Hello readers!!! I am so pleased to share with you all my interview with this dynamic woman, friend, and literacy specialist. Erin and I met over Instagram after she purchased one of my books, We All Need To Come Together, which is a book I was inspired to write after the brutal murder of George Floyd. We connected over being moms, new entrepreneurs, and her love of my books for her young son. We are aligned with some of the same ideals and outlooks on life and I do believe that it was meant for us to meet. In times when I have doubted my business or myself as a writer, she would always give me words of encouragement just when I needed it (without her knowing this was the case). I am so very impressed by what she is doing for the little readers out there through her company so I can’t tell you how excited I am for me to share her knowledge with you all.

How was the idea to create the Hippocampus Clubhouse born?

I have always been a strong advocate of literacy, especially early literacy, and a lover of how the human brain develops and functions. Reading with my son from birth and witnessing his development from newborn to today inspired me to create a way to share storytelling with a wider audience. But to be honest, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that really made Hippocampus Clubhouse come into fruition.

The closure of schools, libraries, aftercare programs and bookstores due to COVID-19, left countless children without access to entertaining yet screen-free engagement and all but eliminated beloved story time for little ones. For far too many children, this was their only opportunity to have a story read to them. Combine this with the current and necessary evolution of the social climate, it became clear to me as both a teacher and parent that children not only needed a story ‘break’ but that the stories they hear should offer adequate representation for all and promote inclusion.

What inspired you to set out and become an femalepreneur?

I was surprised at how many children’s books there were on various cultures and ethnicities, diversity and inclusion that unintentionally either missed the mark on what they were representing or inadvertently perpetuated the very harmful stereotypes said titles were meant to be against. These authors have the best of intentions, of course, however I feel even inadvertent misrepresentation is more damaging than no representation at all.

I realized that despite my years of research in this arena, I was having difficulty finding accurate representation and just good content overall within this space. I can only imagine how overwhelming it is for families or teachers who are just beginning their search. In wanting to assist others in diversifying their own libraries and open a dialogue within their home about the topics that shape our lives, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to get started. A way for parents, caregivers and teachers to explore topics such as race, gender, differing abilities, identity, socioeconomic status safely and effectively, without the limitations and struggles I faced in my own journey. That said, there is no such thing as a perfect book, nor do I feel that it’s an author’s job to necessarily create one. The goal should be to provide stories that offer an honest perspective of their own experience and when read, can then open the door for readers to have an age appropriate and honest conversation about that experience.

What is your background that allowed for you to create this business?

Before becoming a mother, I spent just shy of 15 years working with children facing adversity or trauma to reintegrate back into their peer group through the art of storytelling and creative writing. A lot of my students were either on the spectrum, struggled with the dual sides coin of giftedness, had sensory processing challenges or were misdiagnosed entirely due to mental health and trauma responses. All of them really needed ONE person in their life that showed up just for them, listened without judgment or agenda and attempted to speak THEIR language – consistently. Yet for every student who was chosen to be a part of the program I lead I knew there were 30 who wouldn’t ever have the chance and that has always stayed with me.

The schools and communities I worked in were predominately working-class or lower-income families. They were struggling to make ends meet despite working 12-14hour days at multiple jobs and my students were often one of many in a household. As a working parent myself, I see why it was difficult for those children to receive the attention they so desperately craved and inherently deserved even with the best of intentions. I sought to find a way to bridge the gap; give children the opportunity to hear stories of those like and unlike them while also providing parents and caregivers a much-needed break…even if it’s just 15 minutes.

Offering that pressure release for both through my podcast was the goal from the start. Aside from a passion to help children see the full potential in themselves and others through the power of literacy and storytelling and giving parents & caregivers a much need rest, I knew NOTHING about podcasts, let alone how to get one started. However, I didn’t let that stop me and after many, many late hours and lots of research, and even more trial and error, here we are; quickly becoming a fast favorite in the Kids & Family Genre.

Where did your love of reading come from? Why are books so important to you?

As a child, my life was filled with instability and far too many “colorful” experiences, but I always knew I had a friend and an escape within the pages of a book. Libraries were free and safe and there was always an adventure to have, new people to meet or be and a fresh perspective to view. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I saw how much that served me well. Along with expanding my vocabulary and language skills, ‘walking in the shoes’ of so many characters whose lives differed from my own shaped who I am today. Unlike films or TV shows, in the pages of a book I could envision myself as the characters I read about, wearing their strength and perseverance as if it was my own.

