Listen to today's episode, "How "The Kindness Machine" reaches and teaches with Christina Dankert" as Second Grade Teacher and author Christina Dankert joins Dori Durbin. Christina also shares:
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More about Christina
Christina Dankert is a mother of two and 2nd grade teacher, she reads a lot of picture books and sees the impact they have on children. She wanted to share her story about being not only to others but also being kind to ourselves.
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Dori Durbin is a Christian wife, mom, author, illustrator, and a kids’ book coach who after experiencing a life-changing illness, quickly switched gears to follow her dream. She creates kids’ books to provide a fun and safe passageway for kids and parents to dig deeper and experience empowered lives. Dori also coaches non-fiction authors and aspiring authors to “kid-size” their content into informational and engaging kids’ books!
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[00:00:03.210] - Dori Durbin
What if kids books were recognized as the powerful catalyst that empowered kids lives? The doors to changing kids futures would be blown wide open. Welcome to The Power of Kids Books, a weekly podcast hosted by me, kids book coach Dori Durbin. Join me every Tuesday and explore how kids books can intentionally create generational change. I've invited experts to share their own kids books and the impact of their kids size expertise on their clients and the experts themselves. Aspiring kid book authors and parents, listen here to change the way you see and use kids books forever.
[00:00:50.770] - Dori Durbin
Does being a teacher automatically mean that everyone will be kind to you? Oh, I wish. Now, one thing the teacher can do is write to her students, and that's exactly what Christina Danker did. She wrote the book The Kindness Machine, and she may just have used some of her friends and family as part of that book. Want to hear how it happened? Tune in now.
[00:01:17.370] - Dori Durbin
Hello and welcome to The Power of Kids Book Podcast, where we believe that books are the catalyst to inspire and empower change. I'm your host, Dori Durban. And today, I have with me Christina Dankert. Christina is a children's book author and elementary educator and also the author of The Kindness Machine. So welcome, Christina.
[00:01:39.330] - Christina Dankert
Thank you so much Dori for having me.
[00:01:41.700] - Dori Durbin
Absolutely. So will you tell us a little bit about being a second grade educator and how that relates to your book?
[00:01:50.290] - Christina Dankert
Absolutely. I've been teaching for twelve years, and eleven of those years have been in second grade. And one of my favorite parts of our day is the daily read aloud, whether it's a chapter book we're working through, oftentimes picture books. And a piece of advice I was given in college was, before you ever read anything to your class, you better read it yourself. And not only does that make you aware of the content, but it also helps when you share it. You can read it so smoothly and you can also build in those questions because oftentimes those picture books, they're springboards for so many different conversations. So this idea of kindness as both a mom and a teacher was something that the world needs more of, and I wanted to see more of that in kid lit and that's really what inspired the story.
[00:02:43.520] - Dori Durbin
I love that. And I think we were talking a little bit earlier about the fact that during that time, during COVID it was kind of a chaotic and crazy time. And so the focus of your book isn't like the kindness that you would typically think of, it's a different kind of kindness.
[00:03:02.490] - Christina Dankert
Yeah. And as a family, I stepped away from the classroom for a year during COVID and it allowed me to not only focus on my family, but to really dig into what was a dream for over 15 years to write a children's book, to learn about writing and spend time with that. And then about the publishing process. And as a second grade team, when we were figuring out Zoom, when the world suddenly shut down, we kept saying to each other, be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. Like we're trying to figure this out. So not only in The Kindness Machine does the idea of being kind to others that present and things we can do every day, but also the reminder to love yourself and be kind to yourself. Because as I did my research, reading as many books as I could, that was out, that were already about kindness. I think I read 60 of them, and only one had this idea of being kind to yourself. And so clearly that was missing, and I'm very proud to have that included in the book.
[00:04:07.360] - Dori Durbin
That's awesome. I'm impressed with the amount of research that you did, too. And I think that's one thing that readers don't think about is the amount of work that goes in before that book ever gets published, which, by the way, on the COVID it says that there's a dinker in there also. And I'm thinking that somehow that's related to you in some way.
[00:04:29.560] - Christina Dankert
Yes. So my husband is the illustrator, and that was really special for us. Again, years and years ago when I said, I want to write a book. Chad, would you be my illustrator? Because artist by day and teacher by day, and to merge these two professions into one. Again, it was something that we said, yeah, sure, we'll do that. And two kids later, and life is busy. And it wasn't until the world shut down that I was home, and it really let us explore that option. And we were super fortunate because in a submission process, when we pitched the book to Purple Butterfly Press, who is the publisher, we were able to submit both the manuscript and a few sample illustrations, and they picked us both up, which was very exciting.
