Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Mother, Am I Normal?"

Yesterday my eighteen-year-old son with autism was wiping off the kitchen counter. He stopped, blinked a few times and said, “Mother, am I normal?”

I looked up from my laptop, surprised. He’d never asked me such a thing before. We made eye contact. I scanned my brain files for the correct response.

“I mean, what does normal mean?” he asked. “Does it mean medium? Or good? Regular? Or average? Or ordinary?”

One of his favorite things to do is to search for the meaning of words . He’ll frequently ask me for definitions, and is especially interested in classifying words with similar connotations.

But this was a profound question he was asking. What DOES normal mean, anyway?

“I suppose normal means regular or ordinary. Average," I said.

I thought about my son in his early childhood. He would scream in frustration at his inability to communicate his wants and feelings. In those days, I was an overwhelmed young mother with small children, trying to deal with what felt like his crushing diagnosis of autism. I thought I wanted him to be “normal.” I couldn’t take him to a store without him having a terrible tantrum. People would stare in disgust, because his disability was not obvious from his appearance. To strangers, he was a disobedient child and I was his inefficient mother. I had to be trained by autism experts in how to manage the tantrums and to promote his language development. It was painful in those days to think of how his disability would impact his life.

Then I thought about how far he has come. Today, standing just under six feet tall, he is happy, kind, and immaculately groomed, friendly to everyone he meets. He grins to himself at his own little amusements, sometimes clapping and bounding across the room. Compared to my other children that the world might call “normal,” he is the most responsible, dependable, and tender-hearted. He’s an example to his younger siblings. I love each of my children immensely, beyond words. But there is something so special and profound about the child who struggled the most and--against the odds--came into his own respectable place in the world.

I continued, “But if normal means ordinary and average, then no, you are not normal. You are extraordinary. You are special. You are a miracle. You are SO much better than normal.”

And as I said it, I wondered if any of us should strive to be normal. Don’t we all aspire to somehow stand apart?

My son tilted his head and looked upward, rubbing his hands together happily. There was satisfaction in my answer. “Extraordinary,” he said.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How (And WHY) to Book Kristyn Crow for a School Visit

1. Email me at

2. Introduce yourself and let me know what you have in mind…a large group assembly, individual classroom visits, a literacy night, etc.

3. Request my detail sheet if you’d like references, price ranges, etc. I am willing to work within your school’s budget.

4. I’ll get back to you ASAP. A conversation has begun! We’ll set a date and time and go from there.

5. Why? Your students will be entertained with an animated PowerPoint and a lively discussion about what writers do, how picture books are made, and how rhythm works in language. I know how to work a crowd of kids--I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to make them laugh. An author visit is a HUGE boost of energy to your literacy program. I’ll read three of my books, and your students will play instruments along with the book refrain in a huge rhythm symphony. It’s learning and having fun at the same time. The students don’t just listen, they participate interactively.

6. Contact my references if you’re not certain. I can adapt my presentation to your time requirements, or to your particular topic or theme.

"Kristyn has one of the best presentations I've ever seen for elementary schools. Interactive, informative, funny - you can just see the kids having fun and learning at the same time. I highly recommend her for any school on the planet." James Dashner, NY Times Bestselling Author of THE MAZE RUNNER

See photos from my school visits by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Really GROOVY Story of the Tortoise and the Hare

Available March 1, 2011~ The Really GROOVY STORY of the Tortoise and the Hare ( Albert Whitman, Inc. , illustrated by Christina Forshay ) is the traditional tortoise and hare fable, snapped up with a groovy beat. It is new rhythm breathed into the old tale. As a writer, I can tell you it was grueling work—one of the pieces I worked longest on. It has sets of three rhymes per line, a hoppin’ beat with an anapest meter. I worked on it for over a year.

Don’t misunderstand the intent of the book. The word “groovy” in the title is not a nod to the 1970s. (Although if it makes you smile, groovy.) This book is about movin’ and groovin’, hippin’ and hoppin. It’s about shaking your tortoise shell or your fuzzy cottontail as you hear the words of the story. It’s about little hands clappin’ and little feet stompin’. It’s about movement and rhythm and language with a beat. It’s about involving the reluctant or early reader interactively in the story. Word-play and humor.

When I visit schools, I bring more than 75 rhythm instruments. I involve the children by letting them echo some of the words in my stories. They also perform a rhythm symphony along with the text. I even sing some of the stanzas. My purpose is to teach children that rhythm is the joy of life. Rhythm exists in the rain that falls, in the music that plays, in the heart that beats. And rhythm is in LANGUAGE. You can find it if you let it move you. Close your eyes and hear it. Feel it.

A study was done in London which found that children who can find the rhythm in verse will vastly improve their reading skills. This is because children who can find the “beat” in picture book verse have learned to recognize, phonetically, stressed and unstressed syllables. They have learned to hear to the rhythm of a particular meter, and become aware of how the words are carefully ordered to align the stressed syllables just so. They hear word patterns. They are using both their left and right brains. They just don’t know they're doing it—they’re having too much fun.

Children are wired for rhythm. It’s in their blood. Put any 8-month old healthy baby in a room with music playing--music with a nice beat. That child will wiggle his bottom, bounce, and twist. As humans, we know rhythm before we speak. Rhythm infused into picture book text can motivate reluctant readers because it cries out to their basic instinct to hear, feel, and move to a steady beat.

My book COOL DADDY RAT has scat lines in it. Now, when I read that story to kids, I usually start by reminding them what scat is in music. Not that they don’t already know. They do. They hear scat in Disney movies (like the monkey song in the Jungle Book) and on the radio (Jason Mraz). They hopefully are also taught in school about the one form of music that is truly American—Jazz, where scat was born. I take a moment to remind kids what they already know, and then off we go. They hear the scat. They get it. They get it even though some have suggested “kids won’t understand.” I say, nay. Let us give our children credit.

Getting kids enthused about books—that’s my passion. It’s what this hard work of writing is all about.