IBPA Member Spotlight: Robert Z. Hicks

IBPA Member Spotlight: Robert Z. Hicks

Robert Z. Hicks’ Children’s Books Recognized as Reader-friendly for Kids With Dyslexia
Danny the Dragon art and cover image

Recently, the American Dyslexia Association deemed author and IBPA member Robert Z. Hicks’ children’s books reader-friendly for kids with dyslexia.

Robert went out of his way to seek this approval from the ADA, so it means a great deal to him. This process started when he read Are Authors Giving Up On 20% of Their Readers? by Dr. Theodore Cohen in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators winter bulletin. In the article, Dr. Cohen shares writing and publishing methods that help children with language-based learning disabilities.

Author Robert Z. Hicks

That article inspired Robert to send an email to the American Dyslexia Association asking for suggestions that would make his books dyslexic-friendly. “A response from their Executive Director gave several suggestions and an offer to look at my books,” says Robert. “I was delighted to send my three books, and to subsequently learn that they had been tested on elementary children and were approved.”

Robert was elated because “it was evidence that my books could help early readers learn to read easier, and it also boosted the market potential for people looking for books to help their children who are having challenges with reading.”

This recognition perfectly coincides with Robert’s mission for writing children’s books in the first place. “My life purpose is to put books in the hands of children that will entertain, and teach a life lesson, and, hopefully, inspire kids to love and develop a life-long habit of reading. I was woefully ignorant about dyslexia, and after discovering how widespread it was, I thought making my books easier to read would help all children.”

Robert has authored three children’s book so far. He published Danny the Dragon through an independent publisher, and he published Tommie Turtle’s Secret and Mouse in the Manger on his own. He’s now working toward publishing his next book, The Ladybug Known as Lil, next year.


Three Questions with Author Robert Z. Hicks

IBPA: What are some helpful tips you can give other writers and publishers to make their books more reader-friendly for people with dyslexia?

Robert Hicks (RH): These are the basics for books aimed at the mass market:

Select a sans serif font, such as Arial

Chose a ragged edge rather than right justification.

Don’t put “breaks” or hyphenated words at the right margin.

Format with extra space between lines, and have enlarged letters.

Put text on a plain background to avoid “noise” and visual entanglement.

I would also suggest rhyming stories or rhyming poetry because rhyme helps [children with dyslexia] recognize the sound patterns of letters.

IBPA: What inspired you to write children’s books?

RH: Frankly, I had no intention of writing children’s books. I thought I was retired. Then I watched my wife chasing a little green tree toad, trying to catch it to put outside. That started me reminiscing about bugs and things on the farm. I was inspired to write a rhyming poem about times I would listen to the bugs when I hid in the grass under the apple tree.

A friend told me, “Mr. Bob, this is good, you should write more, and publish them.” There followed a flood of inspiration during which I wrote forty or more rhyming stories related to memories of critters and experiences I had as a youth on the farm. I published the best of those in an ebook, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm.

When I discovered that rhyming helped children with reading, I felt God had given me a new purpose, and the gift of rhyme to achieve it.

IBPA: You published two of your books on your own, so as an author publisher, can you give three key lessons that you’ve learned that will help other author publishers along their journey?

RH: First, put your ego aside. Take what you write, or want to write, to other author groups to help you discern or confirm what is publishable. Most libraries have author groups, or join an organization where you can get unbiased critiques.

Second, understand that marketing a book is the hard part. Even before publishing, build a “platform”, so you have an audience waiting.

Third, build a team; don’t be a ‘lone ranger.’ Going the distance to the goal is more attainable if you have encouragement and help from others.

IBPA: Thank you for sharing your story with us!


Learn more about Robert Z. Hicks’ children’s books here.

123. End of Once I Was a Kid

123.  End of Once I Was A Kid

Last week was the Conclusion of Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm.  It was delightful and nostalgic to relive and share with you memories from my youth on the farm, especially with wild pets and animals.

My favorite and most successful wild pet was Bandit, the raccoon, and of course Barney the crow.  Riding Smokey, my pony, was always an adventure.  There were several dreaming places, The Fantasy Forest at the back of the farm, and by The Pond at the west end, and the closest, just “disappearing” in the grass under an apple tree to listen to bugs perform their Springtime Symphony.

I wrote these memories because they inspired rhyming stories that capture the imagination of the experience.  These are published as an ebook, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm.

You can get the ebook to download to your cell phone, computer or tablet for $0.99 on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Go to their website and type in the search bar – “Once I Was A Kid Robert Z Hicks” – to bring up the book.

