Robert Z Hicks, known as “Mr. Bob”. is an award winning author and publisher of children’s rhyming picture books.
Coming from a career of teaching college, how did you get started writing children’s books? Had you always dreamed of someday writing children’s books?
No, it never occurred to me to write children’s books. I thought I was retired after teaching speech communication for 24 years at the University of Hawaii. But, after watching my wife Betty chase a green tree toad around the living room trying to capture it under a paper cup, I started reminiscing about critters I enjoyed as a child growing up on my grandfather’s farm in Michigan in the 40’s. I felt inspired to write a rhyming poem based on my memories.
A friend encouraged me to write more stories, and there followed a flood of inspiration of rhyming stories triggered by memories of my childhood experiences.
How many stories did you write?
About 40. We took manuscripts of Tommie Turtle’s Secret, Mouse in the Manger, and several other stories to the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference in 2005 to find out what writing and publishing books entailed. Surprised and encouraged that the stories won Best Submission for Children’s Writing, we decided to publish Tommie Turtle’s Secret.
How many books have you published?
I’ve published three picture books, Tommie Turtle’s Secret, Mouse In the Manger, and Danny the Dragon, and an ebook, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm.
Tommie Turtle’s Secret, won First Place for Children’s Books & Book of the Year in the 2008 Florida Writer’s Royal Palm Awards competition.
Looking for an artist for Mouse in the Manger, Betty and I went to the graduate’s portfolio presentation at The Art Institute of Tampa, and met Ashley Otis, a gifted young artist who works with digital art. We hired Ashley to bring Micah the mouse to life in “Mouse in the Manger”.
Mouse In The Manger was awarded Best Submission for Children’s Writing at the 2011 Florida Christian Writer’s Conference; and was also a Finalist in the Florida Writers Association 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards competition and a Finalist in the 2015 USA Best Book Awards!
Because of the exceptional art work Ashley did for Mouse in the Manger, we got Ashley to illustrate Danny the Dragon, and the cover of Once I Was A Kid.
What makes your books different from the other children’s books out there?
The stories are written in rhyme, and each stanza is accompanied by an illustration that helps the child visualize the story and what the words are saying.
As a teacher, I add value to my books by including a study guide with questions to test comprehension, and to highlight things to be learned. The colorful illustrations by Ashley Otis along with rhythm and rhyme keep attention, and prompt kids to ask for the books again and again.
What has been your reward from publishing these books?
I discovered research that early learning of rhymes increases phonemic awareness, and improves the ability to read. Reading nursery rhymes and rhyming stories to babies and young children helps establish the ear-brain connection for discriminating sound units.
In addition, my books were endorsed by the American Dyslexia Association, which means that children with language-based challenges can have an easier time reading them.
I was excited because it gave purpose and direction for the inspiration of the stories God gave me, and for my gift for rhyme. I wasn’t looking for another career, but I am delighted to have a new purpose and cause to pursue in my life.
Parents and grandparents can give my books, or read to their children, to increase their verbal skills, or use a book as an alternative to the kids using a smart phone or iPad.
My heart’s desire is to use my gift of rhyme to help children learn to read and to develop a love for reading.