Tuesday, June 27, 2000

New 'What to Expect' series caters to kids

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Heidi Murkoff has helped legions of women through pregnancy with her What to Expect books co-authored with Arlene Eisenberg and Sandee Hathaway. Now, Ms. Murkoff is forging into new territory with What to Expect Kids, a series of books designed to help kids weather the storms of childhood.

        The initial books in a 20-book series are: What to Expect When the Babysitter Comes; What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby; What to Expect When You Use the Potty; and What to Expect When You Go to the Doctor (HarperFestival; $7.99 each). The books are aimed at 2- to 5-year-olds.

        Ms. Murkoff, who visits Joseph-Beth Booksellers today, talks about the series:

        Question: Why did you decide to write a What to Expect Kids series?

        Answer: For years, I'd recommend that parents facing a new or challenging experience with their children, whether it was using the potty, going to the doctor or becoming an older sister, to find a picture book on that topic. It's one of the best ways to help prepare a child for a new experience, as well as help dispel myths. People would say, “Can you recommend a good one?” There was no one series that took kids through all these experiences, held their hands and reassured them. I realized I was going to have to do it.

        Q: How will your books help parents and children?

        A: They're meant to be as fun to read as any picture book on the shelf. In very subtle ways, they can be used as effective parenting tools. They're designed to help parents help their kids. They're not meant to answer every question, but serve as a springboard for more discussion between parent and child. Nothing helps a child more than to know what to expect. So much of the world is new for them, so much of what we take for granted like going to potty — been there, done that for 40 years. For someone who has been in diapers their whole life, this is uncharted territory. This is mysterious stuff. They don't know where pee and poop come from or where it goes. If you take some of the mystery out of it by answering questions, that takes the anxiety out of it. Then, that can take some resistance out of it.

        Q: How did you choose the book topics and questions for the books?

        A: I held a series of focus groups for parents of toddlers and preschoolers to see what they needed help in helping their kids with and what kinds of questions their kids asked them. Basic needs are the things they worry most about. When the babysitter comes, they're worried about, “What if I get hungry?” because they can't make themselves a snack. They can't order pizza. Coming up this fall is What to Expect at Bedtime. That is a universal experience because it takes place every night, often without success. “Why do I have to go to bed? What if I'm not sleepy? What if I wake up in the middle of the night? What's a dream?” Those are questions parents often have trouble answering. I use Angus the Answer Dog as the messenger to provide answers. He can be a little bit more objective than a parent can be. A child is more likely to listen to Angus when he says, “You're very busy all day, and that's why your body needs rest.”

        Q: How did you come up with the idea of Angus the Answer Dog?

        A: Reading and learning are more effective when they're fun. I knew it would help to have a cuddly, cute character to make the book fun to read. The answer dog is also very smart and encourages children to ask questions. Asking questions is good because what you know helps you grow. He serves an important role as a transitional object. Children have trouble with transitions at that age. In the face of those tricky transitions, it always helps to have a familiar friend along for the ride. That's why you see kids clutching smelly, dirty blankets. Angus is on every page, not because he's cute, but because he's comforting. He'll also be there when it's time for a new experience. For this age group, familiarity breeds comfort.

        • What: Author Heidi Murkoff signs and discusses her What to Expect Kids series. • When: 7 p.m. Wednesday. • Where: Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Rookwood Pavilion, Madison and Edwards roads, Norwood.

        • Information: 396-8960.


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