. I submit the text to CreateSpace with suggestions of what I would like to be presented. I work through email. The illustrator storyboards it. I respond and she will change whatever we need redone or highlighted. Sometimes I will tweak the text to match the illustration.
What would you say is your favorite fun or surprising fact that you learned about Kenya yourself in writing the book?
I am always most interested in the food. I loved reading about the Mombassa Carnival. I am thrilled when I find a thread of something connected to another culture. I just finished Russia and Greece, and was delighted when I learned they had a very similar holiday. Also, the word for doll was the same in both languages.
As an author, what do you find to be the hardest part of writing these books?
Making sure all the information is accurate. I have made a few errors and quickly corrected them. Also, there is so much terrific information and editing it down is so very hard. As much as I want to highlight more, I am afraid it will defeat the true purpose of the book as an introduction for the very young.
You mentioned earlier that you want kids to find things in common and help to break down differences. Do you think your books are able to break down prejudice and discrimination among people? Do you have any examples or stories of how they have done so or might do so?
First of all, I want to say how proud people are to share their heritage. From the diner to the dry cleaner, they are so happy to stop what they are doing and talk about their customs and rituals. I think if children learn about other customs and cultures, they will appreciate the differences and perhaps prejudice will disappear. If we are familiar and understand why people do what they do, maybe it will create a climate of tolerance. That is my ultimate goal. The office where I work is a hodgepodge of various ethnic groups. Often, each of us brings in our ethnic food to share. I find food can be a great equalizer, and then of course, they relate the stories of how their mothers or grandparents prepared it along with why. By the end of the conversation, each of us knows just a bit more of that person’s background and can relate it to our own culture.
Nine-year-old Zoey said she loved this book so much she brought it to school and her teacher read it to the class and they decided to dress up and have a Kenya day at school. How do you feel about that kind of reaction?
You just made my day!!!!! I am so glad they took it a step further. I wish you could see my smile, Tyler! That is exactly what I wanted to achieve.
Besides what I mentioned Zoya’s class did, how do you think teachers could use these books in the classroom?
A trip to the market where each child brings in a product from the country is an excellent way to learn about its resources. I find looking at the flag and discussing the reasons for the colors a great way to learn about a country’s history. Of course, I love to discuss the currency, the images and what they represent. Having a grandparent come in to tell about a major holiday and the customs surrounding it not only connects children with an older community, something we really lack here, it can be a valuable exchange and learning experience.
Do you plan more books in the series, and if so, what country or countries do you think will be next?
I have just completed Portugal and Greece. My five-year-old grandson and I did Russia together and I can’t wait to see that one published. He is doing a unit on Russia in kindergarten and asked to do a book together. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I would like to do another country in South America as well as another African nation.
Thanks again, Carole, for letting me interview you about your vicarious travels around the world through your books. Before we go, will you remind us about your website and anything there of interest to readers of the series?
Thank you Tyler. It is always a pleasure!! Readers can visit me at my website. There’s a link there to my blog and to where the books can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.Powered by Sidelines