Engaging Young Readers

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My dear friend and colleague, Charlie Anderson, is the creative force in these endeavors and I was fortunate to be his illustrator and layout artist. His compassion for others drives his storytelling as he creates adventures with a lesson for his readers. Please enjoy exploring our creative projects.
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Introducing Charlie Anderson
Our featured book, Friends, Real or Imaginary, are the Best Medicine
Download activity pages
Ask Dr. Pat
Our Books
Introducing, Charlie Anderson
What makes a person want to write? For me, it was to leave a legacy of writing for my grandchildren in which they and their imaginary friends could be found as characters in my stories. I have traveled and lived overseas for many years while in the military and it provided me with the themes and background for some of my stories. I didn’t plan on writing as many books as I did but have found a real joy in creating, researching, and writing them. What better reward can there be?
I was born with an imagination and curiosity which has followed me everywhere. Of course, I kissed the Blarney Stone while visiting Ireland. I joined the Army when I was young and spent 22 years in the military, retiring as a field grade officer. I worked another 21 years at Honolulu Community College in Hawaii and retired as an Associate Professor. It was there, at HCC, where I met Bonnie Lee Chappell, the illustrator and layout artist for my books. In writing, I have enjoyed creating stories and knowing they have made readers of many children and perhaps writers out of some. 
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Are you curious about the stories behind the stories? Read on below to find out.
Much of the richness of the conception of a book
 is found in the stories behind the stories!
Friends Real and Imaginary are the Best Medicine
I see Dr. Pat every eight weeks when my wife goes for her maintenance chemotherapy appointment. Dr. Pat, who is a psychologist that does a great deal of work in pediatric oncology. I asked her if she would write a forward to my book which she agreed to do. My biggest challenge was where to start and what to focus on. There are just so many areas to explore. Imaginary friends were the perfect starting point since kids are always willing to adopt an imaginary friend. Carrot, my superhero, which you will find in a number of my books, agreed to slip on a doctor’s white coat and narrate the story.
Parents are often upset and mystified when their child starts talking to an imaginary friend, so the story is for them as well. I added Jason later when I recognized how important real friends can be and how they can help children deal with their cancer. Children want to be part of the process of getting well and if they can help a friend like Jason, all the better.
Dr. Pat is a true believer in the power of art as a means for kids to express themselves. This can be really helpful for a child with cancer as well as their parents so you will find quite a few interactive art projects in the book. I also added a section with questions and answers that Dr. Pat wrote. They pretty much parallel the story along with some general questions. 
The Venus Flytrap Adventure
Visiting the Denver Botanic Gardens, I looked at their Venus flytrap collection and wondered what it would be like if they were super huge. Just let your imagination go and you are asking the same questions a child might have and that is a great idea for a book. I really enjoyed writing the book and eventually rewrote it as a first-person account told by Carrot to his friends. Baron Baroni returns with another get rich scheme. As a villain, he is not a violent chap but a very successful art and artifacts dealer who is a bit too greedy. In the book he is caught by Carrot, my superhero, and his side-kick Professor Bean, who confront the man-eating flytraps.
One of my favorite things about writing is researching everything I put to pen. Besides the location, I have included one of the favorite local stories that children in Nigeria hear from their parents. I enjoy learning about local cooking and sharing it in my stories so children can see what other children eat. Anyone interested in some ewedu soup and amala? This is a fun book with a great ending which children will enjoy.
Space Monkeys
Imagination is one of the prizes of being a child and it allowed me to put aliens and animals together. All sorts of weird things can easily be reconciled or even accepted as fact while reading a story. A child’s curiosity and love of fantasy is a great starting point to becoming an avid reader.
I started Space Monkeys with the idea of investigating environmental issues about losing our rain forest. I don’t know where I got distracted, perhaps it was the bananas. Space aliens right here on Earth. It doesn’t get any better, so I had to run with it. What I enjoyed the most was creating the way the space monkeys communicated with one another. Commander Krill is the perfect bad guy and Morris and the professor are an equal match to take him on. You might ask what happened to their summer project and what did they do when they returned. Did they tell anyone of their encounter? I guess you’ll have to wait for another book to find out but at the end of this one I didn’t have a clue. The book isn’t that scary and younger children will enjoy it. 
