Part of the back matter in Angry Birds Playground: Animals was to be a double-page spread filled with activities meant to assist parents in helping their children take learning beyond the pages of the book. I'd need 20 or so activities. I tried to think of this task as little as possible while I wrote the rest of the book's text. Eventually, though, the writing of those pages could no longer be ignored. But, hey. There were dozens of animals in the book. Surely I could think of 20 activities that kinda-sorta had something to do with featured animals, or find some on the internet I could adapt to my purposes.
The first one I thought up was for kids to balance a ball atop their feet, similar to the way penguin parents keep an egg up off the ice. Was that even physically possible for little kids? It's been awhile (a long while) since my own kids were in the target age group (4-6 year olds). I needed help. I needed beta testers.
I immediately though of Jacob and Joshua, sons of my Iowa author friend, Becky (I'd be happy to send you details about Becky's fabulous books if you want to e-mail me privately, but I'm not including her last name here in order to protect the boys' privacy on the sometimes creepy internet).
The boys were up for it, so I flooded Becky's e-mail inbox with activities as I wrote them. Jacob and Joshua gamely tried SO many. The ball balancing didn't make the cut, but here they are (along with their sister, Anna), testing the milk carton boats they made....
For months, their mom kept a secret. A couple of weekends ago, I saw the family at a book festival and was finally able to hand Jacob and Joshua copies of "our book" and watch their reactions when they saw their names on the dedication page. Jacob turned to hide a smile. Joshua clasped the book to his chest and jumped in stompy circles.
Could anything be better than that? Well, maybe. Toss in a little serendipity....
The pandas on the cover are adorable. But since there were no pandas inside (long story), I was feeling a little "meh" about it. Until Becky saw the book and instantly went melty over the cover. See, her entire family traveled to China in 2010 to adopt Joshua. In her own words: "Before we met Joshua, we were able to send him one package [orig e-mail included photos]. Do you see the stuffed panda? It was one of our first gifts to Joshua. He slept with it, and carried it all the way home to Iowa. His brother Jacob loved the panda so much, he picked one of his own to be his special souvenir. When our family first saw the two pandas on the cover of Angry Birds Playground, we all had the same thought. 'Look, it's Jacob and Joshua!' My mother even commented on the pandas when she first saw the book. Pandas remind us of Joshua's birth country, and both Jacob and Joshua love them."
Suddenly, two little pandas were exactly right.
Remember to enter our giveaway to win an autographed copy of Angry Birds Playground: Animals. For contest details, see Monday's post. The deadline is 11pm (CST) tomorrow (Thursday), and the winner will be announced Friday.