OR  use the link below to all the ebook digital stores where Once I Was A Kid is available.  Click on the digital store of your choice.  Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook),  Apple (iBooks) etc.

https://www.books2read.com/RobertZHicks

I received feedback expressing regret that the memories were ending, that they had enjoyed sharing my memories.  The good news is that this book was only the memories that had a poem attached, and there is ANOTHER book of memories, not published, that I can share. 

Memories of Daddy are my memories, and my Dad’s life, seen through my eyes, is a journey of an amazing man who lived through a time of incredible changes. 

Daddy, Leland Hicks, was born in 1894, saw combat in WW1, watched a man step on the moon, raised two kids,  (myself and my sister Jan) and lived to age 92 living on the farm near Ionia Michigan.

Next time, we’ll start the story.  

122. Wild Things – Born Free

122.  Wild Things –Born Free

Looking back on what I learned from Mom as I experienced adventures with the wild things while growing up on Grandpa’s farm, I remember that Mom always wanted God’s wild creatures to be free, and to imagine how you would feel, if you were in their place.

 

BORN TO BE FREE

The grasshopper fiddling;
Fiddling with glee;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Frogs in the pond;
The owl in the tree;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Bunnies in the garden;
Their tracks that I see;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Barney the crow;
Walking with me;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

Skunks in the forest;
A big bumblebee;
Created by God,
And born to be free.

All of God’s creatures;
Born to be free.
I’m God’s creation;
How about me?

CONCLUSION

My journey with imagination and empathy is not over.  Using my imagination to better understand people and have empathy for what they are feeling has helped me over the years.  It has helped me have better relationships with family and friends, and improved my teaching by enhancing my understanding of my students.

It has been a lifetime of years since I lifted my foot to stomp on the ants.  I cherish the memories of happy times during my childhood on Grandpa’s farm.

I continue to use my imagination to enjoy God’s wild creatures, and to practice the presence of God in my life.

This concludes my book, “Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm”.  Next I’ll share memories that are NOT in the book.

The whole book is available as an e-book and can be purchased for $0.99 that you can download to your computer or cell phone.

Use the link below to all the ebook digital stores where “Once I Was A Kid” is available:
Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks)

https://www.books2read.com/RobertZHicks

Click on the digital store of your choice to get to the book.

121. Fantasy Forest – A Place to Imagine

121.  Fantasy Forest – A Place to Imagine

Across the highway, way in the back of the farm in the extreme northeast corner, some trees had been left standing.  Bushes had grown up around the outside of the trees blocking any view of inside.  When I slipped inside the bushes, it was like stepping into an enclosed room roughly fifty feet long full of poles.  Low branches had been trimmed, and high branches arched across like a green cathedral ceiling with many leaves blocking out the sky.

A thick mat of dry brown leaves covered the floor of the tiny forest, and that covering, along with limited sunlight, probably accounted for almost nothing growing under the trees.  It was so quiet I could hear the hum of insects.  I would lie on my back on the mattress of dry leaves and stare up at the green ceiling and trace the golden rays of sunlight that occasionally snuck through a hole in the leaves to spotlight something on the floor.  I would dream of being in the jungles of Africa, or paddling a canoe up the Amazon, or sailing a boat in the South Pacific.

This was a perfect hideout for a young boy.  A secure, secluded green-leaf cathedral hidden from the real adult world, where fantasy could become the reality of the future.  It was a place of dreams where imagination could be set totally free; truly a tiny fantasy forest!  

I wish I had gone there more often!

 IMAGINE THAT! 

Let’s take a peek at God’s creation,
Through the window of imagination.
Close your eyes. What do you see?
You can be anywhere you want to be.

Imagine you’re an eagle way up high,
Soaring in the African sky.
Hear elephants trumpet and lions roar;
See crocodiles basking on the shore.

A tall giraffe looks really neat.
His ears are a long way from his feet.
But imagine what an awful note,
To be a giraffe with a bad sore throat!

Imagine a polka dot hippopotamus.
Now that is just preposterous!
He’s a big gray tank that’s always clean;
He swims underwater like a submarine.

Speaking of something quite preposterous,
Imagine a red and white striped rhinoceros.
Thundering over the African plain,
His red and white horn like a candy cane.

Imagination is the golden key,
To anything you want to see:
A blue and white zebra wearing a hat,
Monkeys in the jungle, or a big black cat.

Can you imagine that?  

