Julia Cook’s sole reason behind writing children’s books is to reach adolescents on their level.
Her books range from topics of why rules are important, dealing with peer pressure to stranger danger and how to react to school violence. Cook was one of seven featured children authors and illustrators who gave presentations Tuesday at the Franklin County Annual Children’s Literature Festival at Ottawa University, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa. About 900 third- through fifth-grade students from the county’s schools attended the festival, organizers said.
Cook said her books give children the knowledge on how to tackle various problems they encounter.
“We have to equip them with tools to solve their own problems and a book can contain those tools,” Cook said. “The purpose of my books is to take seven minutes of your life and teach you something valuable in an entertaining way. When you read to a child, you get into their head and the book will dump off the tools, and the kids can use those tools to solve those problems from the inside-out in seven minutes. You can model what parents should do and say and what teachers should do and say in the book. It is a recipe for behavior for adults because we have all these kids that don’t come with instructions.”
Cook, a former school counselor, tackles an important issue of school violence in her book, “I’m Not Scared I’m Prepared”.
“The whole thing about this book is it is not a scary book,” she said. “It is a scary topic, but the book is not scary. When we have a fire drill, you don’t hold up a burned child and say ‘this could happen to you.’ We say ‘this is how you get away from a fire.’ This books says ‘this is how you get away from a bad guy.’ They have a plan and an idea of how to get away if they need to. When a person goes into a school with a weapon, they have one goal: kill as many kids as possible in the shortest amount of time. If we are under a desk hiding, we are sitting ducks. Based on all these school shootings and research, everybody is saying we have to change the way we think about things. You do something, you try or do nothing and die. I don’t like that alternative.”
Cook said the message in her books is not to tell the children what could happen, but how to avoid the situation.
“It is very proactive, non-threatening story that teaches us how to approach it with kids through the sheep, shepherd and the wolf,” she said of the book on school violence. “It is a drill. All we need to do is educate our kids on the safe place and what the procedures are. It does not have to disrupt learning. It is one of the things we deal with today in our society.”
One of the centerpieces of Cook’s presentation was the dangers of Internet use and how that information could follow them through life.
“In our age, the digital footprint is so common,” she said. “We have to make sure these kids realize they are not invincible.”
Cook gave an example of a company purchasing a system that filters past Facebook posts, text and email messages along with Internet activity.
“The filter analyzes everything I ever put [online]...my text messages, my emails, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, everything,” Cook told the students. “Everything you do now will effect you later. It follows you day and night.”
Cook told the students the things they say to each other can have consequences. She used the example of toothpaste being emptied out of its tube and could not be returned to the tube.
“It is just like a putdown,” she said. “If it comes out of my mouth into your hears, I can’t take it back no matter how hard I try.”
Cook said those type of visual examples resonate with children.
“It is a concrete visualization of what is going on,” she said. “The kids are in the here and now. The books are always in first person. Our kids don’t come with instructions. We all have to work together to understand this crazy world.”