LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Livingston Library hosted local creatives, author Tara Lazar and illustrator Joyce Wan, for story time and an interactive novel brainstorm with local children.

As part of Livingston’s 21st Annual Youth Appreciation Week, Livingston children were invited to collaborate at the library on Wednesday, May 18, to create their own tale of hiccupping dragons after listening to Lazar’s “Normal Norman” and Wan’s “Peep and Egg.”

Event Coordinator Anna Coats, Head of Youth Services at the library, said meeting authors and thus promoting literacy is beneficial to children no matter what their dream job.

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“Even if you don’t want to be a writer, writing is a very important part of many jobs,” said Coats. “Starting now, thinking about what makes good writing could be applied to many other professions.”

In fact, both Wan and Lazar began their careers outside of literature. Wan started out in the greeting card business after studying architecture, and Lazar first worked in computer textbook publishing. Both eventually broke into the world of children’s fiction, which, according to Lazar, is contingent on networking.

Wan said she has always felt a strong connection to children’s books due to her own childhood as a first-generation Chinese American. Despite the language barriers, her mother took her to the library each week. Picture books particularly struck her, she said, because she could enjoy them with her mother.

“That’s where I discovered my love of reading,” said Wan. “Picture books have an important purpose for all kind of people and demographics, socio-economic groups. You don’t have to be able to read to enjoy them.”

Wan and Lazar’s presentation emphasized the secrets of the world of children’s books. They informed the crowd that illustrators and authors often do not communicate when working on the same book.

Authors also leave many decisions to their illustrators—Lazar said that she did not indicate the species of the protagonist of “Normal Norman,” and illustrator Stephan Britt then chose an ape.

As they constructed their story, the participating children learned about literary and plot devices. As their dragon searched for a cure for his hiccups, the children discovered terms like “onomatopoeia” and phrases like “the rule of threes.”

For Lazar, these interactions with children are a highlight of a solitary profession. According to Lazar, she does not often get a chance to see her audience: the children she is writing for.

“Seeing them, and listening to them and sparking their imagination. You feed on it,” said Lazar. “You get ideas from the kids just as much as they get ideas from being with you.”

For a full schedule of the remaining Youth Appreciation Week events, click HERE.