Guest Blog: Giving the Gift of Storytelling to Your Kids

Something we strive to inspire in our readers is a vivid imagination. There’s nothing quite like diving in to a good book and your mind immediately running wild with images and ideas. Helping children utilize and explore their curiosity and creativity is an important element to their development.

Books and stories have a special way of helping form a child’s imagination, and to help them understand the importance and the fun of creative play. Blogger, educator, and book enthusiast Ryan Billingsley tells us about the importance of storytelling in his household, and how he thinks it has positively effected his children. Read in his own words below!

Dad Suggests Giving the Gift of Storytelling to Your Kids

 
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The Magic of Reading

My favorite way to describe the magic of reading books to kids is calling it a noble and sacred duty for parents. The benefits of growing up surrounded by stories are numerous, and I’m not just talking about the academic benefits and the boost to reading skills – not by a long shot. There’s a lot more to it than that. I honestly believe that consistent exposure to books is the second-best gift you can give your children – just behind your unconditional love.  

All parents have their own set of priorities and things they want to teach and pass on to their children. And long ago I decided that imagination, creativity, and wonder were all going to sit at the top of my list. And I’ve found that stories are the perfect fuel for that fire. For that reason, books have been a part of the bedtime routine in our house every single night of our kids’ lives.

Imagination and Curiosity

I like to imagine that this constant exposure to beautiful art is responsible for giving our 6-year-old the heart of an artist and an inventor. He’s curious and imaginative, and he’s always wanting to create, express himself, and explore new things. I’ve long believed that having that sort of deep-rooted interest in life was a major key to happiness. And it’s my duty as a dad to nurture that spark and that excitement. 

“I honestly believe that consistent exposure to books is the second-best gift you can give your children – just behind your unconditional love.”

I actually consider this cultivation of imagination and curiosity one of my most important fatherly responsibilities. After all, if kids are able to hold onto their childhood wonder as they grow older, they’re going to be well-equipped to find happiness in life. And it’s undeniable – the more they explore and the more they discover – that makes it all the more likely that they’ll find that thing they’re passionate about and gives their life meaning. And we should all be so lucky to discover that. And that’s why my family explores new worlds and new ideas and new types of people in the pages of books every single day. Every new story brings new understanding and new possibilities.

 
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Dad’s Picks

We read a lot of different kinds of books together with our children, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t personally attracted to certain types of books. My very favorite picture books can be split into three major categories: scary picture books, picture books about imagination, and picture books with life lessons.

Explaining the scary books is easy. I’ve always loved scary stories, and the books from my childhood that I have the most nostalgia for are by far the spookiest ones. When I pulled them out of my parents’ attic, I was ecstatic to share them with my own kids. And if I’m excited about the books, the kids are definitely going to pick up on that. And I think it’s particularly important for Dad to be a reading role model. You can’t ask for more than a read-aloud where everyone involved is excited about the book. That’s exactly the type of bonding experience we’re after.

I’m drawn towards books about the imagination for obvious reasons as well. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, childhood, and the imagination – so of course I love it when books encourage creativity. And I love stories that are so beautiful and imaginative that they stretch our kids’ imaginations and challenge what they believe to be possible. And it’s also why I have a soft spot for Blue Manatee Press for their stated mission of encouraging “experiencing the world through hands-on, creative play.” Books have an aura of authority, and I love it when they use it to encourage kids to be kids.

 
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And, speaking of books using their authority for good causes, I absolutely love using books to teach. As an example, going back to my list of priorities as a dad that I want to pass on to my kids, the undisputed number one item on that list is empathy and kindness. Books have an incredible ability to grow empathy in children as they meet new characters and explore their feelings. But that’s certainly not all they can teach. I credit books for helping us teach our kids about death, fear, self-confidence, the environment, love, equality, and so much more.

That’s what I mean when I say giving the gift of storytelling is about so much more than the academic benefits and the boost to reading skills. When I’m sharing the books I loved as a kid, reading together is a powerful and important bonding opportunity that can’t be underestimated. When we’re discovering new worlds and exploring beautiful art together, it’s a chance to feed our kids’ imaginations and give them the tools that help them discover happiness in life. And whether the lessons in the books are explicit or not, there’s definitely more learning taking place than we can ever fully understand.


 Ryan Billingsley is a father of two, a teacher, and the lead writer for DadSuggests.com – where he highlights personal recommendations for kids books, family games, and more.

Be sure to follow Ryan on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook using @dadsuggests for book recommendations, tips, inspiration and more! And follow us on Instagram @bluemanateepress for all blue manatee press updates!

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Want To Publish With Blue Manatee Press? Here's a Guide To Help You Decide If We're The Right Fit!

Congratulations! You’ve finished a manuscript!

That is no easy task, and you should be proud of yourself! Now you’re ready to submit that manuscript to publishers in hopes that they will choose your story!

Thinking about submitting to blue manatee press? There are only a few publishers who still accept unsolicited manuscripts, but before you hit that “send” button, make sure we’re the right home for you! Here are a few things to know about blue manatee press!

Who is blue manatee press?

