Joan Carris had a super education, and graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in English and speech, plus minors in education, French, and science. She began teaching high school English, speech, and French, and directing the plays, thus discovering a killer lifestyle. In time, however, she packed her books and took them home, where she raised Mindy, Leigh Ann, and Brad while their noble father supported them.
She enjoyed tutoring neighborhood strugglers, and eventually earned a masters in children’s literature from Hollins University. Along the way she became intrigued with the SAT exam, which led to a 9-week course that she taught privately, and which later became S.A.T. Success at the urging of Peterson’s Publishing in Princeton, NJ. Published in 1982, S.A.T. Success was the first title in Peterson’s now-popular test-prep line, and the first of her four textbooks that focus on strengthening English skills/vocabulary and on logical approaches to test-taking.
Over time Joan has written a humor column and reviewed books and plays for NJ newspapers, written 70+ magazine and major news articles, been president of The National League of American Pen Women (Princeton chapter) and also president of The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C., organized writing symposia for The Smithsonian Institute, appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, and published 15 children’s books.
Joan has spoken in schools and taught writing seminars for adults and children for over 30 years. Currently she writes commentaries for Public Radio in eastern Carolina and teaches graduate-level writing for Duke University at their marine lab in Beaufort. “My rewards have been huge: teenagers waving their SAT results in the air and screaming for joy–writing students calling to share news of their first sales, or better yet, the winning of awards–children clutching one of my books and saying, ‘This was sooooo funny. Where can I get another one?'” As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
To quote Joan’s theory on life and reading, “I enjoy speaking to teachers, librarians, parents, and school administrators because I have much to say! After 40+ years in this business, I have to have learned something, right? For instance, I can help writing teachers to do the job without going insane or being overworked. I can prove to parents why TV and computers need to be turned off on most school nights – why reading and being physically active will result in happier, brighter children. (Yes, you can raise a child’s IQ.) Publishing for young readers is huge, resulting in books to intrigue every single child on the planet. I can help parents find those books, and I’d like to convince more of them to read to their children. One of my talks is titled “The Tragedy of Comedy;” it demonstrates how joyful books usually offer as much “meat” and just as much in the way of “ethical values” as those heavy, basically didactic stories masquerading as books for children. Yes, we need mighty, meaty books, but when nearly all books taught in schools fall into that category, I don’t wonder why we lose readers. We have only a few years in which to convince kids to be readers (birth to ten, or thereabouts), so let’s get cracking”.
Wild Times at the Bed & Biscuit
The animals at Grampa Bender’s veterinary hospital and boarding facility are in an uproar. Sick animals from the wildlife shelter are staying with them while new pens are built at the shelter. Earnest, the pot-bellied pig, comes across a very unhappy Canada goose with a stick through his neck. Sir Walter, the Scots Terrier, is enchanted with what the baby foxes have to say. Gabby, the Vietnamese Mynah bird, is very upset by the all the extra noise and confusion. And Milly, Queen of the Cats, is curious. They all try to help Grampa take care of his new charges. But wild animals are different from domesticated ones. The goose is pining for his mate, the fox kits want out of their cage, and the muskrat wants his home by a pond. After Sir Walter lets the foxes out of their pen and discovers they really do not want to be friends, the animals are all returned to their natural habitats. This charming sequel to Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit gently teaches the reader about different animal’s needs and behavior. 2009, Candlewick Press, Ages 6 to 10, $15.99. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan (Children’s Literature).
Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit
Ernest, a runt pig, Gabby, a Vietnamese mynah bird, and a baby kitten named Millie are all the family Grandpa Bender has. Each is vying for his attention in this delightful story. Their antics and conversation are argumentative and hilarious at the same time. They each consider themselves to be the most loved pet in the house. When Grandpa returns home one night with a peculiar-looking bundle, the Bed & Biscuit boardinghouse is in a state of confusion. Grandpa appears distracted and it looks as if he has forgotten about his little menagerie. Jealous little Millie vanishes. Accepting that new bundle is not easy for any of the pets but the Bed & Biscuit boardinghouse always has room for one more. Cute pencil and watercolor illustrations depict the characters emotions and bring life to the story line. A fun read for any age. This story will make you laugh out loud, a perfect choice of a book to put in the hands of reluctant readers. Young readers need to read more books like this one to help nurture that love of reading for enjoyment. 2006, Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 7 to 9. Reviewer: Kathy Leggett (Children’s Literature).
A Ghost of a Chance
The Wagners’ two-week summer vacation in Beaufort, North Carolina, turns into an adventure that Punch Wagner and his friend Tom will never forget. The two 12-year-olds secretly plan to dig for Blackbeard’s buried treasure since he used to live in Beaufort. They have a southern boy for their host, however, and his attitude toward Yankees is hard to take. As it turns out, Skeeter is a terrific guide, showing them not only good places to dig but also how to swim with dolphins. Their teenage sister Lila is not such bad company either (she can keep secrets). They actually end up finding some treasures, but the biggest surprises are meeting up with Blackbeard’s “ghost” and finding that they would rather help Skeeter than hog the treasure money for themselves. This is a fast-paced yarn sure to entertain middle readers. It is part of the “Legends of the Carolinas” series and is a good introduction to Beaufort and its surrounding islands, including the Duke University Marine Lab. It can be an inspiration to kids who might long to go to college but think it is out of reach. The book comes with a “pirate” map and a question and answer section about pirates. 2003 (orig. 1992), Coastal Carolina Press, $8.95. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: Carol Raker Collins, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
- How to teach writing and not go insane – designed for teachers
- How to select books to study – designed for teachers
- The Tragedy of Comedy – for educators and parent groups
Joan’s student presentations are designed for each school. Her focus can be on writing or on humor. She always reads from one of her books for part of the presentation. Her student programs are intended for grades 3 and up. She prefers for her audiences to be small enough to chat informally, however she will address groups of up to 100. She will do a maximum of three presentations in a day. She prefers not to travel between November and early March. Her fees are negotiable; however travel and lodging costs must be covered by the booking organization.
To learn more about Joan and her publications please visit www.joancarrisbooks.com.