S. J. Bushue owns, operates and writes books for The Little Fig. Her post-graduate studies have focused on special education. Sherry is published in children’s books, newspapers, poetry collections and was a columnist for a magazine with focus on large families.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Sherry. Please give me a short genesis of The Little Fig.
S.J. Bushue: First, thank you for this opportunity. The Little Fig’s name originated in 2014 from my love of figs, more precisely, Fig Newtons. I visualize fig trees and children’s education as being quite similar in their potential; starting from a tiny seed then rapidly cultivating in environments worldwide. There are 67 different languages spoken in my district’s elementary schools alone. Teachers, librarians, parents and caregivers shared their concerns that very few children’s books, if any, were available for the young ones whose English is not their native language. “I believe that children are our future” (a quote from “The Greatest Love of All” music composed by Michael Masser and Linda Creed) perfectly describes my passion of planting seeds by creating children’s books that incorporate languages, music, and vividly bold illustrations for all children to read, be nourished and develop into awesomeness.
Ferrante: That’s wonderful that you have committed yourself to filling this need. As a former (Canadian) grade school teacher, I know how much books like this are needed.
The Little Fig has books in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu, Vietnamese, and a language I never heard of, Telugu. How did you choose the languages?
Bushue: Telugu is reported to be the third most spoken language in India. Teachers in our Midwest regional elementary schools stated they had absolutely no books to offer the young ones who spoke Telugu. I chose those languages as they were the top 10 most spoken languages in the United States (after English). Research was based on the most recent US Census.
Ferrante: I wouldn’t have guessed that. Are all your books English and a second language?
Bushue: All the titles are available in at least two languages. Literal rather than conversational translations allow the children to read along in their native language. Native speaking parents and caregivers can read to the child at home, helping them to learn English too. I encourage anyone to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to express interests in additional languages.
Special concept titles are published in one language per book to allow focus on the concept being learned. Potty in the Potty Chair is an example of an independent book for each language.
Ferrante: For what age are your books written?
Bushue: The multilingual and special-situation children’s picture books’ genre focuses on pre-school and early-elementary-school aged children. They are written with the intention to be both entertaining and educational, teaching concepts, facts and, usually, a second language. Many books incorporate children from numerous cultures and/or use race-neutral, gender-neutral animal characters.
Ferrante: Awesome. Most of your books have accompanying songs and downloadable activity sheets. You also have an impressive YouTube site where all of your books are read aloud in their non-English version. You also have songs, such as Momma Said I Could Have a Cat Theme Song. I am very impressed with the quality of this YouTube site. Children could enjoy the music even if they haven’t read the stories. You have an amazing team of professionals. How do you coordinate and generate all of this from a simple book idea?
Bushue: Thank you for checking out our YouTube site.
Jenni Smith is part of The Little Fig team. She composes the theme songs and jingles from the book manuscripts and visuals of the illustrations. She and hubby, Alex (a drum master) then record the music professionally produced at Chapman Studios in Lenexa, Kansas. They are both very talented musicians.
Coordination of the book idea, the translations, the audios, and the music was a concept at the formation of The Little Fig. I noticed that most children are drawn to vividly colorful illustrations, engaging repetition of words or phrases and perky melodies that get stuck in their little heads. I also wanted to provide teachers, parents, librarians and caregivers material to enhance learning. I interviewed numerous illustrators, musicians, and translators before finding this incredible, fun loving group of professionals who are now part of The Little Fig team. All of them are truly undeniably talented and superbly awesome people! I love them all! You can check them out here.
Ferrante: Here are some of the books published by The Little Fig:
Frog Has No Fur which teaches about the difference between amphibians and mammals
Herds of Birds which identifies the names of groups of animals Click here to buy Herds of Birds, Oh How Absurd!: Las Manadas de Aves, Que Absurdo! (So Big & Little Bit Adventures) (Volume 1)
Happy Happy Holidays which explains American holidays Click here to buy Happy Happy Holidays: Felices, Felices Dias Festivos (So Big & Little Bit Adventures?) (Volume 1)
Potty in the Potty Chair, a humorous support for potty training
You authored each of the above. Do you choose your topics based on your personal interests or on what you think immigrants and English as a second language people need?
Bushue: Great question! I was born with a most inquisitive mind. That curious nature is simply a part of who I am. Most of the topics are based on personal interests and experiences combined with something I have heard or seen. If you look above each title’s cover you will see a section called “Behind the Story”. A sample of this is here on our site. I welcome any and all ideas from others who also have stories to tell.
Ferrante: What are your writing plans for the future?
Bushue: The most current title, “Dinosaurs Count / Los Dinosaurios Cuentan” will be available for the holidays. Cassie Allen has created gorgeous, endearing, anatomically correct dinosaurs that will be loved by all. This title will help wee ones learn to count and give the adults English and Spanish pronunciations for each dinosaur. Jenni Smith’s music composition for this title will be one that kids will sing for years to come.
I have boxes, bags and shelves of ideas for continuing to write and publish multilingual picture books. Plans also include music, products and videos that compliment the characters in the books.
This year my interests have expanded to include helping other writers fulfill their dreams to publish. Community services and donations to special causes will continue. There is also a new program that is near to being launched, but that will be revealed later.
Ferrante: In your own not-so-humble opinion, what is your most likable quality?
Bushue: I find peoples’ stories absolutely fascinating. I have been told that I rarely meet a stranger and will talk anytime to anyone about anything. Smiles are contagious. Laughing out loud is infectious. Both of those combine with my curiosity to show people that I am truly approachable.
Ferrante: If you had a great voice and had the opportunity to record a duet with any singer living today, whom would you choose as your partner for the recording?
Bushue: Oh my! I am laughing hysterically at this question. “If I had a great voice” is an enormously tall stretch of the imagination. I have been told that I have an extremely soothing voice, both in person and on the phone. However, I have also been told that I am horribly off-key when attempting to sing. So, instead of a duet I would choose an entire room of eclectic talents like George Benson, Vicci Martinez, Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman, Enya, Taylor Swift, and the Lonestar Band who could fill the room with beautiful harmonies and place me behind an unplugged microphone to cover up the wailings that may escape my vocal cords. Just kidding.
Ferrante: What was your favorite thing to pretend when you were a young child?
Bushue: I was very much a tomboy in my youth. I never quite saw the fascination with dressing up dolls or playing house. I was too busy climbing the neighbor’s Chinese Cherry tree, racing bicycles with the boys from one house to the other and creating mud slides while swinging on the tree vines that would not always release us in the center of the creek behind our home. I do remember imagining that when I finally reached the tip-top of the tree, a flying unicorn would swoop by and soar me to worlds never seen before. I almost always dream in color. Frequently I dream of being on top of that unicorn sailing across the sky. Great dreams!
Ferrante: Thank you for all your detailed responses. This is a longer interview than I typically print but I felt that the information you gave would be very important to parents and teachers. Hopefully they will share this site with anyone for whom English is a struggle. Best of luck with your worthwhile endeavors and The Little Fig.
Frog Has No Fur will be reviewed on this blog on December 16, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.