Danny Goes to the American Library Assoc. Conference

Danny Goes to the American Library Association Conference

Danny the Dragon made his first major public appearance last month at the American Library Association’s annual conference displayed at the Independent Book Publishers booth!

As a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), I was able to send them a copy of Danny the Dragon to be included in their vendor booth at the conference.

The following is IBPA’s summary of the event.

More than 12,400 librarians attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans from June 21 to 25, 20018.  This was in addition to the more than 5,100 exhibitors.

IBPA’s cooperative booth had an impressive footprint on the show floor (40’ x 10’), and the professional signage and shelving made a proud showroom for the more than 200 books from IBPA’s publisher members.

IBPA’s built-out booth with professional signage – and members’ books – looked polished and well-presented.  

Danny the Dragon was front and center, cover facing out, with the other children’s picture books.  (Look for Danny in the picture on the left.)

We are hoping that when librarians review the catalogue that lists all the books on the IBPA display, – we’ll get orders.  Our wish is that children all over the United States and Canada will find Danny the Dragon in their libraries, and enjoy his story.              

The Trail of the Dragon

The Trail of the Dragon

What follows is one of the articles I wrote for the American Dyslexia Association detailing how I discovered them, and received their endorsement.

In the process, I learned more ways to help children, especially those with language-based challenges, to learn to read.

My children’s rhyming story picture book, Danny the Dragon, was at the Page Design department of my publisher when I picked up the SCBWI winter Bulletin. An article by Dr. Theodore Cohen PhD, “Are Authors Giving Up On 20% of Their Readers?” caught my attention.

Dr. Cohen discussed things that helped children with language-based learning disabilities, especially those with dyslexia.

Some of the things that Dr. Cohen mentioned, like a font that keeps space between letters, (sans serif) spacing out lines of text, and enlarging the text, I had already implemented in my previous books. These readability elements help any child, not just those struggling to read. Prompted by his article, I informed our publisher we wanted Arial font which is sans serif, and no right justification which can create irregular spacing between words.

An email to the American Dyslexic Association asking for suggestions for making my book “dyslexic friendly,” resulted in a response confirming our choice of font, and giving a suggestion to avoid “noise” behind letters, such as text over artwork.  I was pleased that the American Dyslexia Association offered to look at my books.

I was delighted to receive a message from the American Dyslexia Association with the information that they had “tested” my books on school children.  One girl said “she was delighted.” In fact, the girl asked for two of the books to be read again! My books, especially Danny the Dragon, are now approved by the American Dyslexic Association.

A serendipity occurred when I went online to see the Open Dyslexic font that Dr. Cohen mentioned. I found an article by dyslexia expert Dr. Guinevere Eden, a professor at Georgetown University, and director of its Center for the Study of Learning. In the context of discussing the lack of research validating “dyslexic friendly” fonts, Dr. Eden stated: “The fundamental problem of dyslexia is in mapping the shapes of letters to the right sound units or phonemes.”

The ”right sound units or phonemes” jumped out at me, because I had already learned that rhyming helps children make the connection for phonemic awareness! And, my books are stories in rhyme!

Another search of rhyming and dyslexia uncovered research by Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience at Cambridge. Dr. Goswami asserts: “Children who are dyslexic struggle with speech rhythm.” She suggests that children can overcome dyslexia by learning nursery rhymes, dancing, and singing, because the condition is caused by lack of rhythm patterns in the brain.

Rhyming with rhythm is what I do!

Robert Z. Hicks, aka “Mr. Bob”, is author and publisher of rhyming-story picture books, including “Danny the Dragon,” and the award winning “Tommie Turtle’s Secret,” winner of Best Children’s Book and Book of the Year in the Florida Writer’s Association’s Royal Palm Literary Awards competition.

Mr. Bob’s vision is to help children learn to read, and develop a life-long habit of reading. You can view his work at: www.robertzhicks.com

Link to the blog of the American Dyslexia Association.

The Trail of the Dragon by Robert Z. Hicks

*******************************

There are simple things that you can look for when shopping for children to find books that are easier to read.

Rhyme or not, you can:

Look for letters that are separate, not run together. Enlarged letters are better.
Chose books without right justification, which causes irregular spacing between words.
No “breaks” or hyphenated words at the right margin.
Extra space between lines is desirable.
Text is on a plain background, and not superimposed on artwork.

 

120. Nature’s Beauty

120.  Nature’s Beauty

Mom and I were walking through shaded woods on a neighboring farm hunting for mushrooms when we came across a beautiful lady slipper. “What a pretty flower,” I said. “Let’s pick it and take it home.” “Oh no, we mustn’t pick it,” Mom responded. “Then it will surely die. We’ll enjoy it while we’re here, but leave it to bloom and live as long as it can. Then others can enjoy it too.”

