For this week's Writer Wednesday feature, we were fortunate enough to interview Jean Ciborowski Fahey, author, editor, and consultant for early/family literacy. Her book, "Make Time for Reading," is the true story of her daughter Eva's journey towards literacy. In one of many articles regarding this book, the Cape Cod Times writes that, "The text and illustrations on the right-hand side of the book are a delightful children's story about Eva learning to read. The text on the left side of the book offers a different tip for parents to encourage literacy in their own children. Fahey adopted Eva from China and as a mother with a Ph.D. in education, she knew the importance of reading to children from the moment they are born."
To learn more about Jean and her work, read the responses from her interview below!
Why do you write? What inspired you to begin writing?
I was inspired to write for the growing number of young parents who have difficulty reading, or who are learning to read English.
For these readers, words get in the way of comprehension, often-times because there are too many words, clichés, idioms and/or poorly organized texts. Yet for the first generation to raise readers and writers among the second generation, it’s important that parents have a minimum of functional literacy.
So I wrote a story about how a little girl’s parents prepare her for her journey toward literacy because story or narrative makes content more accessible. Story has a beginning, middle and end – a familiar structure to many of us who were fed a steady diet of oral and written Once-Upon-a-Times.
What have you written?
Many years ago, I wrote Textbooks and the Students Who Can’t Read Them published by Brookline Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although the book experienced some success with teachers of middle school students, I became more interested in writing directly to the child’s first teacher, the parent.
I wrote a book called Make Time for Reading: a story guide for parents of babies and young children. The book was compiled by collecting parents’ questions about learning-to-read which I combined with the science of how the brain gets wired to read long before children learn-to-read.
The book contains: 1) parent tips; 2) talking points for those who work with parents; and, 3) a once-upon-a-time-story about how a little girl gets ready to read. The more parents read the story, the more they learn how to build a foundation for reading in their own children. The illustrations and photos of Asian, Hispanic, Black and White families bring to life the universal journey of how children get ready-to-read. And because the guide is written as a Once-Upon-a-Time verse of how a little girl prepares for lifelong reading, the messages are easily accessible to parents who cannot read well or who are learning to read English.
What advice would you give to a novice writer?
Make an agreement with yourself to create a writing schedule and keep it. Nothing is more empowering than honoring one’s own word especially around matters of the heart, the soul and writing. I would look to design a life where the distinction between work (writing) and play (writing) steadily disappears. When writing is integrated into the day to day task of also earning a living, then practice pays off and one moves with more velocity toward mastery.
I would also explore crowd funding as a way to self-publish.
Raising my own money to pay for an illustrator, book designer, attorney and initial print run helped me build a base of support for marketing the book. I requested money from 175 family members, friends and colleagues. Seventy-two responded to help me raise about $9,000 in 2 months.
I have sold about 12,000 books in 3 years mostly to a small number of investors who buy the book to donate. In return, I brand the inside of the book with their logo. I sell individual books on my web site: www.readingfarm.net. For bulk orders, I share price points with potential investors.
What projects are you currently working on?
I have translated my book into Spanish because I want to share what I know with the growing number of Latino families of babies, toddlers and young children. Here is a short video that explains the book and how I want to reach this important market.
What drew you towards work in the field of literacy?
I assert that literacy is access to a bigger world.
I spent 15 years at Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School assessing children/youth with reading difficulties. As a result of seeing the toll that reading problems take on children and their families, I became an unwavering stand for building parent capacities as a way to improve child outcomes.
And given the roots of literacy form in infancy, what better place than the birthing place to begin the conversations about preparing our children to be proficient readers and writers? So I co-founded the South Shore Hospital Reading Partnership to educate the community about the profound opportunity parents have to build a reading brain in a child’s first 5 years, and thereby prevent many children from experiencing early reading problems.
Now I teach about reading and writing to expectant parents, new Moms, teachers, home visitors, high-school students, librarians, teen parents, foster grandparents and child care providers. I speak on topics such as: How the Baby Brain Gets Wired to Learn to Read; Effects of Family Literacy Practices on Children’s Readiness to Read; The Journey Toward Literacy Begins at Birth; Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, and Teaching Parents with Low Reading Skills to Raise Readers. I teach in hospital classrooms, museums, libraries, shopping malls, Rotaries, state and national conferences, early intervention programs, Head Starts, YMCA’s, shelters for families without homes and playgrounds. The Reading Partnership was filmed for national TV and I have been a guest on NPRadio several times. Further, I am an annual research proposal reviewer for American Academy of Pediatrics REACH OUT & READ Young Investigator Awards. I also spent 7 years as an Adjunct Professor in the graduate program of Language and Literacy at Lesley University.
What question do you wish you’d been asked about your work? What is the answer?
This is a good question- a question about questions. I wished I had been asked how I intended to market my book so that I could gather a few marketing experts to join me in the initial phases of self-publishing Make Time.
If I had been asked, the answer would have been “I have no idea.” Perhaps that would have triggered an intervention and I would have avoided a few costly mistakes. But on the other hand, I am my mother’s daughter. And my Mother often told me about the great teacher called mistakes and indeed how instructional they often are.
For more information contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My books are available ONLY at www.readingfarm.net.
See my Facebook page: Make Time for Reading