Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012 for her first book, Carole P. Roman started writing as a dare from one of her sons. Using an imaginary game she played with her grandson as a base, Captain No Beard was born. It has followed with 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…” combines her teaching past with her love of exploration and interest in the world around us.
Writing for children has opened up a whole second act for her. While she is still working in her family business, this has enabled her to share her sense of humor as well as love for history and culture with the audience she adores. Roman lives on Long Island with her husband and near her children.
Tyler: We’re going to talk about If You Were Me and Lived In…South Korea, but that is one of many countries you’ve featured and plan to feature in your series, I understand. To begin, will you tell us a little about the series, why you wrote it and what you want it to accomplish?
Carole: While on vacation in Las Vegas, of all places, my grandson asked about the different hotel themes. This led to a discussion on the Eiffel Tower, pyramids in Egypt, canals in Venice, and the Coliseum in Rome. He had such a thirst to learn about them, that I went home and wrote the first book in the series, If You Were Me and Lived in…Mexico. I chose Mexico because it was our nearest neighbor, and I really knew so little about it. He was just turning four, and I wrote it directly for him — not enough information for his eyes to glaze over, but just enough for him to be interested and want more.
Tyler: Wow, Carole. I never realized Las Vegas could be so educational, but that said, often educational children’s books may have an issue of not being entertaining. What about the books do you think makes them fun and attractive for children so their eyes don’t glaze over?
Carole: My own kids will tell you that I can find a lesson anywhere. You wouldn’t believe what we got out of the southwest desert! If you were in a wagon train, tell me what you would need? What kind of people do you think traveled here? Tell me what they found? What could motivate you to leave everything to come here? I like to personalize a lesson. I never sent them to camp and we would explore all kinds of places in the tri state area and spent hours discussing what we discovered. I found with my own children that they could care less about things until it related somehow to them. Sometimes books are dated or just too clinical. I think a book should be the catalyst for the teacher or child to go to first hand sources to find out more information. What’s the use of regurgitation of information — if they aren’t getting anything out of it? When I taught, I had a lesson plan — but sometimes I let the children sweep us where we wanted to go. It was more exciting that way. I felt they learned more and it gave them an element of control. I always consider what would interest children enough for them to want to learn more. Almost 40 years ago, I was a secondary social studies teacher, and I loved teaching. There is nothing better than watching the children’s eyes light up with interest. For these books I chose a format using a bit of knowledge and their trusty imagination. (My favorite tool!) What could a child relate to? A child’s name, what you would call your parents, where you might live, what you would eat, play with, or even celebrate. It’s not dry facts and in a sense they can compare everything to the way they live wherever home is for them.
Tyler: South Korea is not likely to be a country children know anything about. What made you decide to choose it as one of the first countries featured in this series?
Carole: After Mexico, we ate at a French restaurant, so that followed. I had my manicure and started discussing South Korea, the homeland of the girls who worked there. They were so proud of their customs, I was excited to honor them with a book. The next day, we had lunch in a Turkish restaurant. I started asking questions right away. Everyone is so happy to share information about their home. I then looked at a globe and decided to pick countries that were very diverse and very far away from each other. I selected Norway, and then Kenya so we basically had five very different countries from each “corner” of the globe. Within four days, I had five countries already, and more planned. My very first Captain No Beard fan is a little boy whose mother came from India, so I wrote one for him, and lastly, a good friend asked me to include Australia for her.
Tyler: What are some of the things about South Korea that children will learn in this book?
Carole: They will learn that names are very different sounding. They will learn where on the globe they can find South Korea and the capital city. They will learn about the currency, what you call your parents, where you would go if you had a guest, what your favorite foods might be and learn about a holiday or celebration. Things that a child can grab onto and can compare to his or her life. It’s an excellent springboard for the educator to take the lesson where it’s appropriate for the level of their group.
Tyler: I understand the book is for preschool and kindergarten ages? Isn’t that awful young to be learning geography and about other cultures. It’s younger than I remember learning about those things in school. Do most parents or teachers seem surprised by a book that teaches social studies type topics to such young children?
Carole: I have gone to many schools to read my Captain No Beard series and introduced the cultural series. It has been embraced by the teachers. They complain there is nothing for this age group. We live in a global society, children are exposed all day to new and exciting things. My dry cleaner is Egyptian, the green grocer is Korean, and there are 15 different ethnic restaurants on my block. My little granddaughter loves sushi. Every child knows Dora, Handy Manny, and Kai Lan from television. Children are fascinated with the things that make us similar or different. When I read the books out loud, so many children added that they loved spicy kimcee, or their nanny comes from Mexico. You would be surprised at how much they related to.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about the illustrations and how they add to the lessons learned in the book?