THE PRINCESS AND THE LADY SLIPPER

Deep in the forest in a moonlit glen,
The pixies come out to play.
They always come in the dark of night,
For they mustn’t be seen by day.

They sing and dance and play their games,
In the glow of the firefly’s light.
And if by chance you’d see it,
You’d think it an amazing sight!

They tell of a magic night one spring,
When the Princess came out to play.
A prince appeared, asked her to dance,
And they danced the night away.

Was it the magic of the springtime?
Or the full moon up above?
For everyone there that night would say,
The glen was aglow with love.

To remember that magic night they danced,
Beneath the bright Big Dipper,
They fashioned a flower from her shoe,
A beautiful lady slipper.

Of course, it only blooms at night,
When the pixies come out to play,
Deep in the forest on a moonlit night.
Or, at least, that’s what they say.

119. Three Stubborn Stinkers

119.  Three Stubborn Stinkers

As I was passing through the kitchen, Daddy waved at me to come outside, and then directed me to a big cardboard box he had placed by the steps.  His words, “Be careful,” slowed my headlong approach, and I peeked cautiously over the edge of the box to see three small balls of black and white fur.  “Baby skunks! Where did you find them?”

“They were wandering around in the field looking for food,” Daddy said.  “They’re so thin and weak, they must have been without their mother for several days.”

I touched the box, and three tails went up, and I jumped back.  “Don’t worry,” Mom said as she picked one up and handed it to me.  “These guys are so young their ‘perfume’ glands haven’t developed yet, so they are safe for now.”  The baby skunk was as soft as satin as I stroked him.

“Maybe we could have their glands removed so we could keep them as pets?”  Mom just smiled and told me we couldn’t possibly keep three skunks as pets, and it wouldn’t be fair to them because removing their glands would leave them defenseless, whether in the wild or not.

Mom did suggest that if we handled the skunks a lot, maybe they’d get used to us and be tame and safe for a while.  We did handle them, and fed them Mom’s special milk and honey formula in a baby bottle, but every time we picked them up we could feel them squeezing their tummies in an effort to fire their odor defense artillery!  Three stubborn stinkers by instinct!

One Sunday morning as we turned in the driveway returning from church, we knew our baby trio had come of age, and that something had startled them.  The whole area around the drive and side of the house stunk with the scent of skunk!  “It’ll blow away,” I cried, “Can we keep them a little longer?”  My plea fell on deaf ears as Daddy said they had to go — “Now!”

When we were ready to take them, Mom carefully tucked their tails under and slipped the three skunks into a gunnysack.  Mom explained that skunks flick their perfume with their tails, as well as spray, so holding their tails down would prevent them from “firing.”  I knew from experience that with tails up, skunks can sure “flick!”

We drove seventy miles north to a large protected forest area, and down a utility road about a mile from a Boy Scout camp where I had been the previous summer.  I was told there were no skunks in that area, because the ground was sandy, and there wasn’t enough food for the skunks to eat.  Daddy thought with a lake and stream nearby, and the large forest reserve, they would be okay.  Daddy put the sack down and opened it, and the babies marched away in single file as though they knew exactly where they were going.

It was several years later when I was in my tent at that Boy Scout camp again, and just settling down on my bunk for the night, when the unmistakable fragrance of skunk drifted in to my nose.  “Wow!” I thought, “Our stubborn trio had survived in the wild, and something has startled them.”  Mom and Daddy were pleased to hear the news that our three stubborn stinkers, or their descendants, were alive and casting their scent in the woods, to live free and happy ever after.

TALE OF A TAIL

“Pick a skunk up by the tail,” they say,
‘cuz upside down he cannot spray.
Is it possible, without fail,
To pick a skunk up by the tail?

I bet it’s just a country joke,
To have some fun with city folk.
I’ll put this folklore to the test,
And any doubts I’ll put to rest!

I saw a skunk out in the field,
In knee-high grass I crept concealed.
I grabbed his tail up, yesser-eee!
But when I got him, he “got” me!

So friends, let common sense prevail,
And don’t pick skunks up by the tail!
I sure did prove this saying wrong,
I hope this smell won’t last too long.

 

American Dyslexia Association endorses books!

We are excited to receive the endorsement of the American Dyslexia Association for my books!

The article below is the first of three that will be posted on the ADA Blog. (Link below) The second article appearing in a few weeks, traces how I discovered what can be done to help children with language-based difficulties have an easier time reading my books.

