PUBLISHED: Monday, October 7, 2013

Mike Huber

Published: 2013

Mike Huber is an early childhood educator who writes stories, music, and puppet shows for children. He’s also the first author to write books for Redleaf Lane, our new children’s book imprint. We’re excitedly counting down the days until we have all six of Mike’s books in our hands. In the meantime, Mike was kind enough to share his thoughts about some of the behind-the-scenes work that went into writing these charming stories.

Mike Huber Book Collage

Of the six books in the Early Experiences Set, were any inspired by your own experiences as a preschool teacher?

Almost all of the stories came out of my experiences.

I had a girl who was new to group care and had a hard time saying goodbye to mom. One day, her mom was dropping off when we were outside. Someone had just announced they found a worm. The new girl ran over and started digging. The biggest difference with the real story was that there were six other children digging rather than just two.

For Mama’s Gloves, I knew I wanted the mother to leave something behind so there would be an object Esteban could interact with to show his love for his mom. I tried different ideas, a book, lipstick, a purse. I asked a co-worker if she had any ideas. She told me that the other day a mom had left behind a glove and the toddlers were very worried about it. Gloves also implied warmth and touch, so I went with it.

All in One Day is about the countless times I have watched kids “make a show.” The great thing about preschoolers making a show is everything that happens around them becomes part of the show. A show about dinosaurs quickly becomes about monkeys. The show usually never gets performed. They keep coming up with new things to make or costumes to put on until the end of the day. In the book, they do perform the show, but I hope it’s clear that they are really just continuing to play and they are not following any sort of script. Even with theater, it is truly about the process—not the product—when preschoolers are involved.

For Evette’s Invitation—along with the dialogue in the other books&mdashl;I used some actual quotes taken from classroom observations I had for the assessments I do of children. I also used the Child Observation Record and its levels of development for sentence complexity and use of adjectives to differentiate between children at different developmental levels (as well as ability to play with others). While children develop in different domains at different rates, there is a predictable pattern. Erik, who has a developing understanding of cause and effect, also uses short sentences and mostly plays parallel to others.

Often in fiction, children are depicted in ways that defy actual development. A child often speaks like a six- or seven-year-old, but acts like a four-year-old. It’s often a device that makes the story more interesting, but I wanted these stories to really reflect the children I have been working with the past two decades. The reader might not know why, but they should sound like a preschooler they have observed.


In your mind, how is this collection different from all of the other children’s books out there?

I really don’t see other picture books that depict each child as a real child in terms of human development. By that, I mean a child who is just learning to make friends; doesn’t have an understanding of time; doesn’t have a well-developed sense of cause and effect; engages in parallel or associative play, but not collaborative play. Authors often have backstories for characters, but I focused on having an assessment for each character where I chose a level of development for various indicators over several domains. I used Child Observation Record, which I have used for years with real children.

The hardest thing was that during the editing process, the children didn’t develop. I am used to real children moving up a level of development every few months. Many of the characters had attributes taken from the children in my class. By the time I was doing final drafts, I couldn’t remember which children influenced the characters because the real children were so different from who they were eight months earlier.


Was one of the books more challenging to write than the others?

Bree Finds a Friend was the hardest because the editors really wanted me to focus on the becoming friends aspect, rather than joining play. I was trying to find a concrete way of showing that, but kept trying to make the time frame of the story longer. Finally, the editor asked me what was going on inside Bree. In the end, the story arc relies on narration that is mostly describing Bree’s thoughts or feelings. In the other stories, the narration mostly describes actions. The Amazing Erik does a little bit of both.

I have a friend who writes and illustrates picture books and was a co-teacher. When he read the descriptions of these books he said, “If I wrote these, my editor would think they weren’t realistic—why would a child cry just because his shirt got wet?” But any teacher knows that kid—every classroom has a child who can’t stand being wet.

In general, I feel that’s true about all the stories. These things happen to me just about every day. Most of the stories originated in my workshops for other teachers. I often use examples from my classroom to illustrate a concept. I altered the stories a bit to fit the format of a picture book, but they still feel real to me.


What do most people not know about the process of writing children’s books?

You write the text without ever seeing the pictures. When I told people I was writing some picture books, most asked who was doing the illustrations. I had to tell them I had no idea. I made a point of not seeing any character sketches until after the final drafts. I actually did have a little more interaction with the illustrations than most authors. This was due to the fact that these books were supposed to be realistic classrooms. I gave feedback on the accuracy of the setting, the toys, etc.


Speaking of the illustrations, how did you work with Joseph Cowman, who illustrated all six books, to merge your vision with his?

The thing that grabbed my attention with Joseph’s illustrations was the way children were in motion. He really captures that endless energy children have. When I first saw his illustrations, they differed slightly from what was in my head, but it was so close to what I had in mind I honestly can’t remember what I was picturing when I wrote the books.

There is a character named Johanna in a few of the books. That is also my daughter’s name. Besides sharing a name, they also share the ability to empathize with others. Joseph’s character sketch for Johanna had her in a tree, which is exactly where you would find my own daughter.


Now that the books are written, what are you working on these days? Where would we find you on a typical day?

I have some story sketches, but to be honest, I have been working on getting my center accredited (through NAEYC), so I haven’t had much time to write.

I have spent the last 14 years of my life in classroom approximately 25’x25’. I would be observing children, talking to children, reading to children, singing with children, or riding my bike home after a full day with children.

Collage of photos with author Mike Huber 

What book did you love as a child?

Where the Wild Things Are was by far my favorite book. At the age of two I loved our copy from the library so much that my mom had to buy the library a new one. I was so excited to see what happened next that I grabbed the pages and turned them until the pages came out. My mom bought me a second copy that I would stare at endlessly, trying to see how the forest grew and grew and grew until the walls were the world all around.


We now know more about your career and dedication to early learning, so tell us something we might not know about you.

I play ukulele. I am a puppeteer. I am a Worship Associate at a Unitarian church where I help write parts of the worship service.

When I was four and five, I was a voluntary mute. I only talked at home, never in public. My kindergarten teacher was the one who got me to talk through patience and gentle persuasion.


Learn more and see a full list of titles by Mike Huber.