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Ernestine Visits Rotterdam May 23, 2012

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On May 14th, Linda Ravin Lodding — author of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, (illustrated by Suzanne Beaky) — appeared at the First Annual Book Carnival at the American International School in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Prior to the book signing, the students enjoyed Ernestine-themed activities in the library, including kite making!

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Ernestine Travels to Play April 3, 2012

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The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, written by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky, featured at the Bologna Book Fair 2012.

“Although I couldn’t attend the 2012 Bologna Book Fair which just closed last week, my first picture book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, was on display. This annual fair is the most important international event in the children’s publishing industry. Publishers and agents from all over the world met to show off their wares and buy & sell foreign rights. While insiders reported that there seemed to be fewer attendees this year than last, business was robust. “Ernestine” proudly took her place at the active SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) stand which showcased the work of some of their members.” Linda Ravin Lodding, author, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister

Not April Fooling You April 1, 2012

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written by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

Author Linda Lodding is a featured interviewee on Julie Hedlund’s April Author-Palooza! Read what she has to say about writing and publishing picture books, and leave a comment on that post to be entered to win a manuscript critique from Linda or one of the other multi-published authors.

Join in the Discussion about Play January 29, 2012

Posted by flashlightblog in Individuality, Play, Reviews.
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Hurray!  It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday!
Today’s choice is as much for parents and teachers as it is for kids!

Image from The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, written by Linda Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister
Flashlight Press, October 2011, Fiction
Suitable For: ages 5 and up
Themes/Topics: the importance of play, over-scheduling
Opening: “Each morning, while Ernestine ate breakfast and Nanny O’Dear prepared lunch, Ernestine’s father zoomed out to work and called, ‘Live life to the fullest, Ern!’  And each morning Ernestine’s mother zipped out to catch the bus and said, ‘Make every moment count, E!‘”

Brief synopsis: Ernestine’s parents want her to have every experience she can, so they pack her days with sculpting and tuba,  yoga and yodeling.  It takes Ernestine to show them that one thing she absolutely shouldn’t miss is having time to just play.

Links to resources:  What I really should say here is, “No resources!  Just go play!”  But here are some resources that are also playing: Coloring Page, and for activities, try making a daisy crown (or any kind of outdoorsy crown), or make clouds out of cotton or shaving cream and see what shapes you see in them, or build a fort out of sticks, or blocks, or an empty cardboard box.  Use your imagination!

Why I Like This Book:  Kids will enjoy Ernestine’s ridiculous schedule, her amusing list of lessons, her teachers’ funny names, the bold bright colors of the pictures, and Ernestine’s inspired solution to her problem.  As a grown-up, I appreciate Ernestine’s message that while organized activities arranged and taught by adults have their place, so too does the unstructured time to be a child and simply play.

Click here for Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog post and comments.

Midwest Book Review on The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister December 14, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Individuality, Parents, Play, Reviews.
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written by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister
Linda Ravin Lodding, author
Suzanne Beaky, illustrator
Flashlight Press/IPG
527 Empire Blvd, Brooklyn, NY 11225
9780979974694, http://www.ipgbook.com

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is a paean to play, especially for kids. Well-meaning adults end up pressuring children to fulfill busy schedules of performance expectations without realizing that one of the most precious experiences only children will have is free time to play, experiment, imagine, and just be. Ernestine’s busy life should be fully satisfying, with sculpting, water ballet, knitting, tuba lessons, yodeling, karate lessons, and yoga. But something is missing, even though the Buckmeisters hire Nanny O’Dear to help keep Ernestine on schedule. Ernestine begins to look pale and tired. What Ernestine would really like to do is just spend some time playing ball outdoors with Hugo, her neighbor. Ernestine decides to schedule something new for herself. This alarms her parents, who are unable to find her at any of her exhausting, scheduled activities. Finally they find her on top of a big hill, just looking at clouds and inhaling, enjoying the view, with Nanny O’Dear. All adults gradually see the light, and though Ernestine continues to do some of her scheduled activities, sometimes she just plays! The vibrant, colorful illustrations help lift each page of spunky narration. The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister will appeal to overachieving kids of all ages, or 4-8.

Original review can be found here.

Is There a Playground this Scary Near You? November 11, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Play, Reviews.
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Written by Linda Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

Darell Hammond, CEO of KaBOOM!, an organization devoted to saving play for America’s children, wrote the featured HuffPost article below. KaBOOM!’s mission is to create great community playspaces, ideally within walking distance of every child in America. And here’s what Mr. Hammond has to say about our newest book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister: 

“This book is a joyful and funny reminder to kids and parents alike about the importance and power of play. …Our children will all be happier and healthier if we lessen all those lessons and get out to play.”