Cowboy Gold
The story has an outlaw cowboy who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the lost gold of Blackjack McNeil. Add your grandkids and you have a great story. I have a confession. I went to Utah with the idea of using Moab as a backdrop for a good western. I got sick and never made it, so I wrote it sight unseen. Never a good idea and one to be avoided. Years later I did go back and found I had made some mistakes in describing the area where the action took place. You may not notice but I do every time I read the book. Anyway, my favorite villain, Baron Baroni and my superhero, Carrot, meet again but under unusual circumstances that leads to a surprise ending. Then there is Big Hat Jackson. I really liked creating this character. He is someone you can really dislike. Bad to the bone, you wouldn’t trust him to help a blindman across the street. I really like creating my characters. I usually start with an idea and let them grow. Sometimes they change the way the story is told and it’s fun to see how they talk to you. Of course, I have to keep pretty close to who my grandkids are, or I would surely hear about it.
Maya is my granddaughter. Writing a book with a girl as a main character was something new for me and a little daunting. Put a girl and dog together and it becomes much easier. Just in case, I had Bonnie, my illustrator, put her likeness on the cover of the book. That helped and then I added the Seattle Sounders soccer team which she was and still is totally into. Good move Pops. I am pleased to tell you she liked both the picture and the story.
While Puppy, that’s what she calls her dog, is center stage for most of the book, the story would never have happened without a take charge girl that would never give up until she got Puppy back. Again Carrot, my ever-preset superhero, plays an important part along with his nemesis, Baron Baroni. I like putting these two characters in my books because it gives them a certain continuity of characters that kids will recognize and look forward to. I like them too. 
Australian Monkey Mystery
Bart Simpson made famous the saying, “Are we there yet?” which he repeated endlessly. Children can be like that once they have a goal in sight. Banana Pants just wanted to find out what happened to Fancy Pants. He eventually realizes the grief he causes Noah’s grandparents and wants a “do over.” So sorry, it was too late in the story for that to happen. This was an easy story to write and it was my first. My grandson asked if I would take his toy monkey with us to Australia so I thought a story with his monkey would be a great idea. The story traced our vacation and since kids like maps, I included one that showed all the places Banana Pants visited on his way to solve the mystery. I love the way the illustrator made it look like the journal was written by Banana Pants. The scotch tape, small spills and fingerprints on the pages make for a neat looking book for a young reader.
Animals are always fun and who doesn’t love dinosaurs. A second-grade teacher from New York emailed me that she read the book to her class and they spent the better part of a class period discussing whether a monkey and a dinosaur could be friends. It is the power of imagination that helps young readers enjoy reading. They will like the story. 
Liam and Makani
What happens when you don’t fit in? I took two characters who are completely different but suffer from the loneliness of being away from family. Liam, a typical teenage Irish leprechaun, who is 150 years old is rebelling against his father because he wants to stop making shoes for the fairies and find his own way as a pub singer. Makani, a Hawaiian Menehune, lives on the island of Kauai and has a hard time fitting in. It’s not that Makani doesn’t want to; he just doesn’t feel comfortable and is insecure, preferring to be left alone.
I wanted to create a story which would help these two misfits resolve their inner conflicts but be an adventure with enough fantasy to make it enjoyable to children. They bond by sharing their story and then face a menacing group that would deface the sacred Ulupo Heiau. The heiau can still be seen and is one of the many projects attributed to the Menehune.
Folklore believes the Menehune were descendants of the Marquesas Islands and were the first people to settle in Hawaii. A population census in 1829 listed 65 people as Menehune. Go figure! Leprechauns don’t read or write but have fantastic memories and never forget where they bury their gold. Cross them and they will never forget. 
