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Our Family's Journey

Remember how important books and creativity were in your own childhood? Many kids today, however, struggle with reading, writing, and critical thinking, e.g., about 40% of U.S. students cannot read at a basic level. It’s worse for disadvantaged students, many of whom don’t have books at home.

Reasons for a decline in children’s literacy include lingering effects of the Covid pandemic; societal turmoil; and excessive device usage. Some educators, like Jeremy Adams, wonder if there will be long-term effects for increased disengagement and apathy.

Learn, Collaborate, Innovate

As parents and grandparents, we should engage with our children through “literacy-at-home” activities to further empower them to be successful in the future. Many of them will have several careers during their lifetime and need to be entrepreneurial, agile, and imaginative if they want to be competitive in the global job market.

Parents who watched The Social Dilemma likely saw great irony in Netflix’s 2020 documentary: Silicon Valley leaders often send their own sons and daughters to traditional reading-writing-and-arithmetic schools, such as Waldorf institutions where students don’t use computers until high school.

Education experts remain worried about the effect of the pandemic on American children, as shown in the National Literacy Institute’s statistics for 2022:

KIDS

  • 40% of all U.S. students—and 70% of low-income 4th graders—cannot read at a basic level

  • Struggling readers suffer socially and emotionally​

  • 85% of juvenile offenders suffer problems with reading

  • Reading problems are a major determinant for U.S. poverty

The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy raised an early alarm in his December 2021 advisory saying it would take “an all-of-society effort” to improve catchup learning and well-being among U.S. children. His report reinforced the CDC’s concern about children having “problems with thinking and judgment, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

 For many kids, things haven’t gotten much better since then.

The Power of Storymaking

I decided to do my small part to address these issues. First, I initiated projects with other grandkids to develop more collaborative writing exemplars. Second, I decided to create the Write with Your Kids website as a way to inspire, inform, and equip parents and grandparents who want to “rally ’round the kids.”

NOTE: If you’re already far along to in your journey of writing with kids, you may want to go directly to the Creative Storymaking HUB. Otherwise, please continue reading to learn more about our vision for enhanced childhood learning and well-being.

How My Journey Started

As a collector of historical memorabilia, I gave my eight-year-old grandson, Brady Williams, a tutorial on the history of writing instruments in April 2018. The overview included an eagle quill; steel-tip pens from the 19th century; elaborate fountain pens; and common gel and ballpoint pens. During that session, I provided Brady with a blank journal to practice with the various writing instruments. I also did a “show and tell” using my scholarly American history books to demonstrate how written words could become real.

Two months later, Brady proposed that we should co-write a fantasy book for kids about dragons and dinosaurs. He imagined cousins Jason, Amanda, and Elisa from the modern world ending up in a medieval land of dragons and dinosaurs. In his story, Brady envisioned Jason to be in 6th grade and his sister Amanda in 7th grade; their cousin Elisa, who lived nearby, would be in 8th grade. When Brady heard that dragons and dinosaurs typically don’t appear in the same books, shows, and movies, he said, “Pappap, you’ll figure it out.”

A key next step was to visit the nearby Chapel Hill planetarium. After seeing armillary spheres and celestial globes, we decided that Jason, Amanda, and Elisa would use a Star Globe to go back in time a year ago to avoid family tragedies—and to prevent Jason’s hearing impairment. Landing in the country of Bukania, the kids instead encounter one adventure after another as they befriend other Star Life Keepers—humans, elves, and dragons—and join their Stars of Unity together to defeat dinosaurs and dark-magic creatures.

Before

After

Field Trip with Grandsons

Moorhead Planetarium Chapel Hill, NC

July 31, 2018

Rough iPad Drawing

We subsequently created Star Life Keepers, the first in a series of epic fantasy novels where the three protagonists time travel through a portal in the center star of Orion’s Belt to the Belacamber parallel universe.

Dragon & Dinosaur Chronicles

Besides my two American history books, both traditionally published, I had also written a memorial biography about my mentor, Dr. Richard Cox, who came from a dysfunctional family too. Despite having lost 90% of his hearing as a young child, Dr. Cox nevertheless became a world-class psychologist, physician, and theologian, as well as a concert musician, artist, and author. My background in dealing with hearing disorders and anger management, combined with Dr. Cox’s personal experiences, helped to shape the character of Jason.

Additionally, I realized that I could also draw upon my decade of researching and writing about military engagements to craft realistic battle scenes for Dragon & Dinosaur Chronicles.

 

Brady has been an inspiration to his six siblings and cousins in the Williams/Johnson “blended family,” which includes Caucasian and Chinese, biological and adopted, male and female, and self-sufficient and special needs children. He and I made sure Star Life Keepers reflected our multicultural family. 

Brady’s brother Caleb and cousin Chen Pei Johnson are helping me to expand the Dragon & Dinosaur Chronicles series.

Global Fairy Academy

I are working with Mia Pi Ni Johnson, another one of Brady’s cousins, on The Guardian Fairies. It is the first illustrated short novel in our Global Fairy Academy series.

Each country in the world has a group of Guardian Fairies to protect its environmental landmarks and historical sites. Ling’s family guards the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. Her parents, brother, and sister received special awards during their training at the Global Fairy Academy…but she’s afraid she may not even pass the courses.

Ling, Stevie (USA), Zabrina (Mexico), and Kayleigh (Ireland) become teammates. They compete against other kids from around the world to receive their fairy powers.

Besides tropical jungles, canyons, and volcanoes, Dragonfly Island also has “half-and-half creatures” such as a red peacock fox, viper with caterpillar legs, and dragonbird. A talking dragonfly named Pinkie helps them to deal with the creatures—and evil plots of the Storm Fairies.

Flying Horse Island

Our family is also developing Flying Horse Island chapter books.

In each major country, there are horse breeds that can secretly fly. When young horses from those special herds turn 2 years old, they travel to Flying Horse Island off the coast of North Carolina. Ride the Sky Ranch is where they live during training as they learn how to fly, work together, and go on rescue missions.     

There is also a Save the Horses Refuge on Flying Horse Island. Horses at risk of extinction have families and raise young horses.

Fantasy Books & Children

Many people believe that fantasy books can help kids to improve their creativity, critical thinking, and executive functioning (e.g., planning, organizing, and implementation of projects). As a preeminent scientist, Albert Einstein said that fantasy and imagination were “way more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited.” 

Based on the collaboration model I’m developing with my grandkids for “fantasy adventures with a heart,” I have created this website and educational materials that parents, grandparents, and educators around the world can use to replicate our creative process. Projects don’t hve to be chapter books or novels but can simply focus on making stories about travel, family heritage, pets, etc.

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