Want to know a frightening fact? In neighborhoods without a usable park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases by 29 percent.

As part of our recent Scary Playgrounds! Let’s Find ‘Em and Fix ‘Em contest, my national nonprofit KaBOOM! asked folks across the country to submit photos of rundown, decrepit playgrounds that are in desperate need of fixing up.

By entering, contestants helped further our effort to create a nationwide Map of Play, which charts the location of thousands of playgrounds across the United States. It should be a joyous geography, showing where our children climb and run, laugh and shout, learn and grow.

But alas, scary playgrounds don’t do children much good. Knowing where they are helps us find the Play Deserts — that is, areas where children have no viable outdoor play opportunities within walking distance.

The winners of our Scary Playgrounds! contest are committed to turning these decrepit playgrounds, pictured below, into vibrant community playspaces that encourage healthy, creative, unstructured outdoor play. We at KaBOOM! know it can be done. The slideshow also includes “before” and “after” shots of scary playgrounds that, with the help of community volunteers and funding partners, we have transformed over the course of just one day.

Do you live near a playground that’s overrun by rust, weeds, and disrepair? A playground that seems haunted by the ghosts of the children who once scrambled, screamed, and scurried around there? Add it to our Map of Play by downloading our free mobile app or visiting kaboom.org. We offer construction grants and an online playground project planner so you can get started transforming your own neighborhood playground.

Buckmeister Busy at Books of Wonder November 6, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Author Signings, Book Launchings, Book News, Play.
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The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, written by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

Debut author Linda Ravin Lodding appeared yesterday at Books of Wonder in NYC, alongside Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka and 8 other fantastic picture book creators, to sign copies of her first picture book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister.

Enjoy the fun beyond the book with our many printable activity pages.

Like all Flashlight Press books, Ernestine is distributed by IPG and is available at your local or online bookseller.

Going Dutch! Why Dutch kids are the happiest in the world September 22, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Author Notes, Play, Upcoming Books.
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Posted on the KaBOOM! site by Guest Blogger: Linda Ravin Lodding on September 14, 2011

Originally from New York, Linda Ravin Lodding has spent the past 15 years in Austria, Sweden, and now The Netherlands, where she lives with her family in a one-windmill town. She is a working mom, shutter-bug, yoga class drop-out, cheesecake lover, hula-hooper, dreamer, and author of the wonderful children’s book, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister. Here, she reflects on the child- and play-friendly culture she has encountered in her new home:

When my family first moved to the Netherlands, four years ago, it wasn’t just the quaint windmills dotting the landscape that tipped me off that we were living in a foreign land. Nor was it the tractor-wheel-sized rounds of cheese in our village shop. It wasn’t even the picture postcard views of tulips ‘ribboning’ through the fields. No. It was the children – biking, running around, and freely playing outdoors.

Let me explain. When we first arrived in The Netherlands, we decided that we’d “go Dutch” and cycle everywhere. My then nine-year-old daughter was keen. Her school is only a stone’s throw up the street – but it is a busy street with a tricky roundabout . To complicate matters, there are so many cyclists on the bike path that it feels like the Tour de France. So, naturally, I strapped a helmet on her head and off we cycled – together.

It was soon very evident (especially to my daughter) that no other parent was biking with their child like a Mother Goose making way for her gosling. Dutch children were biking by themselves — and not only to and from school. They were biking to the town, to their friends’ houses, to the beach, to their sports activities. I’d see children on bikes and wonder, where was the adult? Granted, kids here are basically born on bikes, but weren’t their parents worried that their little ones would get lost? Side-swiped by a bus? Plucked off the street by a pedophile?

Obviously Dutch parents didn’t have such concerns. Or, if they did, they decided to not let them get in the way of embracing a free-range childhood.

As a friend of mine said, “The dangers have always been here – it’s no more or less dangerous today than it has ever been in Holland, yet parents, on balance, opt to give their kids freedom and independence.” And she, like many Dutch parents, thinks this attitude leads to happier, healthier and more resilient children.

She may very well be right. A 2007 UNICEF study found Dutch children to be the happiest among children in the 21 industrialized countries surveyed.

That well-being seems to be cultivated at a young age through parents, schools and communities. “I want for my child the same kind of playful childhood that I had,” another Dutch friend of mine told me. “I tell my children to go out and play and not come home until their pants are ripped!”

Communities are also on board – especially as childhood obesity is on the rise here in The Netherlands. In an effort to reverse that trend, nearly every Dutch child is engaged in some sort of physical activity. As American schools slash recess and P.E. to make time for more sedentary classroom instruction, Dutch schools provide half-days every Wednesday so kids can pursue sports.

