A child’s first experience with creating something of their own in the world can be a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding, especially when you have friends around to help. Barbara Kanninen’s books Jake’s Lemonade Stand and Jake’s Toad House tell of the adventures shared by a group of neighborhood friends, Jake, Kim, Robert and Maria, as they explore the world around them and learn by trial and error. Like all children, Jake and his friends puzzle over things they don’t understand, but they also have fun and laugh a lot, too. Barbara’s Jake books tie into the elementary school curriculum, with Jake’s Lemonade Stand illustrating elementary economics concepts and Jake’s Toad House tying into the science curriculum.

   Barbara Kanninen entered the world of writing in 2001 after working for many years as a professional environmental economist. In her words, she is “inspired by the challenge of taking great things and communicating them in simple terms.” She does precisely that, translating her background into books children can learn from and enjoy immensely. Much like the challenges Jake and his friends face in her books, Barbara is intrigued by the challenge of the many different approaches to writing children’s literature.In A Story With Pictures she presents the challenge of writing itself, using meta fiction to illustrate the basic concepts of story: character, plot and setting, in a way that appeals to children. Lynne Rowe Reed’s rich acrylic illustrations make the humorous interplay between author and illustrator even more engaging.

   Barbara credits her energy and entrepreneurial nature as being the keys to her success in the field of children’s literature. While a talent for writing is helpful, she strongly believes that success is more dependent on a writer’s discipline, hard work and willingness to learn new things at any age and stage of life. Barbara was featured in author Ellen Jackson’s “Secrets of Success” column in November 2005. Her picture book, A Story With Pictures, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and the Children’s Literature Network named it a “Picture Book We Admire.”

Selected Reviews of Barbara’s Books

A Story With Pictures
Barbara Kanninen
Illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
   Our author tries to take charge of this book immediately, introducing it, then finding to her horror that she has forgotten to give her manuscript to the illustrator. So how can her “Story with Pictures” get illustrations? By the second page spread, she has lost control, as a duck emerges with a backpack full of trouble. The illustrator seems to be taking over, depicting the author as she does not wish to be while trapping her in the book. But our feisty author fights back with ideas about dragons, baseball, and space flight. The final result is a new story, the very book we have in our hands. This makes for a bit crazy, perhaps post-modern kind of tale. Certainly, it is a different look at putting together a picture book. Reading it requires a mind open to the imaginative premise and a willingness to go along with the creation. Reed contributes child-like acrylic illustrations, including an author with a carrot-like nose and elbow-less arms, as well as a busybody duck. They interact on blank colored pages, frequently illustrating bits of storyline scribbled on a scrap of paper, with photographs added. This book is sure to be a challenge for readers from start to finish. 2007, Holiday House, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature)

Program Details

My talks for kids:

What Every Author Needs: Comfy Slippers, a Notepad and a Duck — Oops, I Mean Character, Plot and Setting

   I bring a backpack stuffed with a duck, a troll, a tutu, comfy slippers, a baseball and a notepad and pen, all of which happen to play roles in my picture book, A Story with Pictures. Kids will directly participate in the reading of A Story with Pictures and learn a lot about character, setting and problem/solution in the process.

Of Mice and Magnificent Things

   I read my short story, “Marvin’s Museum of Magnificent Things” (Highlights, 2003) and we talk about entrepreneurship, individuality (character) and the value of special things. For Grades K-2, I will also read Jake’s Lemonade Stand. This talk addresses economics topics, especially the reality of the marketplace, the law of demand, the meaning of “value,” and the role of creativity in our society (specific discussion points vary depending on the age of the audience).

Just the Stories, Ma’am

   Sometimes it’s nice to just listen to stories. I will let the students choose from my best short stories, including “Marvin’s Museum of Magnificent Things,” a story of entrepreneurship and the value of special things, “The Best Game on Earth,” a story of aliens and baseball, “The Basement Ghost,” a story of friendship, fear and laundry, and “Mamma Mia’s World-Famous Half-Moon Pizza,” a story of family traditions and great food, and more.

My talks for adults:

The Art of Writing for Children

   I talk about what engages children — what makes them laugh — and why it can take years to write a picture book. See my “For Writers” page to learn more about my philosophy of writing for children.

The Business of Writing for Children

   Query letters, cover letters, agents, editors, advances, royalties, contracts and more.

Helping Your Child Learn to Read and (more importantly) Love Books

   As a parent, educator and author of 19 easy readers for grades K-3 (17 are forthcoming with McGraw-Hill), I’ve learned a bit about helping children learn to read. I’ll share what I know about how the industry generates easy readers, how to help children understand books, and how to take the long-run view of the whole process. After all, the real goal is to have a child who’s still reading in high school!

My Fees:

   (All visits include complimentary, signed copies of Jake’s Lemonade Stand and Jake’s Toad House.)

  • One hour-long talk or reading: $200.
  • Half-day school visit, up to 3 presentations: $450
  • Full-day school visit, up to 6 presentations: $750
  • For visits that require an overnight stay, I charge a $250 premium plus hotel and/or plane fare

Additional Information

To learn more about Barbara Kanninen and her publications please visit www.barbarakanninen.com/.