I know you are big on cultural diversity and reading books about characters from different cultural backgrounds, circumstances, etc. What does cultural diversity mean to you? To me, cultural diversity means exploration through exposure to ALL levels of diversity, not just ethnicity. Meaning in addition to representing all ethnicities, we also need to offer accurate representation to differing abilities – both physical and mental, gender, identity, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, family dynamics, belief systems and other ideologies. This also includes age as ageism is very real, for both the elderly as well as our children. The more we begin to see and hear the experiences of those who’s path differs from our own, the more opportunities for empathy and growth are created when it comes to cohabitating on together on this planet. Rare is the human who cannot empathize with adversity or trauma regardless of whether they identify with its root cause.

Children are innately empathetic; emotion, connection and engagement are the cornerstones of their development. Creating a continued dialogue with your children about the world, including its nuances and flaws, opens the door for empathy. Empathy then leads to problem-solving which inspires change.

To help families get started in finding fun and impactful stories to diversify your family’s library, you can visit our One Stop Book Shop on our Website.

Why do you feel that it is important for children to read about children different than them?

I recently read an R.L. Knost quote that said, “No one wants to be ‘treated like a child’, especially children” and that was such an eye-opening statement to me. All parents want to protect their children from harm, but children are often underestimated in their ability to comprehend the truths of our world. If we ignore hard topics like racism, ableism, homelessness, food insecurity, and discrimination to protect our children, we inadvertently condition them to ignore them, too. This can leave them with an internal conflict about real-world problems; ones they not only encounter daily but will ultimately have to tackle in the future. This leads to the cycle being perpetuated and spiraling out of control as we see happening now.

Our recent election highlighted how much we NEED to have more discussions about these topics in the home, now more than ever. It sounds cliché but Whitney was right and like her I believe that children are our future and if we teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside and give them a sense of pride to make it easier, there is NOTHING we cannot achieve in this life, including and especially CREATING CHANGE. We are on our way now and with more enlightened and aware children, who know they have a voice AND that it matters, the easier it can be to instill true liberty AND justice for ALL.

We connected on a personal level because we are both entrepreneurs with children who have special needs. Can you tell us a little about your son’s special needs and how you balance being a mother of a special need’s child and a business owner?

While I wouldn’t call it balance, especially in the time of COVID, I will say that there’s a rhythm we’re falling into these days that makes life a bit easier to manage. My son, Bryant, is just shy of 4 and not has SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) with advanced comprehension yet he’s asynchronous in his emotional development along with a few health challenges. Basically, he has the comprehension and vocabulary of a 6-7year old and can understand the pain and struggle of others around him yet doesn’t yet have an emotional capacity to process that information equally. As a result, he is a highly sensitive child who idles in anxiety more than most children. His recall is incredible which is wonderful when things are positive but often when he bears witness to something troubles him, it will be internalized deeply and carried for much longer than any child should have to shoulder.

In fact, I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you for your book, Suzy, the Dressmaker, for it helped my son greatly in releasing his feelings of isolation regarding his anxiety. The first time we read the story together he was elated to hear that someone else felt like he did, and it gave him an awareness of what he was feeling in a relatable way. That book is still such a powerful tool when he’s having a rough day and I’m extremely grateful.

But back to ‘balance’….I think because I am so focused on giving my son a different childhood experience than I had, in addition to the cards he was dealt in this life, while trying to create a family unit that evokes positive change within this world, the standards I hold myself to are very high. Most mothers, parents or caregivers can relate the impossible standard so I at least I know I’m not alone under all this pressure. I wish it was something we spoke more about shifting rather than just acknowledging but that’s a conversation for another day.

I love what I do and am extremely passionate about my work and while in part I’m doing this FOR my son I would never want it to be AT his expense. For then it’s neither genuine nor productive to the one person who inspired it all. That requires A LOT of scheduling and discipline on my part as well as in-the-moment flexibility and creative thinking. Each day has a set routine for both the household and I, but we work hard to be as fluid as possible with it. For example, each day has a goal or goals we wish to achieve, and we’ll discuss how we’re going to reach them, but time frames aren’t really discussed, at least when it comes to Bryant. For him, it’s always about the journey not the destination. Which means most nights I’m up late either playing catch up for the day or prepping for the next and burnout is very real struggle. So, I try to keep my own mental health on the front burner as much as my son’s however, I’m admittedly not as committed to myself as I am to him. I recognize that’s an issue, though, and I’m working on it.

I love how you incorporate your knowledge of neurology (and the hippocampus) in your approach to reading to children in your podcast. How can a parent or educator without this knowledge basis understand this in laymen terms?