What else explains why Dutch children so happy? Play!

You only have to look at the painting, “Children’s Games” painted by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder over 400 years ago, to see that children in this region have been engaged in independent play for centuries.

And, today, Holland has an abundance of play facilities for children – from construction playgrounds to water playgrounds to natural playgrounds. Just take a look at this Dr. Seuss-inspired playground, featured previously on Play Today, in Hoenderloo, in Netherlands’ Landal Miggelenberg park.

photo by Patrick Ahles

So, I’ve been trying to “go Dutch” in more ways than one.  Beyond eating Gouda and tiptoeing through the tulips, I now let my daughter bike to school by herself and ensure that we all make time to lighten up a bit and to play.

Don’t miss Linda’s book! Read about The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, whose “well-meaning busy parents have packed her after-school hours, turning Ernestine into the over-scheduled poster child of today. But Ernestine is about to opt out and do what no Buckmeister has ever done before: just PLAY.”

Playborhood Interview with Linda Lodding, author of “The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister” August 14, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Interviews, Play, Upcoming Books.
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Written by Linda Lodding, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, available for the first time this week, is a great new children’s book about children’s play. Ernestine is scheduled to the max, and she’s not enjoying her life that much. After seeing her next-door neighbor, Hugo, play with abandon in his yard every day, she decides to blow off some of her activities in favor of play. So, she goes to the local park with her nanny, and she plays with Hugo, too.

As I’ve written recently, I’m very concerned about the widespread censorship of play in books, TV shows, and movies aimed at young kids (9 and below). Ernestine is one of my favorite new books in this genre.

Here I present a fascinating interview with the author, Linda Lodding. She provides some great insights into the backstory of the book, as well as how it might contribute to the play movement.

Q: On your web site you note that you didn’t play a lot during your childhood.  Why do you consider play so important now that you would write a children’s book encouraging play?

I don’t remember a play-filled childhood in the sense of spending carefree days outside in nature. Thinking back as to why that might have been, I can point to two reasons. Firstly, since my parents grew-up in the New York City, I don’t think they knew how to offer a nature-filled childhood to my sister and me. Secondly, when I was about five, we moved to a house in the wilds of New Jersey, surrounded by dense forest, situated on what was once an Indian reservation. The woods seemed frightening. Grizzly things with fangs, and child-eating witches with gnarly fingers lived in the woods!  And, of course, so did the tomahawk-wielding Indians whose land we were living upon. My mother tried to coax me outside to play, (she even took her ironing board outside so that she could iron while I was outside) but I was happier inside with my Barbies. But I did do a lot of imaginative “pretend” play – alone and with friends.

I never set out to write a book encouraging play per se, but was inspired by my own family’s ludicrously funny situation. Like many parents, I set out to enroll my child in as many classes as possible so that she’d quickly find her passion and excel.  Of course my daughter’s schedule wasn’t nearly as exaggerated as poor Ernestine’s, but she was falling asleep in her “Ballet for Tots” class and had little energy for her African drumming class. But I also recognized that play time was fundamental to her growth and we eventually pulled back on activities.

Q: In a previous conversation you told me that you added the nanny character in a later revision.  What did you have Ernestine doing alone before you added the nanny?  How do you think the nanny changes the central message of the story?

Like all books, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister went through many revisions. In earlier drafts of the book, I had Ernestine running away after school — breaking free from the demands of her after-school schedule to experience play. There was a lot of interest in the book from large publishing houses, but a few editors were concerned that this scene could be perceived as reckless. It’s every parent’s nightmare to lose their child and a few editors were concerned that Ernestine’s actions would alarm to parents. So, I later introduced the character of Nanny O’Dear to allay any potential unease with Ernestine being alone. The added bonus of having Nanny in the book is that she is also a play companion for Ernestine – together they share the joy of play. There’s a lot to be said for adults also participating in play. I don’t think adding Nanny changed the central message of the story which is, ultimately, to let children experience the joy of play.

Q: Why are there so few children’s books depicting children playing outside?  Why are there practically none that depict children playing with no adults directly supervising them?

There are books depicting children playing outside, but it’s hard to think of contemporary picture books where children are depicted as playing outside unsupervised. I think this is a direct result of societal fears for our children’s safety. We are bombarded with stories of pedophiles and missing children and these stories send us a chilling reminder that we must be vigilant for our child’s safety or else…As a parent, I can appreciate that it’s a thin line to walk between protecting our children from genuine threats and giving them challenging opportunities in which to learn and grow.