 
There’s more where that came from! A sampling of blue manatee press’s picture books and board books.

There’s more where that came from! A sampling of blue manatee press’s picture books and board books.

 

If this is your first time with us, blue manatee press is an independent children’s book publisher of original board books and picture books with an emphasis on building readers from infancy. Our founder Dr. John Hutton emphasizes baby literacy by encouraging adults to read to children for at least 15 minutes a day as early as infancy.

Another major point of focus for blue manatee press is screen-free playtime—that means getting creative! Many of our titles support creative play, including the Baby Unplugged series and our ROYGBaby series, our rainbow-colored concept book series!

I’m ready to submit my manuscript. What do I do?

Submitting to the press is the easy part! But first, make sure we’re the right fit for your manuscript by reading and downloading our submission guidelines.

 
Want a tip? Make a check-list as you begin to submit your manuscript so you know you haven’t missed any steps!

Want a tip? Make a check-list as you begin to submit your manuscript so you know you haven’t missed any steps!

 

A few immediate questions to ask yourself:

  1. Our board books are 14 pages (17 spreads) with no more than 100 total words. Does your board book fit this criteria?

  2. Our picture books are no longer than 40 pages (20 spreads) and on average are no more than 1,000 total words. Does your picture book fit this criteria?

Once you’ve read our submission guidelines and you think your manuscript qualifies, send your completed book proposal as an email attachment to bluemanateepress@gmail.com with one of two subject lines: “Board Book New Submission” or “Picture Book New Submission.” If we are interested in your project, we will contact you within two to three months of submission.

I’m not sure my manuscript fits the criteria, so I’m nervous to submit to the press.

We’re a small (but mighty) team, which means we are unable to answer personal queries regarding our submission guidelines or if your manuscript fits the criteria.

So we say—submit your manuscript anyway! If we think your story has potential but will need some more work, that won’t turn us away from it! We’re happy to work with manuscripts that we see have a bright future with our editorial team!

If we are interested in your submission, then you will hear back from us within 3 months of when you submitted. We understand the excitement and anticipation it comes with creative work, so we appreciate your patience in us reading through all of the submissions we receive!

We hope this helps! Be sure to follow us on instagram @bluemanateepress to stay up to date with the latest from blue manatee press!

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Get to Know Illustrator Claire Sedovic!

We recently introduced all of you to June Smalls, author of our upcoming picture book Odd Animal ABC’s! Now, we’d like you to meet the woman behind all the adorable odd animal illustrations, Claire Sedovic!

Who Is Claire Sedovic?

Claire Sedovic is the illustrator of  Odd Animal ABC’s , on sale this spring.

Claire Sedovic is the illustrator of Odd Animal ABC’s, on sale this spring.

Claire studied graphic design and minored in printmaking at Drake University, where she says she “developed an understanding of the interplay between text and imagery.” But by the age of six, she already knew she wanted to be an illustrator.

“Everyday experiences, such as childhood dance classes, working in the garden with my mother, and cooking dinner with my sister, have provided inspiration for the words and pictures that fill my sketchbooks.” — Claire Sedovic on what inspires her

After graduating, Claire started to work more consistently with watercolor, and ultimately left her corporate graphic design job to pursue her dream of becoming a published illustrator.

Odd Animal ABC’s!

 
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One thing that Claire hopes readers get out of Odd Animal ABC’s is understanding how diverse the animal kingdom is. “Of course I hope they laugh along with all the wonderful, and often weird critters as they travel from A to Z,” she says, “but on a deeper level, I also hope that it sparks new curiosity about the natural world and a desire preserve and protect it for future generations.” 

The Artist’s Process!

In her own words, this is Claire’s artistic process:

I work primarily with traditional media: paper, pencil, watercolor, and brush. I begin by lightly sketching my illustrations (and always keep an eraser close by!)

 
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When I am satisfied with the pencil drawing, I fill it in with watercolor. I especially love to add a little more life to my creations with a light touch of the magenta on cheeks, noses, and chins. After the watercolor is dry, I retrace the pencil with a softer lead for added detail and contrast.

 
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Once I’m happy with the finished illustration, I scan it so I have a high-resolution digital file that matches the color of the original work as closely as possible. From here, I take that file into Photoshop, drop out the white paper background, and clean up the edges. Finally, I take the edited illustration and add it as a layer to the storybook spread.

Her Favorite Odd Animal!

With so many fun animals to choose from, we were curious which was Claire’s favorite. “I fell in love with the Tree Kangaroo!” she says. “They look more like cuddly teddy bears than they do kangaroos, and I enjoyed mixing the paint for their reddish fur and pale pink noses.

 
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“The animal that gave me the most difficulty was the leaf-tailed gecko,” she adds. “These amazing amphibians look more like a piece of dried foliage than they do a living animal!”

Advice For Young Artists!

Claire has simple but important advice for children who show an interest in art: Make art, and lots of it! “The old adage of practice makes perfect really is true,” she says. “The more you practice your craft, the more you will improve your skills and build confidence in your own abilities.  

