Teaching preschoolers for over 30 years has earned Leora Lazarus some bragging rights when it comes to what kids love to read. Known to her students as Teacher Lee, Lazarus emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa with her family in 2000 and plans to deliver with her children’s book “Naughty Norman.”
Q: How did you become a children’s author?
A: I have always used my own stories in class. It is really satisfying to write a story that accomplishes a goal like teaching counting or colors, and then see the children’s response when I tell it in circle time.
Because we lacked resources, it made sense for me to step up and write stories for the children to keep my classes fresh and fun. “Naughty Norman” was one of those stories that helped teach many of the children in the Play-To-Learn program to count and read. That’s why I say ‘Naughty Norman’ is preschooler- approved. If my young critics had not loved the story, we would not have published it.
I have to say that “Norman” would never have been published if it weren’t for the extremely talented and very humble Pasadena-based artist, Judi Holland. She gave Norman a face the children love to mimic.
Q: What are some of the challenges of writing for children?
A: I don’t set out to write stories that are obviously didactic. To keep the attention of children who are loaded with energy and itching to explore the world around them, you have to write stories that grab them. It is a bit like being a stand-up comedian. You learn how to read the audience and you write material for them that is funny, enlightening and surprising.
Q: How has the digital market changed children’s writing?
A: Being able to publish books on demand has democratized the children’s book market. There are many wonderful authors who may never have published without CreateSpace or similar services. This also makes it tough for writers to find an audience because of the massive volume of books out there. Some books are very good and some are very bad, but that is the price you pay for the wonder of self-publishing. All I can hope is that people discover “Naughty Norman” and love him as much as I do.
Q: What are some of your upcoming writing projects?
A: Right now we are working with a South African non-profit to write a series of books aimed directly at young readers in that country. Most of the books available in South Africa are simply not culturally appropriate and do not resonate with preschoolers and early readers. We also have a beautiful early reader book in the works that my husband and I wrote for our children. It made me laugh and cry the first time I read it through alone, because it captures the deep love and friendship that exists between our two daughters. I have a very special family!
Q: Where can readers find your work?
A: We are exclusively on Amazon.com for now but I will be doing readings at schools in San Diego and Orange County and I promise to have loads of copies of the book with me. If readers want to learn more, I would encourage them to visit TeacherLee.com. I also suggest liking Teacher Lee on Facebook (facebook.com/freepreschool) so that you receive the event invitations. It’s also a fun way for me to communicate with parents who often inbox me with questions about teaching and child development.Kerri S. Mabee