I’m aware, however, of our need to bring in some common sense into this dialogue and blogs and organizations such as yours, 50 Dangerous Things, Re-Thinking Childhood and Free-Range Kids are asking parents to question if our eagerness to be over-protective is detrimental to our children’s maturation process. My focus in The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister was on allowing children to experience unstructured play, whether supervised or not.

But back to your question. While I’m not an editor and don’t make acquisition decisions for publishing houses, my take on the reluctance of depicting unsupervised play in picture books is that since adults are the primary picture book buyers, children’s book publishers are leery of putting stories out there where the child could be perceived as being in danger and thereby alienating book buyers. Naturally, publishing is a business and in order to protect their investment in a book, publishers need to make sure that the book will have a wide-enough appeal.

Interestingly, in older fiction (Easy Readers, Middle Grade and beyond) you can find an abundance of stories where children are playing and exploring unsupervised. I do think that children are drawn to stories where the protagonist  is given freedoms that today’s children don’t generally experience — characters that are orphans, or are somehow left to fend for themselves in an adult world. One of my favorites growing up was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where a brother and sisters run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This wouldn’t be the same story if their mother was in tow. And I do think that the hugely popular Magic Treehouse series partially owes it’s kid-appeal to the fact that the kids are on their own solving mysteries. Perhaps this is a way for children to experience freedoms that they haven’t been allowed. But in picture books, you won’t see this kind of characterization – unless they’re talking animals.  Pigs and rabbits are  allowed to take some risks!

Q: You told me that you weren’t very aware of the play movement before you wrote this book.  How do you think that it can contribute to the play movement?

While I was aware of the over-scheduled child phenomenon, I was less aware of the pro-play movement. It wasn’t until  The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister  was accepted for publication, nearly two years ago, that I started to research the benefits of play. Articles such as “The Virtues of Play” (Wired Science) and “Want your kids to get into college? Let them play!” (CNN) dramatically focus the debate not only for parents but also for students, academicians, and policy experts.

Research shows that children can greatly benefit from unstructured playtime — imagination flourishes, emotional maturity develops, and certain life skills are honed. I learned that play is essential to physical, intellectual and social development and contributes to healthier and happier children. The bottom line is that children who play do better in school and are more likely to become successful adults.  The irony is, if our child could take a class that guaranteed that sort of outcome, I think we’d all enroll our kids immediately!

While there are many wonderful organizations that are crusading to put play back into children’s lives and recess back into schools, I’ve yet to come across a picture book that squarely addresses this issue. Hopefully, through the book’s humor, parents will be able to see the light-hearted side of this subject and, if they aren’t already doing so, just may decide to get their kids playing.  If my book gets kids and parents laughing and playing, then maybe I can make a small contribution to this important movement.

Q: Let’s say a real-life Ernestine reads this book.  Ideally, how would she react?

Ernestine is an exaggerated character, but I don’t think she’s too far off from what some children experience. There are many children who cope beautifully with full-schedules and those kids probably won’t recognize themselves in Ernestine but will enjoy the book on another level. But I also think there are many Ernsts and Ernestines out there who are wishing for time to just be — not to perform, to train, to compete — but just to play. And those young readers may feel sympathetic to Ernestine.  If the book starts a family dialogue then that’s a great bonus. But as a writer, my aim is also to entertain and tell a fun story.

Q: In the Netherlands, where you live now, you told me that children have more freedom than they do in the US.  Can you characterize the difference? (more…)

Take Time to Watch the Clouds July 17, 2011

Posted by flashlightblog in Parents, Play.
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Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, warmly reviewed The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister on her blog.

“Take life by the scruff of the neck and shake it for all it’s worth!” That’s what my mama likes to say. But how can you grab life and give it a nudge if you don’t have any strength?

Play is the best way to access your scruff-of-the-neck vision.

This October, author Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrator Suzanne Beaky will release a most delightful tale of Ernestine Buckmeister, the most overbooked child on the planet. Her well-meaning parents assign her to daily afternoon lessons ranging from yoga to yodelling to knitting to karate. She longingly watches her neighbor Hugo bounce around his yard while she dashes from one appointment to the next (with the help of her nanny, aptly named Nanny O’Dear). One day she strikes all her time commitments to watch the clouds and discovers a whole new world of creativity in the park.

Once again Nature plays a central role in capturing our amazing imaginations. When the parents learn Ernestine has gone missing from one of her lessons, they attempt to track her down at each of them. By the time they end up in the park, they are frazzled. It’s a beautiful moment of realization that life can be lived to the fullest by simply being who you are.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is a  great power of slow read for kids ages 4 to 8 and the parents who love them.