Audrey Penn started her first career as a ballerina dancing with the National Ballet, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and the Danny Diamond Dance Theatre. She also served as alignist and choreographer for the U.S. Figure Skating Team in preparation for the 1973 Pan American Games and for the 1976 Olympic Gymnastics Team. In 1980 she became too ill with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis to continue dancing. Because of her experience with children’s theatre and dance Audrey turned to writing children’s books as a new creative outlet. Though her writing career actually began much earlier than 1980. Her first book, Happy Apple Told Me, a Caldecott Medal Nominee, grew out of journals Audrey had written while in elementary school.
Her passionate advocacy for children continually molds her writing style and subject matter. As evidenced by her one-woman educational program, The Writing Penn, taken into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals, which shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. Her favorite part of being a children’s author is meeting her readers at schools or stores. Many of her wonderful ideas are inspired by these events, letters, and emails. She lives with her husband, youngest daughter (who inspired The New York Times Bestseller The Kissing Hand), and two dogs in Olney, Maryland. She has three children and one foster child.
The Kissing Hand
Obviously, this is not a new book, but it is one of my favorites for the beginning of the school year (or any parting between parent and child). Chester Raccoon is nervous about starting school; he wants to stay home with his mother and everything that is familiar to him. His mother tells him she has a very old secret that she learned from her mother, “the Kissing Hand,” and she kisses his palm and tells him “whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek and think, ‘Mommy loves you.'” What I love is that when Chester goes off to school, he gives his mommy a Kissing Hand as well, which she uses to warm her cheek and feel the very special words, “Chester loves you.” This is an “awww” book in all the right ways. 1993, Child & Family Press, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Sharon Levin (Children’s Literature).
A Pocket Full of Kisses
In this sequel to the bestseller The Kissing Hand, the author pens another tale of love and assurance. Chester Raccoon asks his mother whether they can give back his new little brother, who plays with his toys, teases him, and follows him endlessly. In response his mother says he needs a “Kissing Hand;” she spreads Chester’s fingers into a fan and kisses “him right in the middle of his palm.” Reassured at first, Chester is heartbroken when he sees his mother give a “Kissing Hand” to his little brother. His mother hugs Chester and says she’ll never run out of Kissing Hands. Then, to make him feel special again, she gives him another kiss for his pocket, this one a spare for when a big brother might need a “little extra care.” The words and text convey coziness and loving warmth of the raccoon family. Published by the Child Welfare League of America as part of its commitment to promoting the well being of children and their families, this book is a good choice for a family expecting a new arrival. While its message is obvious, it should bring comfort for a child worried over his place in the family. 2004, Child Welfare League of America, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Valerie O. Patterson (Children’s Literature).
Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully
Chester Raccoon has bully problems in this latest addition to the “Kissing Hand” collection. Not even the teacher can stop the school bully, a badger, from harassing and physically attacking Chester and the other students. Chester’s mother tells an allegory about smooth yellow stones, which forest animals loved to collect long ago, and a jagged blue stone too sharp to hold. The animals learned that the stone was meant to be blue but that it had to be smoothed by the animals if they wanted to hold it. Mrs. Raccoon likens the badger to the blue stone and says if Chester and his school friends work together, they can “smooth out” the badger’s “bullying ways.” The next day at recess, the animals approach the badger en masse, with Chester in the lead holding a ball. The confident pack backs the frightened animal against a tree until Chester, standing nose to nose with the badger, surprises him by asking if he wants to play. In that moment the bully becomes a friend who “didn’t need to bully anyone ever again.” Vivid illustrations saturate each page, and the animals’ faces are expressive. 2008, Tanglewood Press, $16.95. Ages 3 to 8. Reviewer: Paula K. Zeller (Children’s Literature).
Ms. Penn is a sought-after conference speaker for groups of teachers, librarians and other professionals who work with children. The fee for these engagements is $3000 plus travel expenses.
Ms. Penn will review how and why each of her books came to be written, what’s next, and why writing and research is so exciting. The tour is designed to fuel the child’s imagination and help them to create stories of their own. She has simplified her writing method to make it accessible to children. For the third and fourth graders, she incorporates a brief introduction to The Writer’s Curve. A more detailed treatment of The Writer’s Curve is included in the presentation for the fifth grade. This is an interactive presentation. Using the children’s own suggestions, Ms. Penn will lead them to create their own story and learn the process of writing, emphasizing the purpose and advantages of rewriting. Full or half-day writing workshops can also be arranged.
First and Second Grade: 35 minutes. The Story behind the stories, presented with many visual aids. Discussion of books-in-progress appropriate for their age. Question & Answer.
Third and Forth Grade: 50 minutes. How stories originate, and the process of story development: research, art work, and the use of “everyday” events in addition to the imagination. An introduction to The Writer’s Curve. Question and Answer.
Fifth Grade: 90 minutes. Story origination and development. Introduction to The Writer’s Curve. Like a writer’s web, it helps the child create a structure for writing and helps take the fear out of creating and writing. Question and Answer.
Ms. Penn will donate a selection of her books to the school’s library prior to her visit. Includes three sessions per day, plus 15 minutes with both a.m and p.m kindergarten. Fees: within 50 miles $900, 50-100 miles $900 plus travel expenses, over 100 miles $1100 plus travel expenses. For out-of-town school visits travel expenses can be shared by several schools in the same area.
Please allow at least fifteen minutes between the first two sessions, and a longer break (such as lunch) before the next session. Please let Ms. Penn know if she needs to bring lunch. For her presentations she uses a large whiteboard or blackboard, a small table, and a rocking chair or ergonomic chair. Due to Ms. Penn’s disability, she is unable to sign large numbers of books during her school visit. Small numbers of books may be signed between lectures, or at her home or hotel overnight and picked up the next day. Ms. Penn prefers to sign books or bookplates at her home and send them to the school after her visit.
Photography and Video Policy: Photographs are permitted and encouraged during Ms. Penn’s visits. Video or digital recording are permitted only for in-school use, and only with prior approval from Ms. Penn. Recording of The Writer’s Curve is not permitted.
To learn more about Audrey Penn and her publications please visit www.audreypenn.com.