Authors Corner Interview with Mango Publishing Group

This was fun…

I was featured in the Authors Corner on Mango Publishing Group’s new website recently. Check it out! You’ll find out what I think about Distance Learning during COVID-19, actual vs. electronic books, and how to make sure your child keeps learning no matter what our future circumstances bring. Just follow the link below…

My Chat with a Brit Down Under

Kate Foster wears quite a few hats. Children’s author, editor, agent, blogger, and promoter of other writers. She lives in Australia now by way of a small village in the south east of England. I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently about my writing/teaching career and The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence.

Check out our conversation here.

How the Love of Reading Saved Oprah’s Life and Unlocked Her Potential

Why Oprah’s early life of poverty, neglect, and abuse wasn’t the final word…

She’s one of the wealthiest, most powerful women in the world. She has excelled in every form of media. Her stamp of approval on anything in almost any sphere influences thousands. Maybe millions.

But when you consider her early years, the trajectory of Oprah’s extraordinary life is not one anyone would ever have predicted. Here are the facts:

  • She was born a black child to an impoverished unmarried teenage mother in the deep south in 1954
  • Oprah’s spent her earliest year living with her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae who taught her to read by age three, took her to church, and believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ “Oprah was beaten almost daily.” (Krohn, Katherine E, “Oprah Winfrey: Global Media Leader,” USA Today)
  • Because they were so poor, she wore potato sacks for dresses and was made fun of
  • At age six Oprah went to live with her mother whose work as a maid left little time for her
  • An uncle molested her when she was nine years old.
  • At 14, Oprah ran away from home, became pregnant, and had a son who died shortly after birth

There’s scant reason to believe that a person with a background such as Oprah’s could overcome it and become not only functional, but an extraordinary success story.

So, what happened?

Although she had stayed with him intermittently in her younger years, as a teen Oprah went to live permanently with her father Vernon who was instrumental in helping her turn her life around. For the first time, she had consistent structure and encouragement. According to Oprah,

“…every single week of my life I lived with them I had to read library books and that was the beginning of my book club. Who knew? I was reading books and had to do book reports in my own house. Now, at 9 years old, nobody wants to have to do book reports in addition to what the school is asking you to do, but my father’s insistence that education was the open door to freedom is what allows me to stand here today a free woman.”

Unquestionably, Oprah exhibited innate intelligence and verbal gifts as a child—she learned to read by age three and her grandmother recalled her playing at interviewing her corncob doll. But the combination of loving discipline and bi-monthly trips to the library was the catalyst that changed her world. “We would go to the library and would draw books every two weeks. I would take out five books, and I would have a little reading time every day.” In high school, Oprah became an honors student and was voted Most Popular Girl. Her transformation had begun.

Poverty, neglect, and abuse are part of Oprah’s story, but they don’t define her now. Falling in love with books became the key that unlocked her intelligence, her innate verbal and empathetic gifts, and her ability to imagine a different life for herself. Reading opened new worlds for her and empowered Oprah to move out, little by little, into a life beyond the limitations and suffering of her childhood.

Source material:

Reading for Life: Oprah Winfrey,” American Libraries Magazine, May 25, 2011

“A Childhood Biography of Oprah Winfrey,” Blackfacts.com

The Invisible Toolbox: Available Now!

“Every child begins school with a lunchbox in one hand and an Invisible Toolbox in the other…”

Check out longtime elementary school teacher and author Kim Jocelyn Dickson’s overview of what The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is all about and why she wrote it.

“Recent research in neuroscience tells us that 80% of the brain develops in the first three years of life. This is the time when the infrastructure of the brain is laying down actual physical pathways that will enable a child to fully access all that the world of school has to offer. 

Through reading to our children regularly, we not only build that infrastructure, filling their invisible toolboxes, we nurture the parent-child bond that is the foundation for a child’s motivation to learn.”

Just days after its release, The Invisible Toolbox is getting 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Also, check out what Amy Dickinson (syndicated columnist, Ask Amy), Jeff Conyers (President of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation), and pediatricians Dr. Chang and Dr. Lin have to say about The Invisible Toolbox!

“The Greatest Gift of the Invisible Toolbox, or Why We Really Read”

If your family is feeling anxious and adrift in these uncertain times, a nightly read-aloud ritual can bring enormous comfort, not only to your children, but to you too.

