Making Connections: Author Virtual Visit
Lisa M. Bakos is a relatively new author in the world of children’s literature, but she is already making a name for herself as an enthusiastic and thoughtful advocate of young readers. With her delightful picture book debut, The Wrong Side of the Bed, Lisa has shown that she not only relates to young children and understands their mindset, but can do so in a way that is both constructive and captivating. Moreover, as McLean students personally found out these last few weeks, Lisa M. Bakos is also an incredibly kind, generous, and down to earth person. She wrote a story, and then made it come alive.
We’ve all been there – those difficult days when, from the very moment you wake up, everything seems to go wrong. When you feel caught up in a depressing downward spiral of mistakes, inconveniences, and irritations. All too often, it becomes a vicious cycle that feels impossible to escape until you just accept that you’re in for what’s undoubtedly, evidently, unmistakably going to be a terrible day. Children, no matter how young, are certainly not immune to these experiences. In fact, Lisa came up with the idea for The Wrong Side of the Bed, released by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in early March, when her toddler son woke up in a bad mood and went on to have a rough rest of the day. Inspired by this experience, Lisa’s book follows Lucy, an endearing, curly-haired protagonist, as she navigates through her own difficult day. Children will not only be able to relate to little Lucy’s series of struggles – like only being able to find one slipper in the morning, missing the bus to and from school, and having to eat vegetables before dessert – but will also feel validated for those times when they have similar snags in their own routines. In what is an ideal starting point for discussion, the readers, alongside Lucy, are presented with the idea that perhaps a new perspective and a determined attitude can turn it all around and change everything.
As a parent, Lisa M. Bakos obviously knows children. As a writer, she obviously knows her craft. For example, the repetitive narrative in The Wrong Side of the Bed convincingly conveys the impression that all of these unfortunate instances which Lucy encounters just keep piling on top of each other. After all, that’s exactly what those kinds of days feel like: each problem in itself might be small and easily handled, but things get overwhelming when they all happen together. This sensation resonates with all of us as humans and is exactly what my students were responding to as they exclaimed “Oh no!”, “That’s eight bad things now!”, “There’s more?!” during our read aloud. On a more surface level, the repetitious phrases also involve children in the story as they anticipate each recap and recite along with the reader.
Also worthy of mention is the way in which this book manages to communicate a message that is both generally relatable and specifically personal. It’s a difficult balance to pull off, but Lisa does it wonderfully by including a few humorous characters that make the day even more troublesome. Except for Lucy, there are no other humans in the story. Instead, it’s a porcupine that invades Lucy’s bed, an alligator that steals her toothbrush, an elephant that insists on riding her bike, and penguins that turn bath time into a discomforting experience. After all, every child might not have a sibling or friend who hogs the blankets or steals the matching socks, but anyone can imagine how inconvenient it would be if an octopus were to do this! Young readers can laugh at the absurdity of the situation while also supplementing the details and people that they have in their own lives.
Anna Raff’s playful illustrations in The Wrong Side of the Bed are the perfect accompaniment to Lisa’s story. The gentle palette of purples, pinks, and blues that are utilized throughout the book is an interesting contrast to the gloomy day that Lucy goes on to have, emphasizing how perception will always trump circumstances. Additionally, the overlay of different textures make the characters truly pop. Children will appreciate the small details that Anna incorporates on each page (the mischief of the porcupine and the white surrender flag in the bathtub scene are personal favorites for my students!), and they will especially enjoy searching for a certain elusive bunny slipper. Like all great illustrators, Anna Raff uses pictures to expand Lisa’s words and also show stories of her own.
The Wrong Side of the Bed is a wonderful story with an important theme about finding optimism in the midst of difficulties. It is a book that children – and adults! – can relate to and benefit from. The students and I certainly have a lot of appreciation for this book and I absolutely loved experiencing Lucy’s story alongside of them. The fact that we were able to do this, however, is completely due to Lisa M. Bakos herself, who, because of a connection I made with her through Twitter, generously mailed an autographed copy of her book to the McLean School library.
But that’s not all.
Through Lisa’s kindness and the wonder of technology, the students were able to go beyond reading an autographed story. As if sending her book were not enough, Lisa also agreed to a free virtual visit with our kindergarten and first grade students. For half an hour, we Skyped with Lisa and they were given the opportunity to ask questions about her books, her many pets, and what it’s like to be an author. She patiently answered all of their eager questions and excited comments. I especially appreciated her emphasis on reading in order to become a better writer and her encouragement to try out different book genres. To the delight of our students, Lisa even read aloud to them her upcoming summer release, Too Many Moose! There was complete silence in the library as the children became caught up in this humorous story about a girl and her plethora of moose. All in all, the visit was a fantastic experience that really connected our youngest readers with Lucy’s creator in a truly memorable and meaningful way that neither the students nor I will soon forget.
Picture books are a really beautiful format for children and adults to explore different themes and emotions together. The Wrong Side of the Bed is a great example of this. And yet, when the distance between an author and her readers narrows in the way that it did for me and my students this past week, that’s when a story truly comes alive. And it just doesn’t get any better than that.