“And most importantly, draw what you know, what you love, and what you’re curious about,” she adds. “If you’re not first and foremost making art for yourself, then what’s the point of making it at all? We make time for the things we love, so if you want to keep yourself coming back to the drawing board, make art you are passionate about. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Every doodle, every scratch and scrawl of your pencil is mark closer to becoming the illustrator you wish to be.”

Do you have any young artists in your family? Share their work in the comments below, and make sure to follow us on instagram @bluemanateepress for your daily dose of books, art and inspiration!


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Here Are Our 8 Favorite Reading Spots For Winter!

The days are shorter and the nights are colder—yes, winter is officially here, the perfect time to jump into a new book! Here are our eight favorite spots to read in the wintertime!

1. With a view!

Too cold to go outside? Stay inside with a good book and read by the window!

 
Tito’s Inferno  , written by Dr. John Hutton,   is a play on Dante’s Inferno!

Tito’s Inferno, written by Dr. John Hutton, is a play on Dante’s Inferno!

 

2. By the fire!

Baby, it’s cold outside! Warm up by the fireplace while you flip through the pages!

 
Papa can be a lot of things, find out what in   My Papa is a Princess  , written and illustrated by Doug Cenko!

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3. At a bookstore!

A bookstore is the best place to finish a book, because you can pick up another one right away!


 
The blue manatee press books are sold all across America! Check your  local bookstore !

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4. In a café!

Grab a handful of your favorite books and get comfortable at your favorite local café or restaurant!

 
Sleepy Solar System   walks us through the all-important bedtime routine! Written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Doug Cenko!

Sleepy Solar System walks us through the all-important bedtime routine! Written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Doug Cenko!

 

5. In a pillow fort!

Nothing screams “cozy” quite like a pillow and blanket fort!

 
Something must’ve looked familiar to this reader in the board book   Dogs!   written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Doug Cenko!

Something must’ve looked familiar to this reader in the board book Dogs! written by Dr. John Hutton and illustrated by Doug Cenko!

 

6. At school!

Catch up on your homework early and spend down time in your favorite fictional world!

 
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7. At the library!

Get happily lost in the stacks and stacks of books!

 
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8. Cozy on the couch with your family!

A book is always better with a loved one!

 
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Where do you and your family like to read together in the winter? Comment below to give us some ideas, and don’t forget to follow blue manatee press on instagram @bluemanateepress for your daily dose of books, art and inspiration!

Get To Know Illustrator Erin Barker!

Have you ever tried something and the first time around it didn’t go how you wanted? It can be disheartening for something to not work out how you envisioned it!

Well we’re here to tell you that it’s okay to make mistakes, and the important thing to do is to try again! But don’t just take our word for it—Cincinnati-based illustrator Erin Barker says that trial and error is all part of the process.

Erin Barker in her home studio

Erin Barker in her home studio

Who is Erin Barker?

Erin graduated from Asbury University with a fine arts and painting degree in 2011. After graduation, she went on to work in graphic design before dabbling in the world of illustration.

“I didn’t take it seriously as an option until I took a desk job that was a bad fit for me. I was really creatively starved during that time in my life, so I took on a lot of illustration projects on the side and worked on those in the evenings,” she says.

In April 2018, Erin illustrated What Is Soft?, written by Susan Kantor, through blue manatee press.

What Is Soft?   written by Susan Kantor and illustrated by Erin Barker

What Is Soft? written by Susan Kantor and illustrated by Erin Barker

Try and Try Again!

Erin’s experience illustrating What Is Soft? put to practice the age-old advice we’ve all heard: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!

 “A book is a totally different medium than anything else I’ve done,” she says. “It was a challenge for me at the beginning. I had some confidence issues. A couple of the first pieces I worked on, for whatever reason, they weren’t turning out the way I wanted them to. I think I set myself very high expectations that I have to get something right the first time. So it was slightly discouraging that I had to do something over again.”

You cannot always get things right the first time, and that’s okay.
— Erin Barker on first attempts

That process of trying and trying again became an important life lesson for her. “You cannot always get things right the first time, and that’s okay,” she says. “In fact, the more you do it, the second or third one is always going to be better than the first one because you’re solving problems along the way. There are instances in the first one where something is captured that you cannot duplicate. But sometimes you don’t know the first trial is the best one until you do a second or third.”


Erin Barker at the 2018 Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Ohio

Erin Barker at the 2018 Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, Ohio

Sketches from Erin’s children’s first illustrated book  What Is Soft?  written by Susan Kantor

Sketches from Erin’s children’s first illustrated book What Is Soft? written by Susan Kantor

What’s Next?

We’re so excited about Erin’s future book projects with blue manatee press! “I definitely want to keep making books,” she says.

“I love storytelling! I’m working on two book projects, one I’m illustrating, and one I’m writing and illustrating. I’m really excited, but also a little nervous. They’re both really fun projects!”


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When is a time where your tried something new and learned from the mistakes? Comment below to help inspire us!

To see more of Erin’s work and to get to know her better, be sure to follow her on instagram @hooraylorraine, and don’t forget to follow blue manatee press @bluemanateepress for your daily dose of art and inspiration!