The Tournament
I lived in Germany when I was seven, eight and nine years old. To be surrounded by castles and tales of knights with ancient armor left my imagination swirling. Later, when I was in the Army, I lived in Germany and visited other countries as well. By then I was in love with history and Europe left a lasting impression on me. I could put the faces and places in a historical context, and it was intoxicating.
In late 2014 my brother died. During his last few years he couldn’t talk. I knew he understood what I said but couldn’t respond except to move a finger or raise an eyebrow. I couldn’t imagine trading places with him, and it haunted me wondering what was going on in his brain when I wasn’t there. When I wrote the book, I gave my brother the character of Sir Guy to explore what it might have been like not being able to speak. For a location, I picked a place in France just north of Avignon where I had seen vineyards climbing up the side of the Rhone River. I love the research that goes into writing a story. The story had to take place in 1109 so it could create the Black Knight. Make sure you read the prologue which sets the stage for the book. 
Our Featured Book
Real or Imaginary
are the Best Medicine
You are a mom or dad who just found out your child has cancer. To add to your worries, you find out your child is talking to her stuffed rabbit about it. What’s up with that? Should you be concerned? Actually, it is common to see both sick and healthy children having imaginary friends. A child can easily be overwhelmed with thoughts about cancer, especially when they know little or nothing about it. Our book will help you and your child learn more about living with cancer and how friends, real and imaginary, can help. Carrot Pants, Leilani’s stuffed animal and imaginary friend is going to tell you about Leilani, Jason and their parents and the part he plays in helping them.
The book comes with a link to our webpage where Dr. Pat Nishimoto answers questions about the story and cancer in general in the FAQ. It also has a resource page with activities from the book that you can download. You have a difficult task ahead of you and we hope this book will help.
Ask Dr. Pat
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Dr. Pat, our daughter is only 5 years old. Do we need to tell her that she has cancer?
Dr. Pat: What I hear in your question is your wish to protect your daughter and just let her be a child. How very lucky she is to have parents who want to do that. Unfortunately, not using the word cancer will not protect her. In fact, when she goes to clinic, she may hear other children, staff or other parents use the word cancer clinic or the word cancer. At home, she may hear you talk about her having cancer. Kids are smart and they are going to sense something is wrong so don’t try to keep it a secret. Instead create an open and honest environment so that she will trust you and know she can come to you in the future with any worries she might have.
Question: Why does our son keep asking the same questions about his treatment over and over again?
Dr. Pat: How wonderful he feels safe and can talk with you. You may be wondering if you are answering him in a way he understands, or his treatment has affected his memory. It is normal for kids as well as adults to ask the same questions over and over again as they try to understand their treatment and how it is affecting them. Sometimes, hearing the same answer can be reassuring.
Question: You mention in your forward about how art and other forms of expression can help kids to express their feelings and concerns about their disease as well as the world around them. My daughter has cancer. What do you suggest?
Dr. Pat: While it’s easier for adults to express their experiences in words, it’s often easier for children to use nonverbal means of communications like drawing. So, using art is a natural and easy way for a child to put their thoughts or feelings onto paper using colors, shapes, lines or images. Have your daughter trace around her hand and then have her fill it with images of all the things that help them feel better when they are feeling sad or angry. Here is a website you can visit with more ideas. https//inovativersources.org/helping-childrenexpress-emotions-through-art.
Question: How long can a child have an imaginary friend, and should I ever discourage it?
Dr. Pat: Approximately 28% of children, both boys and girls, have had an imaginary friend. They can help your child process their thoughts and feelings. By their early teens they usually lose interest in their imaginary friend but may transition to keeping a diary. The diary becomes the imaginary friend that he or she can say anything to. Talk with your pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner about your child’s imaginary friend if your child displays harmful behavior and blames it on the imaginary friend or if your child becomes frightened about the imaginary friend not leaving him or her alone.
Question: My pediatrician told me to try and keep our regular family routine, but my mother thinks we should put all that aside and just take care of our son and let him do the things he wants to do. 
Dr. Pat: I have heard parents ask this question on numerous occasions. Try to keep your family schedule as consistent as possible, it can reassure your child, especially during this time of stress and change. It doesn't mean you become rigid in your schedule but if Friday night is game night, then try to play games on Friday as a family. 