[00:05:16.250] - Dori Durbin
Yes. And rare. Very rare. Like you said, usually they don't let you do that. So that's even better. And I think you said also that your kids may or may not have been part of this book process.
[00:05:31.610] - Christina Dankert
Yes. So the kids names, they are in the story, and they talk to each other a few times, but also all the other names are nieces and nephews. And the funniest thing was trying to come up with these names. The kids came easy once I realized we're going to tap into the family and the teacher I struggled with, and in the end, he ends up looking like my best friend, who my husband obviously knows very well and has the last name Wilson of my other best friend. And they're two wonderful people doing great things in the world, and it was a nice nod to them.
[00:06:06.200] - Dori Durbin
That's awesome. Were your kids pretty excited to be in their book?
[00:06:10.470] - Christina Dankert
They were. And it was so funny because we call our son, the professional staller at night time before going to bed. And I would be up writing, and he would come in, what did you add? What did you add last night? Tell me more. And then there were days like, well, what happens? I don't know yet. I haven't gotten there. So they were in that process with us. And it was so exciting when it was finished and picked up because we sat around the dinner table and I read the manuscript to them, and one of the very last lines, the teacher asked the class a question, one final question, and all the students raised their hands in the illustration. And that's because that was the reaction of our kids. And so when they raised their hands, it made this piece be interactive. And when I have read it to students, that's what they do. They raise their hands to answer that final question, which is really special.
[00:07:07.500] - Dori Durbin
That's really fun. That is very fun. And I can just see you all sitting around reading this together, and your kids are just lighting up. That's awesome. Yes. So your book is called The Kindness Machine. And I would love for you to read just even a small part of it. I want you to read it all. We better keep it short.
[00:07:27.950] - Christina Dankert
Well, because I said earlier that the power I'm really proud of is this idea of loving yourself. I will pick that page and share.
[00:07:35.720] - Dori Durbin
[00:07:37.650] - Christina Dankert
So by this point, the students have been introduced to this giant machine that is covered in all these buttons, and they're pushing buttons that are displaying messages. Connor waved his hand into the air, eager to have a turn at pushing a button. Mr. Wilson nodded in his direction and called him up with confidence. He walked up and pushed the square tiedye button. Love Yourself appeared on the screen. Mr. Wilson announced, it is so important to be kind to others, but it is also important to be kind to yourself. What does that look like? What does it mean? For starters, you can talk positively to yourself. Instead of getting frustrated, tell yourself that you can do it. If you make a mistake, tell yourself that it's okay if you can't do something right away. Just keep trying until you can always believe in yourself. Know that you can do anything, and that you are amazing.
[00:08:30.930] - Dori Durbin
I love that I can just see the kids just watching you read. You've probably read in your class. Have you had lots of opportunities to read outside of your class?
[00:08:41.590] - Christina Dankert
I've had a few, yeah. And I was really fortunate. We have an amazing parent club who actually purchased copies for our school, for all of our students. And I was able to read kindergarten all the way to fifth grade little mini assemblies. And then I've gone to a few other schools, and it is an incredible feeling, and this might be to anybody listening, that's thinking like there's just struggling to keep going. It's such a long process to get a book published. My advice is keep going. Because when you read the book to your target audience, it is incredible because they react when you want them to react. They ask questions. And that page I just read, for some kids, they might not hear that. They might not hear, you can do anything. You are amazing. So as cliche as sometimes things like that can sound, we have to boost that self esteem and help young people see that they truly are amazing.
[00:09:44.810] - Dori Durbin
So when you read your book and you are using it as a tool, do you stop on those pages? How do you emphasize that they're hearing what you're actually reading?
[00:09:57.390] - Christina Dankert
Sure. As a teacher, we have kind of been trained to do those things, to stop and pause and ask those questions. And I encourage not only teachers, but parents, because parents are teachers as well, whether it's their day job or not. And another thing I'm proud of is we put discussion questions at the beginning of the book for before, during, and after. That way, if there is a parent teacher or caregiver who's stuck, they have something that they can ask. And then also, with the help of my husband, again, he put little mini questions in the bottom right hand corner. And when I read those, I call them magic questions. So on the page I just read that question in the corner, says, what do you love about yourself? So the questions are meant to take a child out of the story for a minute, apply to themselves what it means to them, and then let them jump right back into the story. Because sometimes children have that lens of, well, this is about the character. That's not me. And when you let them say, well, what do you love about yourself? We can see what these kids love through the illustration, what makes you special.