Carole: CreateSpace once again provided a wonderful artist. I asked her to draw ethnically correct children without stereotyping. We discussed pictures over illustrations and went with her illustrations because they felt right. I told her I wanted to be respectful, accurate, and relatable. She mixed it with photos for texture, on things like the cobblestones, or sweaters. I love them. They are interesting and have a wealth of information a teacher can choose to explore. What does the market tell us about the country; is it like our mall, our own supermarket? What do you think you can get here, you can’t get here? Is it industrial or rural? These are all things children can pull from the illustrations.
Tyler: Carole, do you have any advice for teachers about how they might include this book and series in their lesson plans or use it to teach children more about South Korea and other cultures?
Carole: Each page is a lesson plan on its own. A teacher can ask children to describe the country from the housing, currency, or even type of food. If we look at the money, does it describe a monarchy, is it rural, rich or poor, heavy or light? Is the food fresh, diverse, fish or meat, what can you tell of the landscape from the type of food people eat? A teacher can make it as broad or specific as possible. You can ask the children to go to the supermarket and find one item from that country. What does it tell us about where it came from, the packaging? What does it tell you about the United States? I would add a pen pal to each unit for the class to write to.
Tyler: If children only get one thing out of this book and series, what do you hope it will be?
Carole: Tolerance! If we learn about people and their customs, we will learn that people are basically the same all over the world. We don’t have to be scared of our differences or make fun of what we don’t understand. Knowledge is power. It is the power to overcome prejudice.
Tyler: That’s really true, Carole. And I love that you included a book about Turkey. I went there last year and so many people told me I was crazy to go because it’s a Muslim country so they assumed it wasn’t safe. I loved Turkey. The people there were wonderful and they all seemed to have studied at the University of Michigan or had a cousin in Seattle, or some connection to the United States. It really is a small world. Have you experienced any resistance, though, from kids, parents, or teachers, to having children learn about foreign countries, and what would you say to them if that happened?
Carole: The whole series has been embraced by parents, teachers, as well as the people I interviewed for the books. When I approached the waiter in the Turkish restaurant, he brought over his manager to help describe what he couldn’t explain. The girls in the manicure salon gathered around and were very specific about facts that should be included. I have not seen anything negative, and knowing these books were written for the very young, I decided to stay away from “hot” topics like religion or politics. I really wrestled with this, but felt I may miss an important nuance or belief, and I stayed away from religious holidays — kept it national. While religion is important, it’s a multi-layered concept, and can get complicated. A parent or teacher can decide if they want to take it to the next level and discuss it. Certainly, in the Turkey book, I have a picture of the Hagia Sofia, as well as a woman with a head scarf. I think I would urge people to read the book and decide for themselves what they wish to share. As you stated, many people in Turkey had relatives here. Given the popularity of the Travel Channel and the Food Network, as well as multicultural children’s programing, I don’t think anyone will shy away from the information in these books, or find it controversial.
Tyler: Have you visited any of the countries you’ve written about or do you plan to so you can do research in the future?
Carole: I have been all over Europe and the Middle East with my family. We traveled yearly until recently. I do my research by speaking to as many people I can find from the country. I have even called the consulates to tweak my facts. Of the countries I chose to highlight in this batch, I have only been to Turkey and France. I do love to travel, but work keeps me close to home right now.
Tyler: I understand you’ve also won some awards for your books?
Carole: Not yet for this series, but I’m hopeful. However, the first book in my Captain No Bear series won the Pinnacle Award for 2013 and was also given the Star of Remarkable Merit by Kirkus, and the second book in the series, Pepper Parrot’s Problem with Patience was given 5 Stars by the Foreword Review.
Tyler: Where will the series go next, Carole? What other countries do you plan to include and how do you decide which countries to focus on?
Carole: I would like to hold a contest and let a winner decide the next country. I love these books, and hope they catch on. If they do and after I have done one for every country — I would like to do “If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient Rome or Tudor England.” I’d like to explore what life was like for children in different eras of time. And my kids say I should write “If You Were Me and Lived…on the Moon.”
Tyler: Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what other information we can find there?
Carole: The books are all for sale on Amazon.com as well as Barnes and Noble.com. You can get them on Kindle as well. My website is here.Powered by Sidelines