Despite the “traditional” education methods catering to one or two styles of learning, there are essentially 9 different styles of how the brain receives, processes and retains information. The “Visual” and “Verbal” style (i.e.: the teacher providing information via worksheets or lecture) has been standard used for the past several generations, yet only a fraction of students, or even humans as a whole for that matter, respond positivity to that specific style.

However, the Experiential Learning Theory, proposed by cognitive psychologist, David Kolb, takes a more holistic approach and emphasizes how experiences, including cognition, environmental factors, and emotions, influence the learning process. Kolb’s experiential learning style theory is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner ‘touches all the bases’.

While it’s a fantastic start and necessary to help young minds flourish, simply reading a story and closing the book only goes so far. How we use Kolb’s model with our Storytime at Hippocampus Clubhouse is by first summarizing the story (Reflective Observation), then reading the story (Concrete Experience), then reflecting on what was said and the intent of the message (Abstract Conceptualization), and finally encouraging our listeners to apply or share what was learned during story time (Active Experimentation). This is the difference between solely “Reading” vs “Reading with Intention”. Combined with the book-based activities attached to the stories, children get a multi-sensory experience with each adventure told, targeting both the left and right hemispheres of the brain and firing up the Hippocampus, considered the memory center of the brain. Hence our name Hippocampus Clubhouse!

We’ve begun to take this a step further with our new Storytime Voices campaign, where your child can be ‘a guest’ on the podcast, sharing their favorite book based on our platform, why they chose it, what they learned and why that’s important to them. It took some thinking, but I’ve now created a way for this to be completely contactless, done at the parent’s own time with ease, and recorded in a way that eliminates stage fright or pressure. With the few children we’ve had participate so far, it’s powerful to experience and I’m excited about it expanding to further to video in the future.

Given your background in literacy, why do you think as a parent it is important to reinforce reading in children? Can you offer some tips to maximize the impact that busy parents can have when reading to their children to promote literacy?

We all know the power of literacy and how it is a necessity to function productively as a member of our society. From school, to learning to drive, following a recipe, exploring mathematics and even playing an instrument all require the ability to read. Yet as the saying goes, children do as they see not as they are told so the BEST way for a parent to instill a desire for reading (and in turn, learning) in their children is to mirror that same desire. Luckily, young children value our time and connection more than anything so taking a moment to sit and read aloud with them offers multiple benefits reaching far beyond just literacy.

By reading aloud for just 15 minutes a day, you can extend your child’s attention span, increase their language development, expand their creative thinking, build comprehension and problem solving abilities, garner empathy by exposing them to experiences outside of their own world, and above all create a bond of love and connection with them that is truly invaluable to you both.

To get the most out of your reading time together, regardless of your child’s age, start a new book by first walking through the pages. No need to read any words at first, just explore each page or even just a few and have them discuss what they think the book is about. If your child isn’t old enough to participate, then describe to them what you see in the pages. When you begin to read the story, instead of tracing the words while reading, try pointing to the objects or characters being described in the book. If your child is old enough ask them what they think will happen next before turning the page. When encountering adversity or challenges in the book, take a moment to vocalize what that character might be feeling if it isn’t addressed by the text or ask your child if they know by looking at the images. After reading, reflect on the story by asking open-ended questions like, “What would you do if you had been the main character? What would you do differently? What do you think happened to that character now that the story has ended?” etc. Could this extend the story time to more than 15 minutes? Sure. But taking the time to invest in your child’s growth and connection to you as well as the world around them has a return that is tenfold and outspreads far beyond your own household.

What can a parent and child hope to gain from listening to your podcast or visiting your website?

Because our children enter this world without bias or understanding of “that’s the just the way it is” yet pick up on that thorn-bound adage rather quickly, the sooner we can start exposing developing minds to ALL of the experiences within the human condition, the better. Our recent election highlighted just how much these conversations need to be had across the nation and I’d like to hold out hope that the only reason why they haven’t been had before is that most people don’t know how to get started.

My goal with Hippocampus Clubhouse is to assist with a multi-sensory and empowering approach, rooted in neuroscience, in tackling these heavy truths that currently inundate our news feeds and everyday life. The story time podcast, our One Stop Book Shop on the website, the activities presented in our weekly newsletter and on the website, and now Storytime Voices offer safe and age appropriate exposure to all of the aforementioned topics and more. This helps children reveal their own answers to the inherent questions they have about the world around them yet facilitated in a way that helps these messages stick positively. In nurturing the neural pathways of developing minds through engaging storytelling, children become empowered and can garner the tools necessary for becoming confident, goal-oriented, emotionally intelligent and above all, empathetic humans leading us to a more aware and inclusive, peaceful society for ALL.

