Episode 96 – Interview with Sandra V. Feder and Giving Children the Words They Need

In this episode we talk with author Sandra V. Feder about her wonderful books that help give children the words to talk about their feelings and ideas for resolving painful feelings in their lives through her fun, compelling stories.

Our Guest: Sandra V. Feder

Illustration of Sandra V. Feder by illustrator of Angry Me, Rahele Jomepour Bell

SANDRA V. FEDER is the author of two picture books and three early chapter books. Angry Me is her sixth book.

Bitter and Sweet, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, was a PJ Library selection and was chosen by the New York City Board of Education for inclusion in its Mosaic Diversity Program. The Moon Inside, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro, has been translated into multiple languages. Sandra is also the author of the early chapter books Daisy’s Perfect Word, Daisy’s Defining Day and Daisy’s Big Night, illustrated by Susan Mitchell.

Sandra is a graduate of Stanford University and is an MFA candidate in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a black belt in Taekwondo, likes to paint, and has a sweet tooth — particularly for dark chocolate. Sandra lives with her husband in Northern California.

Books Discussed in this Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have a very special guest with us, Sandra V Feder, and she is a wonderful writer of two picture books and three chapter books that we’re going to talk about today. And she has a brand new book coming out that I’m really excited to talk with her about. Thank you, Sandra, for being here today.

Sandra:

Thank you so much for having me, Terrie, I’m excited for our conversation.

Terrie:

You have a really wonderful book coming out soon, and I think it’s such an important book. And so I would love for you to share with us what inspired the book, when it will be available, and just share about your new book.

Sandra:

Well, my new book is called Angry Me, and as you might guess from the title, it’s all about emotions, and it will be officially released May 1st. So I’m really excited to get it out in the world. And what inspired me about this book is that one of my three daughters had what I call a little easier access to her anger than her sisters. And one time when she was little, she had misbehaved, and I sent her to her room. And she stood there with her little hands on her hips as I said, you need to think about what you did and looked right at me and said, “You think about it, Mommy.” And oh, okay. I’m dealing with something a little different here. And while I wanted her to be clear of the rules in our house, I also kind of admired that she could stick up for herself.

Sandra:

And later on a friend said to me, something that I think is really true in our lives as parents and for children, that sometimes the thing that is hardest for you as a parent can actually be your child’s greatest strength. And I really like that because I think some of the things we struggle with in helping our kids tap into, but also figure out how to be in the world in terms of emotions, can serve them really well. And that’s been true for this child of mine. She can stick up for herself and more. I think a lot of her anger is about things that I describe in the book–things like unfairness, not just to her, but to other people. I think she’s very empathetic and that has really served her well. This story is a little different setup. It involves a little girl saying why she gets angry, different types of anger and what those underlying emotions might stem from when she feels like she’s been left out or when things seem unfair. And I think for particularly young children, it is hard for them to explain–why am I reacting this way? And so our job as parents is to help maybe give them some tools and some language.

Terrie:

Yes, that’s what I appreciated so much about this book is it doesn’t just talk about the emotions, but it talks about how to talk about them and how to deal with them and what words can help make it better. I just thought it was really wonderful the way you give some solutions and give some ways of handling these different emotions to children and especially anger. I think is a hard one for them to put into words sometimes. And so, yeah, I love this book. I think it’s really going to be a wonderful tool for parents and for families. And I think it’s fun too, and the pictures are just adorable. So I I’m really excited for people to get this book.

Sandra:

Oh, thank you, Terrie. Yeah. I think the illustrator Rahele Jomepour Bell did a beautiful job in creating a really wonderfully diverse cast of characters. And this little girl who looks so angry, but so lovable at the same time. I appreciate share what you said about the tools for helping kids with emotions. It was important to me that this story not just show the different types of anger, but how some of that anger might be diffused. And I think we all tell our kids, or a lot of us do, “Try to use your words.” So I understand as a parent, what is going on, what is upsetting to you? And I tried to show in the book that sometimes that works. Sometimes the little girls’ words work to resolve a situation. Sometimes the words of a parent help, and sometimes nothing really helps. And the final scene of the book is the little girl scribbling furiously on a paper, and then the anger passes. And then there is room for a new feeling. And there’s a beautiful scene of her sort of joyfully dripping paint on a paper, showing just the body relax, the anger has passed, and it’s time for a new feeling.

