Author Heather Van Matre Champion '09 and illustrator Chris Knudson '10, with two friends. "Monsters Don't Read" is published by Bronze Man Books, MU's student-run publishing company.
Since she was small, Heather Van Matre Champion ’09 of La Place, Ill., has loved to read, often getting into trouble during class because she would ignore her homework and read instead. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t engaged in a book.
“My parents really encouraged this, and I have many memories of them reading to me,” she says.
As a result, Champion dreamed of writing a children’s book, but it was just a dream until she took a children’s literacy class with Assistant Professor Christie Ferguson Magoulias ’96. The course challenged her to use her early literacy experiences and turn them into a children’s story. Considering the assignment good practice toward her dream, Champion worked hard but had no expectations of being published.
“My classmates encouraged me and informed me about Bronze Man Books,” she says. “I took it over to them, and the rest is history. It was really an affirmation of something I had prayed and hoped for.”
Champion originally pursued a graphic arts degree at Millikin, but while at the university, she discovered her true passion was teaching. She switched her major to early childhood education and spent an additional two years at Richland Community College in Decatur before ultimately finishing her Millikin degree. She is currently a second-grade teacher at Argenta-Oreana Elementary School in Oreana, Ill., and mother to Clover, 4.
As an educator, Champion constantly sees the struggle that some children go through when learning how to read, thus “Monsters Don’t Read” was born.
Why use a monster to tell the story? “My father always read me the book, ‘The Monster at the End of this Book,’ with Grover from Sesame Street,” she explains. “This is a really fond memory for me, so I chose to include this by making the main character a monster.”
And her experience as a mother heavily contributed to the style of the children’s book.
“Clover and I love to read together, and I find the easiest and most enjoyable books for us to read are those that carry a rhythmic tone,” she says. “I really wanted to incorporate this into the story.”
Champion also thinks that predictability is an important feature in children’s books because it makes it easier for students to successfully read and build their fluency.
“One of the most fantastic things is to see the pieces finally fit as the student becomes a competent reader,” she says. “It is just great to see them make it through the work and gain the excitement of reading. I wanted to depict this struggle in a story and encourage students to enjoy reading.”
by Kate Eagler ’11