[00:11:09.620] - Christina Dankert
You can just keep going in those moments. And as a teacher, it's my favorite. I love that time for discussion with stories.
[00:11:20.030] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, I think that's definitely the education that you've gotten as a teacher. I think most adults, they get to a certain point and they feel like, I've got to keep the story moving. And then maybe, just maybe in the back of their mind, it's their attention span will drop or we don't have time, or I'm trying to get them to bed or whatever is coming up. And seizing those opportunities where you can just pause and spend that time and and actually talk to them isn't going to ruin the story. It's just going to add to that conversation.
[00:11:53.410] - Christina Dankert
[00:11:54.450] - Dori Durbin
I'm wondering what was your ultimate goal with your book?
[00:12:00.070] - Christina Dankert
The ultimate goal was, you know, I work with between 20 and 25 students a year, and I thought, if I can reach even double that with a story, that another classroom can read by celebrating kindness and taking a moment to share the story. That's a big check in the box. And it's so neat to see other teachers and other parents that shared, hey, I read the book to my class, or, hey, I read the book to my son or daughter that has been so special because that's the goal. To have that ripple effect of kindness has been wonderful.
[00:12:37.250] - Dori Durbin
That's amazing. So here's another question for you, put you on the spot since your book.
[00:12:44.470] - Christina Dankert
[00:12:45.220] - Dori Durbin
I know that kids and you probably see this every day out of every moment, there's opportunities to correct other behaviors or to instill other beliefs. Is there another book on the margin of your brain trying to get written in that notebook?
[00:13:03.290] - Christina Dankert
Yes. And you know what's funny is this whole process kind of becomes a little bit addicting where you have these ideas and the notebook is getting more full every day. I just completed a wonderful challenge called Story Storm. And for any writer out there, a whole month of January is meant to ignite and spark those ideas. And so you just start filling up your notebook. And some of them fizzle, they don't go anywhere. But a piece of advice, again, I was given was once you finish one writing project, start the next, because the process of submitting your work, it takes a long time, or maybe you're editing it, but keep working on your craft because ultimately your writing continues to get better. So, yes, I hope there's more. I have ideas written and they all have some sort of character strength or positive quality that not necessarily kindness, but something, again, that we want our students and children to have.
[00:14:07.490] - Dori Durbin
And will you incorporate your kids again, do you think?
[00:14:11.470] - Christina Dankert
Maybe. They've asked me that and I said, we'll see. I don't foresee a series, but maybe I can hide their names in there somewhere.
[00:14:20.600] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, well, I think it's it's really interesting because when you talk to authors, I think we all have some sort of muse that we form our books off of, whether they're animal characters or people characters, there's a person behind it, and there's always another book waiting. It's just a matter of do you follow that same format and make it a series? Or do you try something completely different just to see what happens? And you're right. It is kind of an addictive thing because you have that success of seeing the kids actually appreciating what you've done and then you're curious about what would happen if that's where I was curious if you were thinking series or thinking different.
[00:15:08.930] - Christina Dankert
I've had several students say, what should be the reading machine next? It was all machine related. And I said, well, maybe I'll put that in my notebook and we'll see. And I think you learn so much from writing one story and the publishing process that you then just take what you've learned and you just keep moving forward. Even as an adult, you read novels and you can tell sometimes with writers if it was an earlier book, because the later one, they just keep getting better. And I think if they don't keep getting better, that's almost a disservice where you hope that you're writing and everything can just continue to grow as you work on that craft.
[00:15:52.350] - Dori Durbin
I think it'd be interesting to see the kids that you had as second graders who got exposed to your book early as their reading level goes up, if that will become a question in your mind of do we state picture book? Do I start to transition into chapter book? Because those fans now you have amazing fans, and they want more from you and they're going to get older.
[00:16:16.070] - Christina Dankert
Yes, I would love it. I would love it. We'll see if that happens.
[00:16:22.270] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, there's definitely opportunity. So as a teacher, I know that your job is to teach. However, just in general, do you feel like kids books could be written by other professionals and what value do you think they would have with those?
[00:16:42.530] - Christina Dankert
Absolutely. And like I said earlier, I look at picture books as springboards. So you can read a book to begin a conversation. In some cases, it's to start a brand new conversation with. Maybe it could be something, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, just from an exposure level of celebrating a different holiday, seeing a different culture, and realizing the power that picture books really have is when a child particularly is able to see themselves in a story. There's a term in the publishing world that is a picture book has the ability to be a window, a mirror in a sliding glass door, a window into the lives of others who may look different than you, who may do different things in you or have different abilities. A mirror into your own life, to see your own culture and identity celebrated, and then that sliding glass door to go between the two. And I think what happens is kids are naturally so curious. So sometimes they see somebody in public or they see it could be a poster, it could be something at the library that's shared, and they just ask a question and it may be like, well, what's that?
