Eric Litwin is the author of the first four Pete the Cat picture books and the author of the new musical series The Nuts, available today. He has also recorded award winning music CDs. Eric is a popular performing artist who plays guitar, sings, tells musical stories and brings books to life. He is also a nationally respected keynote speaker on interactive literacy and music. Eric is also the co-creator of The Learning Groove which offers parent and child music classes and preschool music curriculum. I had the pleasure of speaking with him last week while in Atlanta. An edited version of our conversation follows below.
At the beginning of our chat, I mentioned to Eric that I was currently on tour in the Atlanta area.
(When I started out) I did the Atlanta Metro area for over ten years, I did between 200 and 300 shows a year. I would usually do two shows per location, doing a gig almost every single day. You know, this is how I write my books. My stories, my books, come from the folk music and oral storytelling background, and I’m also a former teacher very interested in literacy. What I would do is create musical stories, and I would tell them story over and over again until it was just perfect. Using all American roots, folk music, blues, pop, everything I liked. I was also learning quite a bit and using my skills as a storyteller, so repetition, call and response, I very much enjoyed the musical stories of Seeger, and then I blended those two things with my understanding of early literacy and that’s how the Pete the Cat books were created.
I’m a teacher and your first book, Pete the Cat I Love my White Shoes is an unparalleled hit with my kids.
The success of my books has come from the classroom and library use and the librarians and teachers were the first to understand what I was doing. Book store owners definitely got it, and we got great support from them too, and we got a good response from the general public, but it was when the teachers and libraries got ahold of the books and the saw the benefits for the beginning readers and the children just fell in love with it. They are designed for performances so they’re perfect to be read out loud for story time. And that’s when everything began to just grow and grow.
Yes, your books are much more interactive than a lot of other kids books. It’s about the experience created by the people involved rather than a parent just reading while the kid sits there.
That’s exactly right, and I have nothing against active listening. I just think it [helps the parents] to use full on engagement. I was a teacher for both typically developing and special education students and for my students, I needed to get them singing and moving and what I felt was phonics and sight words very important skills. But I felt basing a child’s ability to learn how to read on their phonics and sight word skills was the wrong approach, rather my kids were figuring the books out and the best way to help them figure it out was a repetitive pattern, prediction based on rhyme memory enhancement through movement and song, and with these things they can basically figure the story out after one telling, and then they combine that with their phonics skills and their sight words and now all of a sudden you would have children reading these books that were not successful reading other books.
That had to be gratifying.
Oh it was fantastic. I mean, I was a teacher and I did performance. When I would go to schools I would get a warm reception, but the idea of this large commercial success, the number of teachers and librarians that I have reached is phenomenal. (Eric’s books have sold over 1.5 million copies, been translated into seven languages and won 15 state and national awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award.)
And now you have a new series, The Nut Family, coming out, yes?
Yes and they’re actually Nuts! The daughter is a hazelnut, her name is Hazel, the brother is a walnut and his name is Wally, the mother is a Chestnut and her name is Ima Nut. It’s musical, and what I’m really proud of is that this book bridges the gap between early literacy and disco music.
You know, when I think about it, there is a gap between those two things.
A lot of people didn’t even realize it was a need! Then they see the book, the Mamma uses the Jon Travolta move to get the kids back to bed. You know the move, where he goes from the corner and points up, that’s where the bed is. The pointing move. “All little nuts need to go up to bed and you’re, pointing.
That’s a very effective way to get your point across, the Jon Travolta pointing dance move.
I think so, and I hope that everyone agrees. We have support from major retailers, we are getting a great response. The website, the nut family goes online soon (today!), You’ll be able to download the music. This book is a bed time story that comes with an actual lullaby. I wanted to write a bed time story where at the end of the book you sing a lullaby
In anticipation of this interview I showed the preview on your website to my 2.5 year old nephew and he watched it with a big smile on his face.
I hope so! we’ve been great I told this story, of course, hundreds to a thousand times before it was ready and I was getting a great response from the children and the audiences.
Check back tomorrow to read more about Eric’s work with The Learning Groove and running a business. To learn more about The Nut Family, click here.