Terrie:

Yeah. Oh, it’s so great. And I love your other picture book. Well, you have two other picture books, but I love The Moon Inside–another one that helps a child process feelings and deal with fear. And I just think this is such a great book too. Can you tell us a little bit about that one?

Sandra:

Yeah. Thank you. The Moon Inside really came from watching my own children at nighttime. I think a lot of us have seen kids get basically scared of the dark, and when the dark would kind of start to enter our house, one of my kids would go around and turn on all the lights. And that was the inspiration for the little girl named Ella in this story. And what I also noticed is that when my kids were outdoors, they were less scared. There was something about being in the natural world that made the coming of nighttime feel easier for them. And so I really wanted to create a story where this little girl loves yellow. She loves the sunshine, she loves bright things and therefore the night is that much harder for her. And in the story, what her mother does is invite her outside. And it’s really by listening to the crickets and seeing the fireflies that she comes to kind of make a little bit of peace with the nighttime. Another thing that was important to me in this story, like inAngry Me too, is that we’re not trying to fix our kids. Like we all know that fear of the dark doesn’t just magically disappear. And angry feelings don’t magically disappear, but it’s important to acknowledge that our children are going through these things. And then maybe I try to, in my stories, provide a few tools that may help and some talking points for parents that may help.

Terrie:

Yeah. That’s the other thing I love about both of these books is definitely sparking wonderful and important conversations with our kids and helping them, like we said on the first book, to have those words, to be able to put into words what they’re experiencing, what they’re feeling. And, of course, I love any book that includes fireflies. I think that that’s, the best thing about books about nighttime and summertime is when they include fireflies. That’s just a personal prejudice.

Sandra:

Yes. I grew up in California, and now I’m back in California, but it was the fireflies in the East Coast when we lived there that I found absolutely enchanting. And we don’t have those in California.

Terrie:

No, we don’t. I just moved away from California in May, and I’m back in firefly country. So I’m very happy

Sandra:

Oh, lucky you, lucky you.

Terrie:

And then your other picture book is Bitter and Sweet–another one that just really helps a child put into words what they’re experiencing. Tell us about that one.

Sandra:

So Bitter and Sweet is about a little girl Hannah, who has to move with her family to a new town. What I really tried to convey in this story is a sense of resilience. Even in children, she calls her grandmother, and her grandmother tells her about coming to the new country when she was little, that her family immigrated and that she found that there were some bitter, some hard parts and also some sweet parts and definitely more sweet. Hannah, at the start of this story, can only see the bitter, the hard parts: leaving her friends, leaving her school. And I think that’s really something a lot of children who do move can relate to, or as we’ve all seen, unfortunately with the pandemic that our lives can be thrown into turmoil and we face unexpected things. And eventually through making a friend–there’s hot chocolate involved in the story–that Hannah learns to find the sweetness, but also learns the important lesson of adding it herself. This book contains some Jewish content and the notion of bitter and sweet is a real part, I think, of many faiths–that we really acknowledge both the harder parts of life, but also are full of hope for the sweeter parts.

Terrie:

Yeah. It’s a really beautiful story. Again, the main character is adorable in all three of these books. I just love them. All of your picture books focus on sparking conversations between children and the adults in their lives and helping children have the words they need to express their feelings. Share your heart with us. Why are these stories so important for helping kids have important conversations? And just speak to that if you could, for a moment.

Sandra:

Well, I really–books that I want to write seem to be the ones about helping kids through the difficult emotions of childhood. And I think whether it’s fear of the dark or having to move or feeling angry, I try to really acknowledge the emotional intelligence of the children I’m writing for, and also providing, as we discuss perhaps a new perspective on some of the things they might be experiencing and as well as ideas for how the adults in their lives might really talk to their children about some of these things. I think childhood is full of wonder and awe, but it also can be a bit scary and sometimes frustrating. It can seem for children like the world is run by adults and older siblings, where do they fit in? How do they find their voice and their power? Helping children, I would say, find their voice is something very important to me. And that’s something I always have in my heart as I’m writing.