Not to mention the fact that when I take over story time, parents and caregivers have a few moments to themselves to cover what they need even if it’s just to breathe. This allows both children and the grownups in their life a moment to positively impact their mental health and the benefit to that cannot be overstated.

Besides reading and running a successful business, what do you like to do on your free time? What activities do you engage in for self-care? Free time?

I’m a momprenuer. Free time left with my placenta. Just kidding. Honestly, my favorite things to do are simple but do wonders for my mental health – go for a walk, read a book or cook. I love those days when things come together seamlessly, and I can take the time to make a home cooked meal. The kitchen is my happy place. I’m from the South and from a very culturally diverse background so there’s always been something cathartic about creating nourishment for friends and family. Bryant loves to cook as well and has been in the kitchen with since he was tiny. Now he’s old enough to be able to help and those are memories that I will forever cherish.

What would you like to be your legacy or impact on this world?

Wow, that’s such a powerful question. I have always wished to live a life of service; one that leaves this world a little bit brighter, stronger, more compassionate than when I arrived. It was a driving force behind my becoming a teacher and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take it one further by becoming a mother.

As a parent, my legacy is ultimately my child but not in the way that most people think. I do not view him as an extension of me or my ideologies but rather he is his own person, I was just his vehicle in getting here. (Lucky me!)

As a result, I’m attempting to raise my son with what I’ve dubbed the Four C’s of Success™: Confidence within yourself, Commitment to your goals, Compassion for yourself and others, and Creative solutions. I wish for him to become empowered to find his own truth, cohabitate in a space with others with consideration, respect himself and others equally, and explore his own process as well as those that differ from his own with excitement and wonder.

Success to me has never been monetary. It’s living a fulfilled life in service to myself and others. I feel this can be achieved with the Four C’s of Success™ and because one can’t hit a target they can’t see, the best part of mirroring these attributes for him is that I can learn to idle in a successful space, too.

Where can we find your podcast? Where are you active on social media for those who want to learn more about you and your podcast?

Our biggest source of listenership is via Apple Podcasts followed by Spotify and Google, but you can find us pretty much anywhere you stream your pods by searching Hippocampus Clubhouse and hitting Subscribe. You may also listen to our podcast via our website at HippocampusClubhouse.com in Episodes under Podcast. We are most social via Instagram under the handle @Hippocampus Clubhouse but we’re on Facebook as well under the same name. If you’re already on Instagram, click the link in our bio to learn more about how to join us for story time, ways to diversify your family’s library, stay connected with our weekly mailing list and even how to have your child on as a podcast guest with our new Storytime Voices campaign.

I’d like to take a moment to also announce that our First Giveaway went live today in partnership with LIT Kids. The winner will receive 10 books, featuring a sampling of the diverse topics we cover on our podcast, (one of which is YOUR book, Trey, the Chef!) as well as a 3 month subscription to LIT Kids – A fantastic book subscription service that provides titles promoting representation and children with books of color all over the United States. You can head to our Instagram profile or website for more details on how to enter. In addition, thank you so much for the opportunity to be heard on your platform, Kira. I feel blessed our paths have crossed and am grateful for your work and the positive impact it has had in my home.

 

I hope you enjoyed this blog and got something valuable out of it. Erin Yeschin is a phenomenal woman who is doing great things in the literacy world and her contributions should not go unrecognized. I also thank her for including my books in her story-time and I enjoy listening to her storytelling. She has the sweetest voice and her pronunciation is perfect for phonetic recognition and awareness. She was also kind enough to do a read-aloud of Suzy, the Dressmaker which is available at the following link: https://hippocampusclubhouse.com/episodes/59-suzy-the-dressmaker.

Also, presales have started with Carrie, the Photographer, my third book in The Heroes We Know collection. Presales end on November 13th to allow enough time for my books to reach you before the Thanksgiving holiday. There is also a blog on that will tell you more about this book: http://books2inspire.com/carrie-the-photographer/.

I know we have been through some really trying times during this pandemic and election period. I hope that my blogs give you a welcomed break from all that toxic stress. My plan is to blog more and do more writing and less interviewing in the coming months. I hope that as we get closer to the end of this year, this will be a period of reflection for all of us in terms of what we want out of life and how we plan to achieve it. I wish you well on that journey!

Love and light,

Kira

 

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