Question: Who should tell my son’s classmates that he has cancer?
Dr. Pat: There isn’t one answer for every child. First, ask your son who he wants to tell his classmates. It may be himself, you, his teacher or someone else who can explain his cancer. Ask your pediatric oncology nurse or the school nurse for help. When you meet with the children be sure to ask them what they have heard or know about cancer. Help correct any misconceptions. Encourage empathy by helping them think of ways they can help. 
Question: How important is it that my child has friends that accept, understand and want to help like Leilani has in the story.
Dr. Pat: Having a special friend allows your child to share their dreams and fears so they feel less alone and isolated. Play friends are equally important. They help to bring some normalcy to a hectic and scary part of their life. Help your child’s friends understand why your son or daughter maybe too tired to play so they won’t think it is their fault.
Question: What are the benefits of the Penny and Nickel Toss Games in the book?
Dr. Pat: It helps kids feel they are a part of the solution by doing the things on the board. It makes the parent and the child a part of a team that is working to stay strong and healthy. Parents and their children can hold each other to one task each day. It also allows your child to have the joy of having your full attention while playing. Playing with a parent provides a golden opportunity for your child to learn social skills as well. Even better, it reminds you to stop and ‘be present’ with your child in a fun activity. 
Dr. Pat: Kids want to share with others who have a common experience just like adults do. This helps them to be comfortable about talking to others about their cancer and not feeling different.
Question: I liked the hat collection in the book. Do you have any other ideas of how to make it less upsetting to have alopecia (hair loss)?
Dr. Pat: Some dads shave their heads to show ‘solidarity’ with their child. St. Baldrick’s Foundation has an annual fundraising event where hundreds of people come to have their heads shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer. Often the pediatric patients are allowed to help with the shaving. It is especially fun if they can help shave their doctor’s or nurse’s head. 
Question: The parents in the story talk with each other and exchange phone and text messaging numbers. Is that a good idea?
Dr. Pat: Establishing networks with other parents and children can be helpful. Exchanging ideas and concerns with one another provides another resource for a parent who might feel alone, upset and just doesn’t know what to do next. Some parents feel protective of their privacy, so she or he may feel more comfortable joining an on-line support group instead.
Question: Nurse Karen seemed to be a good friend who listened to and helped the kids. Is this something we should expect?
Dr. Pat: All nurses and doctors have their own styles. Many nurses and doctors who choose to work in pediatric oncology are there exactly to go out of their way to help each child while recognizing the uniqueness of each one. They work to build on the strengths of the child and help develop the skills to meet the challenges of treatment. 
Question: Carrot suggests that my child write to Jason or a friend who has cancer. Why did he do that?
Dr. Pat: Writing a letter is actually a therapeutic tool used to help people stop and reflect on their experience. By writing a letter, it allows your child a chance to share their feelings about having cancer while empowering them to feel they can help someone else.
Question: In the book Jason doesn’t want to take his meds but listens to Leilani. What is going on there?
Dr. Pat: Peer support can be a powerful tool. This is especially true when their friend understands and is having a similar experience. You have probably sought and taken advice from friends who have experienced similar problems. It is another opportunity for your child to share their feelings about having cancer and getting better. Be sure to ask your child about the advice they give and receive and correct any misinformation. 
Question: Leilani tells Carrot that she doesn’t need his help any longer and that she wants to help Jason like he has helped her. Why did she do that?
Dr. Pat: One interpretation is that Leilani wants to share what she has learned, and that it’s okay to help others. As Jason’s friend, Leilani’s support and implied message of trusting others will go a long way to helping Jason. 
Question: Should I get a stuffed toy for my child who doesn’t have one?
Dr. Pat: A stuffed toy helps infants self-soothe. It can help your child to learn social skills, empathy and compassion. It will also help your child to deal with anxieties and stresses of life and his or her cancer treatment. Talk with your child about getting one. Let it be their choice. If you get or already have one, remember they are part of your child’s family and treat them with respect. 
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