Julie Cantrell is a certified speech-language pathologist with years of experience helping children develop communication skills. As a freelance writer, she has written countless articles on the topics of parenting, family, faith, child development, education, and health. She also wrote for MOPS, Intl. (Mothers of Preschoolers) for nearly a decade, where she served as contributing editor for MOMSense magazine. She currently writes for Princeton HealthCare System and FNC, Inc.
Julie's first picture books, God is with Me through the Day and God is with Me through the Night were published this year by Zondervan to help young children overcome fears while building their faith in God.
Learn more about how to help your children overcome fears by visiting Julie's blog. There, you'll also find themed activities for parents and teachers of young children--plus lots of fun ideas for families!
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If you are at all like me, books are more meaningful when I know about the authors and the story behind the book. So get comfy and stay for a moment or two…
Why did you write these picture books?
When my daughter was young, she had a hard time sleeping in her own bed. She was afraid of the dark, and she suffered from terrible nightmares. She loved to read, and she loved animals – so when she was five years old, the two of us worked together to create a bedtime story just for her.
We found stock photos of animals, and we wrote simple text to reassure her that even when I tucked her into her bed at night, she was not alone. I wanted her to feel secure that I would never leave her in a place that wasn’t safe, and that God was always with her—even in the dark.
How did the books become published?
I never intended to publish the book. I wrote it to help my own daughter overcome her fears while building her faith in God. When her friends would sleep over, they all enjoyed the book and wanted me to print copies for them. Then the neighborhood kids asked for copies. I was working in a preschool as a speech-language pathologist at the time, so I read the story to my students. They all reacted positively to the story, so some of the other teachers and parents asked for copies. Their reactions made me think seriously about sharing the story to children on a bigger scale.
I had been working as a freelance writer for many years, so I decided to look for an agent. Several publishers expressed serious interest in the books, and we ended up signing a contract with Zonderkidz (the children’s division of Zondervan).
I was thrilled when they asked for a partner book to help children cope with fears such as separation anxiety and shyness through the day. God is with Me through the Day and God is with Me through the Night were released simultaneously on March 1, 2009.
How did your professional background help you write these books?
Aside from writing articles on the topics of faith, family, and child development for nearly a decade, I am also a certified speech-language pathologist. I’ve spent years helping children of all abilities/disabilities develop their communication skills. This includes not only their speech, but their reading and language skills as well. I was certain that young children preferred books with big pictures, simple text, and repetitive prose. Plus, I knew that most kids love animals.
Still, I conducted extensive research on children’s picture books. I was surprised to read studies that indicated children prefer color photos to illustrations. With real-world reactions from children, data to support the design of the books, and a gut instinct that families would enjoy reading these aloud time and time again, I decided to move forward with publishing. I am excited to share this universal message with children around the world.
How have children reacted to the books?
It’s been amazing to see children’s reactions as I read to school groups and story time groups. They laugh at the funny photos. They say “awww” when there’s a sweet photo. And they show sad expressions when the animals express fear or loneliness. I encourage them to talk to the animals on the pages. “Tell the goat, ‘Don’t be scared. Go play with your friends.’” Or “Silly kitty. That’s just a shadow!” They really interact with the book and always ask me to read it again.
Through the use of realistic, natural photos, the children can understand that all of God’s creatures feel afraid at times. It helps them cope with their emotions so they feel confident to explore their world or sleep through the night.
How have parents reacted to the books?
It’s been wonderful to hear feedback from parents after they’ve bought the books, especially to hear that this is sometimes the first book their child could read independently. As a mother, author, and speech-language pathologist, that’s an amazing compliment.
One of my favorite stories was from the parents of a three-year-old daughter. They emailed me to say they ran to her bedroom door because they had heard her screaming. When they got there, they realized she was yelling, “I am safe! I am loved!” which are phrases used repetitively in both books. Another huge compliment has been to hear that children carry these books around with them in the car or that parents have had to tape the pages back together because the books have been so “loved.”
I am thrilled, honored, and grateful that these stories are reaching so many families. If there’s one thing I want everyone to know, it’s that they’re loved and that they’re never alone. If I can share that message with even one child a day, then I am very blessed.
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