My two granddaughters play outdoors everyday. When I discovered Rebecca P. Cohen’s book for parents, Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids, I knew I had to read it. Rebecca’s message is powerful: time outside transforms our lives for the better.
Now she’s come out with a new interactive adventure book for 2-8 year old children that engages their imagination and encourages them to get outside. It’s called PJ’s Backyard Adventures: Who is PJ? I asked Rebecca to tell me more about her new book.
After writing your parenting book, 15 Minutes Outside, what inspired you to write a children’s book series?
Children are naturally drawn to the outdoors and creative play outside. While my first book, 15 Minutes Outside, is written for parents, I thought it was time for kids to have ongoing encouragement to get outside. I set out to create a book series I wish my children had when they were learning to read. PJ’s Backyard Adventures bridges Bob Books and The Magic Treehouse series, giving young children a character they not only can relate to, but also look forward to interacting with in each book.
What makes PJ’s Backyard Adventures an early reader “adventure book?”
There are many ways that children can interact with PJ’s Backyard Adventures, which makes a new type of activity book that I call an adventure book. More than a story, children interact with each page. Children can experience PJ’s Backyard Adventures in many ways:
- Color the illustrations
- Find a sight word hidden in each illustration
- Decorate their own pj’s, hat, and boots
- Draw their favorite place to play
- Draw and write about where their pj’s and imagination could take them
- Trace, then cut out flash cards for each sight word
- Sort the sight word flash cards in alphabetical order
- Cut out PJ from the back cover and take him on outdoor adventures
Prior to publishing the book, you tested it with kids. What did you learn?
Children love finding a sight word hidden in each illustration. Many kids will want to re-read the story many times and then color. Some will want to color first. Others will talk about where they like to play outside like PJ. There is something for every child, no matter their learning style. At the specific request of teachers, we added the traceable sight word flash cards to the end of the book. In addition to tracing each word, older children can cut out the flash cards and even put them in alphabetical order.
How was the process different writing for children?
Determining the reading level at which to write was the first step. Once I decided on an early reader book, referencing Dolch sight words to select a sight word per page to also hide in the illustration was the most fun. Asking teachers for feedback helped me make modifications to language.
Your sister is the illustrator. What was it like working so closely together?
Working with my sister, Marni Penning Coleman, has been the best creative collaboration I’ve ever had. We Skyped every week to set milestones and review work. No matter what was going on in our lives, we each understood and were supportive. Through this project, my sister has discovered she is a very talented illustrator!
What’s next for PJ’s Backyard Adventures and your new website, BeOutsideAndGrow.com?
I recently took PJ to international schools in Beijing and to preschool classrooms in New York City. I’ll continue to visit schools around the world with PJ and promote outdoor play, as well as visit with parents to show them simple activities from 15 Minutes Outside. We are currently working on Books #2 and #3. PJ’s Backyard Adventures will keep me passionate and engaged for many years to come!