I love the gratitude theme of your new book. Is this practice part of your daily life?
Yes, it is. I say five things I’m grateful for every night before bed. About eleven years ago I woke up in the middle of the night saying in my head over and over…”Before I sleep it’s time to pray…” That’s the beginning of the Jewish bedtime prayer, the Shema. I knew it was a hint that there was a story to be written and I wrote it down on a piece of paper. Many of the starts of my stories fly in on a dream! I got down a first draft shortly after that and didn’t do a first revision until a few months later. The story was acquired ten years after I started writing it, most interestingly by a Catholic publisher, after many rejections and revisions. Also, around that time of my first thoughts about Before I Sleep, I overheard a colleague speaking about a TV show about gratitude she had watched on Oprah. I sometimes think, What if I hadn’t been eating my lunch at that time? I dedicated the book to that coworker, who unfortunately is no longer alive. I don’t think Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You would be the book it is today had she not sparked the idea that ended up shaping the story. That’s also when I began my own nightly routine of gratitude. I latched on to this idea from the minute I heard about it.
You are blessed with many years of teaching experience. Time to put on the teaching shoes again! What would you recommend to parents as the best way to teach gratitude to their children?
Well, of course, I’d suggest parents read my book to their children! That and for all good habits you’d like your children to have… model it yourself. To me, modeling is the most powerful form of teaching. Kids are astute. They are watching you. Be your best self, and your children will follow.
Also, how would you recommend they introduce this as a resolution for their small children?
Parents could read the book for a few nights, and then help the child reinforce the practice explained in the book. There is both an introductory page, “For Grown-ups”, and an end page for children, “Now it’s your turn”, complete with suggestions. My hope is that with a little help from the adults in their life, children will resolve to continue this sweet time to review their day in thankfulness, until it becomes their nightly routine…hopefully forever!
All of your books offer opportunities for parents and children to work as a team. Which do you feel has influenced this in your writing more: teaching or parenting?
I was first and foremost a teacher. It has been my life passion. That said, the most important student was and still is my daughter. I only had one year to influence the other children in my life. Parenting is teaching.
Well, my first book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, is about a child in a shared custody situation. I am not divorced and my parents aren’t divorced, but I wrote this because I felt my students’ pain when they went through a divorce in their family. I wanted families to have something to help them through this difficult time. I think my book offers them hope. My second book, Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room, deals with the issue of organization. I heard from so many parents over my thirty-five years of teaching 4th grade that I got their children organized and taught them how to study. I ran a tight ship. I get very frustrated when I can’t find something and I know what an important life skill organization is. And my new book, Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, I truly believe can make the world a better, kinder, sweeter place. I want that world for my new grandson to grow up in…and that hits pretty close to home! The book encourages a nightly routine of gratitude. Try it…it’s hard to feel grumpy and angry when you’re focused on things you are grateful for.
What are 5 things you are currently most grateful for in your writing life?
I am grateful for being able to have a flexible schedule. I lived 35 teaching years by the bell. Being able to write when I want, which is usually after I finish an exercise and yoga class, is definitely something I’m grateful for. I am grateful for the illustrators who brought my stories to life and to the publishers who believed in my work. I am grateful that I have something of value to do with my retirement. Being an author has kept me very busy! And I am most grateful for being able to continue to communicate with children, not only through my books, but when I do Skype and classroom visits, as well. Teaching was such a big part of my life. So it the sweetest of gifts to be able to still have opportunities to interact with students. I want to be able to touch lives for as long as I am able.
What is on the writing horizon for you?
I have something in the acquisitions process…so I can’t tell you too much yet. And I’m always working on multiple stories. I have more than fifty manuscripts that are in some stage of the draft, revision, or submission process. Some new ones are sillier, not so teacher-like. Maybe this is a time of transition for me! I want to always continue to work on my craft so I can write the best stories possible. I am truly grateful for my author life!
I've started my gratitude list already, Carol. I am so grateful that you agreed to open up your heart to us today. I am also incredibly blessed to have you as a critique buddy!
Now it's your turn, readers! Show Carol some love as she offers up a copy of BEFORE I SLEEP! Enter the giveaway below and tell us: Do you have similar traditions with your children before bed?
Carol Gordon Ekster’s first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was an About.com Readers' Choice 2012 finalist for Best Children's Book for Single Parents. “The Library Is The Perfect Place”, was in Library Sparks magazine, 2010. The picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, on Character Publishing’s debut list, 2011, was awarded the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval. Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, will be out January 1, 2015 with Pauline Books & Media. Her first e-book, Hip Hopping Books, will be out with Schoolwide Inc.’s digital library, winter 2015. Retired from teaching, Carol now spends time in critique groups, doing exercise and yoga, and working on her books. She’s grateful that her writing allows her to continue communicating with children.
Find out more at www.carolgordonekster.com or follow her on Twitter @cekster.