Local author Lindsay Achtman, a second-grade teacher in the Waterford School District, tells SEEN why she wrote a children’s book that encourages kids to put down the devices and play outside.
By Stephanie Steinberg
1. Tell us about your book “The Day The Swing Stopped” and what it’s about.
“The Day The Swing Stopped” is a fun, diverse realistic fiction children’s book written to encourage children of all ages to put down the controller and remember the importance of outdoor playtime.
2. What age group is it for?
I recommend this book for children ages 5-12. This book is perfect for elementary school teachers to use as a read-aloud with their students as it carries an important message that students can engage in meaningful discussion afterward.
3. What was your inspiration for the book?
As a second grade teacher, I always make time to talk with my students about what they did over the weekend or during their free time at home. My children over the last five years frequently respond excitedly about how they spent all night playing on their phone or video games. I follow up by asking if they got to play outside with their friends and enjoy the beautiful weather, and their responses would revolve around excuses like, “No, it was too hot,” or, “There was nobody who wanted to play with me outside.” This trend of children spending increased time in front of a screen is one that is only being fueled by One-to-One Technology education, which pairs each child with their own computer to use for lessons in class.
While I am noticing increased time children spend in front of the screen, I am also observing children who are having difficulty with communicating with their peers and focusing in class. Technology rewards children with instant gratification, and they are in turn losing their ability to patiently wait for an outcome to occur in real life. Their attention spans are shortening, and then we as teachers are spending a lot of time trying to get their focus back on the academic task. Education has also placed a lot of emphasis on state testing, which is forcing a lot of teachers to increase instructional time, taking away from valuable recess time. Recess and outdoor play time is when children get the chance to practice building positive interactions, listening and communication skills.
When parents and schools are encouraging children to spend most of their time in front of a screen, they are taking that crucial social skill building time away from them unintentionally. I am hoping my book will remind adults and children the benefits of social interaction and help us build a world where technology is used, but does not take the highest priority in our children’s lives.
4. You self-published the book. How long was the process, and what were some challenges you overcame?
Finding a topic that you are passionate about makes the writing part easy. I came home from school one night and sat down to complete my Master’s in Educational Technology coursework. After watching a video about a school where all children were sitting at a computer screen for a majority of the day, I felt the need to open a new document and begin writing my story.
I completed my story four hours later and was completely unsure on how to proceed next. All I knew was I was feeling a strong need to share my message with children everywhere. My decision to self-publish was confirmed when sharing a part of my book with a fellow publisher at an event I attended. They began stating how great it would be to turn my story into a middle school novel. I knew that if I was going to remain true to myself as an author, I would need to self-publish and find an editor who could help clean it up. I hired a lawyer and copyrighted my story.
Life got busy with teaching and starting a family, so for a couple of years, my book sat in my computer waiting to be printed. I reconnected with a good friend of mine, Nicole Lechter, who I had met on my honeymoon. Upon hearing that I had written a children’s book she was eager to push me to finally get it published. We spent many late nights Facetiming as she would read my story and ask me questions to push me to think more deeply about how I could take my story from “telling” to “showing.” Every time I thought we were done, she would keep me on my toes.
Finding an illustrator was the most challenging part of the process. I went through a number of different illustrators before finding the one with the style that best matched my story. I read several self-publishing blogs that lead me to Fiverr, a website designed for freelance artists looking for hire, which lead me to Gayanjali Munasinghe. She hand-drew crayon-oil drawings that were bright and beautiful! But the best part was she formatted my story so all I had to do was upload it directly to Createspace. There are many Facebook support groups for people looking to self-publish as well, and I wish I had found them sooner.
Once I had the process figured out, it only took me a total five months from the time I hired an illustrator to the time it was published.
5. How did that process work with your illustrator?
I sent Gayanjali Munasinghe my story and detailed character descriptions outlining how I envisioned them coming to life. Gayanjali completed the illustrations in four stages: rough sketch, detailed sketches with no color and formatting space for words, full drawings with color, and finally adding the text laid over the colored illustrations. Gayanjali always provided me with a timeline for each stage completion, and I paid her in stages. She was open to any suggestions I had for change, and we went through a number of drafts during the process. Gayanjali lives in Sri Lanka, so time changes were a factor and we worked completely through Google Documents and Fiverr. I am very happy with how she always strived to make as many corrections as needed until it was perfect.
6. One of the messages of the book is to put video games and screens aside and to encourage kids to play outside. Do you have any advice for parents trying to do this?
My biggest advice is to remember that you are the role model that your children learn from. As a parent myself, I try to be conscious of how much time I am spending on the applications on my phone or how much time I spend in front of the television. Even though my daughter is only a year old, she is constantly mimicking my behaviors. The more time you set aside for family game nights or to even just go outside in your own backyard with your child, the more they will want to engage in those activities as well.
7. Do you have any advice for other local writers who’d like to publish a children’s book?
I highly recommend joining Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Facebook groups. There are many people on that website who are looking to be hired as editors or illustrators, as well as people going through the publishing process who are always willing to help out others in need.
It is also helpful to read blogs by self-published authors. Createspace is a self-publishing website that provides a free ISBN number and connects you directly to Amazon. However, if you want to try to get your book into retailers, you will also need to purchase an official ISBN number through Bowker and utilize a self-publishing website like IngramSpark. Never be afraid to ask questions and seek out advice. I encourage anyone who is thinking about writing a book to follow their passion!
8. What are some favorite children’s books you like to read to your daughter?
My favorite book to read to my daughter is “Be Brave Little Penguin.” It is told all in rhymes and teaches children to never be afraid to try, even if something seems scary. I also love reading her “The Pigeon” or “Elephant and Piggy Series,” “The Giving Tree,” “That’s Not My Otter” and any book that has noise or sensory features. Even though my daughter is still young, she loves turning the pages and laughs at illustrations she finds funny.
9. Do you have a favorite local reading or writing spot?
I love to read and write in the comfy chair in my daughters bedroom or in the hammock in my backyard. Any place that is peaceful and surrounded by rich colors.
10. Do you have any more books in the works?
My friend Nicole Lechter and I are working on a poetry book called, “United We Shine.”We were inspired to write it from the perspective of a high school student and what it is like growing up in the world with so much judgement and unknown. I am also currently working on a book called, “Shy Can Be Brave,” which was inspired by one of my second grade students.
11. Where can readers find “The Day the Swing Stopped?”
“The Day The Swing Stopped” is currently available on Amazon. I am hoping I will be able to team up with locally owned retailers this summer so my book can officially be released in stores.
12. Do you have any upcoming events or local readings?
Be sure to check out the “Once Upon A Book” event in Frankenmuth on Aug. 10 and 11, where I will be doing book signings and selling copies of “The Day The Swing Stopped.” I am also working with school districts to make my book available in local libraries and be a part of the writing curriculum!
13. Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I am available to do read alouds and book signings all summer long! Contact me at email@example.com for scheduling.