Excerpt from The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence

“Reading aloud nurtures the parent-child connection. When reading aloud is part of a daily family routine it provides a steady point of connection both parent and child can look forward to and count on. Practicing this daily ritual communicates not only that reading is important, but that the child is important. Snuggling and cuddling up together with a book creates feelings of warmth and can even provide a bit of an oasis from daily pressures and burdens. 

Our daily ritual was such a source of comfort and security for him that even the novelty of having overnight company paled next to this important routine.

My son’s father and I divorced when he was quite young and our nightly story-time ritual meant a great deal to us both during those difficult days. One winter evening an old friend of mine from high school was visiting from out of town. After dinner and his bath my son, who was about five, trotted downstairs in his footed blue pjs, a book tucked under his arm. He marched right over to my friend who had settled into a rocking chair by the fire, and politely instructed her that she would have to move. A bit startled, she asked why.

“Because my mom and I have to toast our toes by the fire,” he answered matter-of-factly. 

‘Toasting our toes by the fire’ was code for our nightly ritual of snuggling up in the rocker by the fireplace and reading together. My son was not about to let anything or anyone interfere with this. Our daily ritual was such a source of comfort and security for him that even the novelty of having overnight company paled next to this important routine. The warmth and closeness of cuddling together with a book at the end of a long day meant just as much to me….”

April 14th. Available now for pre-order.

The Secret of the Invisible Toolbox: A Loving Letter from Your Child’s Future Teacher

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence

“Dear New Parent,

Congratulations! Your precious little one is here. There is no feeling in the world more wonderful than holding your tiny newborn for the first time. Your heart expands with warmth and love and protection in a way you never could have imagined until now. As you begin a journey with this miraculous new life you have created that will take both of you far into the future, into places known and unknown, you will do everything in your power to ensure your baby’s path is as full of hope and promise as it can be. 

As well-meaning parents, we all want our children to thrive. Regular pediatrician visits, vaccinations, sleep routines, proper nutrition, feeding, bathing, cuddling—we do all of these things because we want what is best for them. But there is one more thing that is essential, and it’s one that is as important to our growing child as all the things we do to take care of our baby’s physical needs. This necessary thing is one that you may already know—or perhaps may have forgotten or haven’t fully understood. As someone who has been in your shoes as a parent and taught children just like yours in elementary school for decades, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about this essential thing over the years.

Flash forward five years, and imagine with me what your child will look like on their first day of kindergarten. At this moment, that day may seem a long way off, but believe me, it will be here before you know it. Can you see your child in the brand-new school clothes that you’ve bought for this special day, down to the sneakers with laces so white because they too have never been worn? Under a fresh haircut there may be a big grin or perhaps a look of apprehension. Your child knows it’s a big day, just as you do. On their back is a crisp new backpack and in one hand a lunchbox filled with favorite things. All of this equipment is recently acquired, full of promise and expectation for the future–and probably decorated with a favorite superhero or three. Who will that be, you wonder? The picture is almost, but not quite, complete. There is more. And here is the secret. 

In your little child’s other hand they carry something else. It’s a toolbox, but it’s invisible. Unseen though it is, it will be carried to school on the first day of kindergarten and every day after that all through your child’s academic career. Whether or not it contains the most essential tools will have an enormous impact on those years and far into the future…”

Pre-order now for April 14, 2020 publication

Family Read-Alouds: Comfort in a Time of Uncertainty

Social distancing is an opportunity to cultivate a family routine that benefits everyone

With children home from school and multiple disruptions in the daily routines that keep us grounded, families may be more in need than ever of new ways of being together that bring comfort. Reading together as a family can fill that need.

How to get started?

Sooner or later, you will need to develop a schedule for your family. Whether your work keeps you home or takes you away, your children will do best if they are provided with some structure that includes keeping up with school work, time for independent reading, and play.

Schedule a time in the day when your family gathers to share a read-aloud together and stick to it. This can be an enormously comforting way to wind down the day as you bond over a great story. Regardless of when you come together, what’s most important is that you create a ritual that everyone can look forward to and count on.

What to read?

Family read-alouds are the perfect opportunity to introduce children to the books they might not pick up on their own: the classics. (See resources below.)

What are the classics, and why are they such a great choice?

As I tell my students, the classics are stories that are so outstanding that they have stood the test of time, and appeal to readers regardless of their time in history.

They make excellent read-alouds for families because of their cross-generational appeal. Classic stories have complexity and universal themes, and lend themselves to rich discussions.

