“A blessed thing happened to me. I had a teacher who read to me” -Bill Martin Jr.
It’s been hectic at our house this week, but I found some inspiration from one of my favorite children’s authors, Bill Martin Jr. He and I share Midwest roots; he actually worked in my hometown in Kansas at one point in his life. I was shocked to learn that he couldn’t read well until he went to college….but he was read to by his 5th grade teacher and fell in love with words and stories.
He remembers, “Miss Davis never missed a day reading to us. Reading aloud was an integral part of her ambitions for us kids. When we begged her to continue a reading session, she often complied, knowing (as children do) that a good story refuses to be left alone. It keeps nagging one to continue. That kind of nagging is life’s most pleasant reading instruction”.
“Even when type on a page didn’t make sense to me, I considered myself a reader — because I loved the sound and the cadence of the language, the power of narrative, and the images words concocted in my mind…I don’t write books, I talk them. Of course, words do get set down on paper at some point, but that’s not where I begin. My writing process is talking; I talk a story through many times to see if I’m saying what I mean. I need to hear what I have to say”.
“I wrote Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? on a Long Island Railroad train. I got on the train at the Plandome station, the first stop after Port Washington, and thirty-three minutes later, when we arrived at Penn Station, I had completed Brown Bear. I had the entire story worked out in my head. No one else could share the joy I was feeling about the story until I got to my office; in fact, the person in the seat behind me on the train had glanced at me a few times because I muttered the lines aloud to get the rhythm of the language just right”.
“Brown Bear was a sort of watershed for me. I saw what children were able to do with that story and I became more courageous in creating rhythmic, highly patterned stories”.
Here is an interview from Reading Rockets where he shares how he wrote “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” This is a great example of how lyrical and rhythmic the story is as a read (or sing)-aloud.