[00:17:51.770] - Christina Dankert
And it comes off rude, where really they just want to know more. So giving the exposure of so many different concepts through picture books, you have those discussions and it just becomes just part of their vocabulary and part of their world that is so tiny when you have them in second grade to just kind of keep expanding that. So I think for anyone that has a message that they hope to share, a message and a story that they think, gosh, I wish I would have known that as a child. I would definitely encourage them, because picture books are power.
[00:18:25.190] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, I think so too. I think about what you said, too, just with the mirror or the window. So many conversations between the kids and reading books. I mean, you're immersed with them. And I remember just standing back and watching in the library one time, and they had one book and they were all giggling and laughing over the this book. But that conversation didn't end when they left the library. It was continuing on after that, right? Yeah. Have you seen a lot of change in your kids as they're reading books? Have there been books that really just really touch their hearts and change their thoughts?
[00:19:01.870] - Christina Dankert
I think so. And my favorite is when you have a child giggle during a read aloud, if it's something funny, like they made that connection or it's that humor, and then you have a child ask a deeper question of like, what is that? Or what does that word mean? It is it's very different for each child, for sure. And I think you talked about having some of the animal characters or human characters, and it was important for me in this case, to have it realistic fiction set in a real classroom so that kids can imagine these things. But I do think there's space for that fantasy and that fairy tale or talking animals or whatever it is, because that's sparking something else that's inviting them into tapping into their creativity and imagination. So there's so many different purposes for picture books.
[00:19:59.790] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, it's a very flexible genre, for sure. And I feel like even the picture books that are just picture books offer something completely different. They don't have the words, but by second grade they need words for sure.
[00:20:15.170] - Christina Dankert
Yes. And I think two second grade is one of those years that you start to see the growing gap of readers, where some readers are really taking off and some kids are still kind of struggling a little bit. But when they're able to just listen to someone else fluently and excitedly because that's me read a story, then it motivates them. Like, I want to do that. Or even if they've already heard the story, they can retell the story, even if they can't read every single word. So there's just letting them listen. And as a teacher, we tell our parents that just because your child can read doesn't mean stop reading to them, they still want to hear you. And I think as adults, the audiobooks have exploded in this market, and there are times where as an adult, I'm tired and I just want someone else to listen or to read to me so I can just listen and enjoy it.
[00:21:16.500] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, I always think that's kind of what a podcast is, too. You get to hear these conversations that would be something that you could have read, but you're doing something else and you're not having to focus on that. I also wonder second grade, too, like you said, having the adult read and hearing those words you said fluently really stuck in my mind, because, again, if they're struggling, they just need to know that there's somewhat of a rhythm to reading and speaking and engaging with other people, too.
[00:21:51.570] - Christina Dankert
Absolutely. And they go from the sounds first to then the words and the phrasing and the sentence structure. And so I think when they're starting to put so many pieces together, it's just nice for them to go, okay, that's where I got to get to. That's what it's going to sound like. I just have to keep practicing. And I think, too, as a teacher and a parent, being vulnerable when we trip over our own words and when we fumble and just say, I got to reread it, and that's okay. Pointing out, it doesn't have to be perfect. Perfect is the thing that we're striving for. But just let's keep going and not to get discouraged, let them kind of see that in you, as well.
[00:22:29.170] - Dori Durbin
That's an excellent point, because we do try to be perfect. We're not even close. No, I know our time is running out, but, Christina, I can't wait for people to check out your book, to spend some time with you. And where is the best place for them to do that?
[00:22:45.990] - Christina Dankert
Sure. Well, you can visit my website, christinadankert.com, and you can read the blog and some of the inspiration, but then the book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble Bookshop.org or whoever books are sold.
[00:22:58.320] - Dori Durbin
Awesome. We'll have them check it out, and we'll provide more links underneath the podcast. Thank you so much for your time today, Christina.
[00:23:06.290] - Christina Dankert
Thank you so much for having me Dori.
[00:23:08.480] - Dori Durbin
[00:23:10.730] - Dori Durbin
Thank you for being a valuable listener for our podcast, The Power of Kids Books. If you learned something or enjoyed part of this podcast today, drop it in the comments below. And if you really love it, share it with someone you love, because we need to get the Power of kids books out into every kid. Let's talk soon.