Reading the classics enriches us and enlarges us intellectually—and spiritually too. As screenwriter William Nicholson wrote in his biopic of C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.”

The daily comfort of connecting with characters in a gripping story, surrounded by the people you care most about, may just be the perfect port in this storm.

Recommended Read-Alouds

Check out these resources.

“It may be small, but it’s mighty…”

When I met my newborn book for the first time, it wasn’t love at first sight. I held the tiny tome* in my hand, eyeing it critically, wondering what people would think. Couldn’t she write a book with more pages? Would they think it lacked substance?

A smallish gift book was what I’d planned all along, a volume so not intimidating and so visually appealing that even the most reluctant parent reader would consider picking it up. But when my agent and I met with my editor and the company’s CEO last month via Zoom and learned that Mango had reversed their earlier decision and now planned to print The Invisible Toolbox in soft cover instead of hard, my heart dropped. I was not only disappointed; I was worried. Would a softcover gift book have the same appeal as hardcover?

Mango’s marketing department was concerned that titles comparable to mine were priced at a rate with which a hardcover book wouldn’t be able to compete. Like a wounded parent, I protested: But my book is unique! There isn’t anything out there quite like it. They weren’t moved. And so the decision was made. It was out of my hands.

“I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.”


When Federal Express left a carton of complimentary author copies on my doorstep this week, I called my agent. “It’s so little.”

She laughed. “Remember, I almost didn’t sign you because the book is so small. I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.” Julia believes in the message and understands what’s at stake. For her, it’s all about saving democracy. Maybe you’ve seen the meme: A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.

Thank you, Julia, for blowing away any lingering wisps of self-doubt. The Invisible Toolbox may be small. And it may even have a softcover. But its message is mighty.

* An oxymoron, I know, but I like the alliteration.

Pediatricians Endorse THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX

Here’s what pediatricians have to say about The Invisible Toolbox:

“As a pediatrician who sees firsthand the struggles and tears of the children who have empty Invisible Toolboxes, I am thrilled that Ms. Dickson has written this book to show families how to avoid all that heartache. I wholeheartedly recommend that all parents read this book!”

—Kathryn Lin, MD

“The mark of a great teacher is not just enabling a child to do well in class, but also in giving that child the instruments she needs to succeed and love the subject forever. I wish everyone could have Ms. Dickson as their child’s teacher as I did, but The Invisible Toolbox is the next best thing!”

—Dr. Richard Chang, pediatrician

Because of recent findings in neuroscience concerning brain development in infancy, the American Association of Pediatricians recommends that doctors advise parents of the importance of reading aloud to infants from birth.

According to The New York Times, June 24, 2014:

“With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group, which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor…

“The pediatricians’ group hopes that by encouraging parents to read often and early, they may help reduce academic disparities between wealthier and low-income children as well as between racial groups. ‘If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right,’ said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, ‘we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation.'”

Available for pre-order now!

Thank you, Amy Dickinson, for Endorsing THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX!

Along with the down to earth advice she shares daily in her syndicated column “Ask Amy” ever since replacing Ann Landers in 2003, Amy Dickinson is a best-selling author and regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” I couldn’t be more delighted to have her endorsement for The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence. Amy’s words were so beautifully written that my publisher put them right on the front cover:

“Kim Jocelyn Dickson has given us a gift. In lively and loving language, she opens The Invisible Toolbox and shows us what’s inside: opportunities for connection, inspiration, imagination, conversation, and joyful play. Literacy encompasses so much more than the important ability to read. Parents, teachers, and all who love children will be inspired by the author’s passionate advocacy, and helpful, compassionate instruction.”

When you read the “Ask Amy” column daily, as I do, you come to realize that Amy Dickinson is a book lover. Each year on her mother’s birthday in early December, she steps away from readers’ questions in her column to advocate for literacy through a tradition called “A Book on Every Bed.” Amy attributes her passion for reading to her mother, with whom she shared a lifelong love for and conversation about books.  For Christmas or any holiday or birthday she recommends placing a wrapped book on the foot of the bed of a child so that it’s the first thing they wake up to on that special day. Once your child unwraps it, snuggling up and sharing it together make a lasting memory. 

Amy understands the powerful connection that can happen when a parent shares a book with a child. I couldn’t be more honored that The Invisible Toolbox has the endorsement of this wise woman who also happens to be an enthusiastic champion for books and reading. Thank you, Amy Dickinson!

Available for pre-order now!