When I contacted the American Dyslexia Association, their Director graciously offered to look at my books, and then invited me to write articles about my work and books, and, subsequently gave their endorsement.

Can Rhyming Help Children Learn to Read Better? by Robert Z Hicks

06/15/2018 | By Office ADA

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 my first book, “Tommie Turtle’s Secret”.

What makes your books different from 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 comments to highlight things to be learned.

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. 

I asked Crystal Bowman, my mentor, friend, a mother, and successful children’s author, what she thought of rhyme, which she uses in her books.

Crystal Bowman’s perspective on rhythm, rhyme, and reading:

“I know that babies are born with a strong sense of rhythm.  They respond to rocking, repetition, and music.  They naturally clap their hands and move to music and rhythm.
 
Text written with repetition and rhyme is a help to a struggling reader because the repetition helps them learn new words, and the rhyme helps them with pronunciation. (they know what the word needs to sound like)”

I was excited to learn that rhyming helps children read more effectively.  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.

What is Tommie Turtle’s Secret?

Tommie’s secret is the story of the day he raced speedy Hoppy Bunny to teach the bunny valuable lessons about friendship.  A surprise twist at the end highlights moral values of forgiveness, and that being nice, not bragging and teasing, is the way to make friends. 

Questions and commentary at the end of the book test comprehension, stimulate critical thinking, and provide a basis for discussion of the effect of bragging and teasing on relationships. Parents can also point out that by focusing on the abilities Tommie had, not on what he couldn’t do, Tommie could still enter the race.

“Tommie Turtle’s Secret,” won Best Children’s, and Book of the Year, in the 2008 Florida Writer’s Royal Palm Awards competition.

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”.  

Are you going to publish more children’s books?

Absolutely! My heart’s desire is to use my gift of rhyme to help children learn to read and to develop a love for reading!

Here is a link to the American Dyslexia Association Blog.

118. Ole

118.  Ole

Daddy bought “me” a flock of sheep when I was ten years old.  There were about twenty ewes and a ram. They resided in the sheep shed, of course, and had the run of the barnyard and part of the grassy field north of the barn that Daddy had fenced for them.

I learned there is more to raising sheep than shepherding them and watching them eat grass.  A truck pulled in with a big sheep dip tank.  The sheep, who were filthy, were pushed up a ramp and into the dip tank to destroy parasites, and clean their wool.  They looked scared and were bleating as they swam to the end of the tank.  I could see why, because the sheep dip was black and smelled awful!

It was fascinating to watch the professional shearers who then came to cut the wool off the sheep.  They clipped fast and close!  The wool was cleaned, combed, and sold.  When lambs were born in the spring, I imagined growing rich as my flock multiplied and we had more wool to sell.  The lambs were so cute and fun to play with.

Then I discovered that the feisty ram of the flock would charge my fluttering red jacket when I waved it like a bullfighter.  I maneuvered him onto the barn floor, with the haylofts and lofty ceiling as my bullfight arena. “Olé!”  I shouted, imagining that I was a bullfighter, as the ram put his head down and charged through my waving jacket.  He charged unseeing with his head down, and ran into the barn door, breaking off one of his horns.  My “Olé” faded into “Oh no!”  Then I made a mistake.  I didn’t say anything to my parents.

A couple of days later, Mom said to me, “Daddy wants to know what happened to the ram’s horn.”  I explained my bullfight “game,” and nothing more was said.  A week later, when I came home from school, the sheep were gone.  I asked Mom, “What happened to the sheep?”  “Daddy thought you weren’t old enough to take responsibility for the sheep,” was her reply.  Nothing more was ever said.  Daddy’s discipline was never confronting, never punishment.  He simply corrected the situation in which I had made my “mistake.”

Looking back, I realize now that the sheep were really intended for me, and not a family venture.  I can’t imagine how Daddy must have felt after all the expense and work he invested to start the sheep business for me, and then I was too immature to care for the sheep.

Imagination is wonderful and exciting.  But it has to be balanced with common sense and consideration for safety for animals, and for people.

BAA BAA

“Baa Baa,” said the sheep,
“My fleece is white as snow,
I like to lie down in the dirt,
Everywhere I go.”

“I find the dirt around the barn,
And that is where I play.
I like to roll around in dust,
Until I’m dirty gray.”

“The boy would like me clean and white,
But I don’t think that way.
I’d rather lie in dust and dirt,
So this is what I say…”

“Baa — Bah!”