Terrie:

That’s wonderful. And I think also helping parents to know how to address these things with their children, not acknowledging how a child is feeling is so sad to me because the feelings are there and we feel them whether we want to or not. And they’re the same. They feel them whether they want to or not. And if they don’t know how to acknowledge them, process them and deal with them, then it’s like stifling them in their growth. And I think the words you give in your books and the way the parents and the other adults interact with the child are such a good model for what we can do as parents with our kids. And I feel like you’re giving tools all the way around to parents and to children to be able to have some really wonderful teachable moments and some wonderful conversations. And so I just really appreciate your books.

Sandra:

Oh, thank you so much, Terrie.

Terrie:

I also want to talk about your chapter books. I haven’t had a chance to read them yet. Could you tell us about those?

Sandra:

Yes. I have a fun series of early chapter books about a little girl named Daisy. The first one’s called Daisy’s Perfect Word. The second one is Daisy’s Defining Day, and the third one is Daisy’s Big Night. And the fun really fun thing about Daisy is she is a girl who loves words. So she is a girl totally after my own heart. And what’s really fun about these books is that in each book, Daisy does something fun with words. The first book, she wants to find the perfect word for a teacher as a gift. And the second one, she learns about alliteration. Thus the title Daisy’s Defining Day. And then the third one, she plays with poetry. So they’re all really fun ones for kids who are transitioning from picture books to independent reading. They’ve got a little bit bigger type. The chapters are not too long. In the back each one are Daisy’s favorite word lists. So they’re also a really fun tool. If you have kids who like playing with language or are experimenting with language to encourage them to keep track of their favorite words. And the Daisy books have been really fun for me to share with elementary school children. So I’ve done a lot of school visits, talking about words and getting the kids all excited and sharing with me their favorite words and playing with poetry and playing with alliteration of their names. That’s a way I’ve had a lot of fun with the Daisy books.

Terrie:

That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to read them. if we want to reach you to ask about a school visit or even a zoom school visit, how would people contact you?

Sandra:

People can reach me sandravfeder@gmail.com. Sandra is my first name. The middle initial is V as in Victor. And my last name is spelled F as in Frank, E D as in David, E R as in Robert. And I’d love to hear from people about what they think of the books, happy to be contacted regarding school visits and speaking. I also have a website, same name, Sandravfeder.com.

Terrie:

I always love to ask my guests what they, your favorite book was as a child.

Sandra:

Well, I was a big fan of Make Way for Ducklings. And, to this day, my older sister can recall the names of all the ducklings in alphabetical order. I also loved Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. That was a favorite animal wonderful book called Katy No-Pocket about a kangaroo who didn’t have a pocket. So again, that idea of sort of being different, being left out.

Terrie:

Was there a favorite book you had when you read to your children when they were little?

Sandra:

Mm. My kids really loved a book called Tell Me Something Happy before I Go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar. It’s about an older sibling who helps the younger sibling fall asleep by telling her the happy things that will be waiting for her in the morning. And I think this was a particular favorite just to put one in a happy, a hopeful frame of mind before bedtime. And another favorite was called Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, which tells how a grandfather repurposes a beloved blanket of his grandson over the years to create new and meaningful things for him. The story is set in a Jewish community, but it’s a very universal and non-denominational story and has been a hit in our family for a long time.

Terrie:

That sounds wonderful. I don’t know those. I’m going to have to check those out. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us today. I hope everyone will check out your books.

Sandra:

Thank you so much for having me, Terrie. Wonderful conversation.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we help our children follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to get in touch with Sandra, you can reach her on her website at sandravfeder.com or you can email her at Sandravfeder@gmail.com. If you would like to connect with me or join my mailing list, you can reach me at terriehellardbrown.com. I also want to point out that her new book is launching, as we said, May 1st. It is also available for pre-order now. If you go to the different book websites, including Amazon, it is available for pre-order. And we would really love it if you would like and share this podcast with others. The more you share, the more people can find out about this podcast. And let us know if you have any questions. And also we really appreciate it when you take the time to review a book and let others know how it has blessed you.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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