Today I’m featuring a new series of middle grade novels by Angela Spady. The Channing O’Banning books are engaging and educational, and the protagonist’s name is great fun to say aloud! Before I talk more about how much I enjoyed reading these, I’m pleased to present an interview with author Angela Spady.
Hello, and thank you in advance for your time. I greatly enjoyed the Channing O’Banning books, and it’s a pleasure to be featuring them on my blog.
Having worked with children in an educational capacity, what was the biggest challenge when transitioning to your role as a parent?
As a parent, it’s sometimes tough to know when to nurture and when to be in “educator mode.” I’ve worked with the gifted and talented for many years, so I can have the tendency to maybe push a little too much! Thankfully, I have children who enjoy art and are free to express themselves creatively. So I guess you can say it’s a good balance. When I see they’re getting a bit stressed, I can often see that even in their artwork. Communication is key, in any way possible—especially in those tween years!
What sorts of activities did you promote at home to keep your child interested and engaged in the arts?
I try to keep at least three choices of art media (paints, pastels, pencils, ink, clay etc.) available in our “studio area,” which is a large room full of art bins, and lots of light. We’ve always played a game called “I Draw, You Draw,” where basically we take turns creating part of a drawing and will then go back and forth adding our own touch until completion. Not only does it encourage creativity, but it encourages open mindedness and teamwork. My youngest daughter, who actually inspired the series, has attended art camps since the age of 5 and she’s now 17. She’s an incredible artist.
What would you recommend to parents who fear they’ve waited too long to introduce their children to the arts?
It’s NEVER too late to buy a child a sketchbook and allow them to create and express themselves! I still do myself! Studies show that kids who engage in some type of art activity, are more prone to excel in ALL subject areas because they learn to think differently and see from all angles.. I see that in the classroom all the time. Kids have to be encouraged to think independently and that requires encouragement from the parent AND the teachers. You don’t have to post all of child’s art on the refrigerator, but definitely display something. My kids’ favorite pieces are actually framed for everyone to enjoy. Just because a child may not be the next Picasso, doesn’t mean the child or parents should abandon art activities entirely. From visual arts to performing arts—they’re great outlets for children, both creatively and psychologically. Trying is the most important part!
The O’Banning family travels to exotic locations that are both educational and lots of fun! What are some of your favorite places to visit and experience other cultures?
Our family loves to travel! I honestly believe it’s the best way to educate a child and show them how parts of the world are different, and yet so interconnected. Costa Rica is one of my favorite places, due to the birdlife and fauna. We’re all birdwatchers! Channing O’Banning and the Rainforest Rescue is actually inspired by real events. My favorite place on earth is Taos, New Mexico, where I live part time. Not only is the landscape magical, but it’s rich in Native American history, and is also an amazing art town. Taos and Santa Fe are featured in Channing O’Banning and the Turquoise Trail. Lastly, my daughters’ favorite place is Kyoto, Japan. She even got to talk to a beautiful geisha and have tea with her. She’s now studying Japanese as a result of that trip!
One of my favorite things about these books is that you never trivialize Channing’s problems. In fourth grade, everything is a huge deal, from a slight on the playground to a friend’s distracting crush. Care to share an anecdote from your own childhood that seemed like the end of the world at the time?
That’s a good one! I remember my first crush like it was yesterday. Isn’t that amazing? I’m sure most parents remember theirs as well. The fact that we still remember it should tell us how it affected us emotionally. I’ll never forget that I got into trouble for sending a boy a note during class. Because he accepted the note, we both had to stay in at recess. I was in fourth grade and totally embarrassed, fearing my teacher would read the note out loud. Thankfully she was merciful! I’ve always tried to respect my kids privacy to a point, and to put myself in their shoes. Having our children know that we trust them is a HUGE thing.
What are some of your favorite children’s stories?
Hands down, my favorite book that’s also my children’s favorite, is Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. I think we have three copies, as I bought one for each of my daughters to give to their own kids someday. I have no doubt that it inspired them artistically at a young age. The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt and Yaroslava was written in 1964 and still one the most beautiful children’s stories I’ve ever read.
If you could say one thing to today’s teachers, what would it be?
That’s an easy one: LET EACH CHILD BE UNIQUE! Just because you don’t understand a child’s artwork doesn’t mean that it’s not art. And giving them a coloring sheet isn’t art either. Let them THINK. The best way I know to explain this is through an experience my daughter had in third grade. Unfortunately they only had art once a week, much to my daughter’s disappointment. One day, the teacher sat a stuffed animal that was a cat, on her desk and told everyone to draw it the same way. My daughter was crushed that she couldn’t draw it the way she wanted. She came home extremely upset and drew about 10 cats on 10 sheets of paper, making each one different from the other. I loved it but also had a loooong talk with that teacher. Needless to say, there were no more stuffed cats that year, but an amazing menagerie of unique and beautiful creatures…
Inspired by her own daughter who is an accomplished teen artist, the series is sought after by teachers and parents, and anticipated by curious young artists who have been searching for a character like Channing O’Banning. Spady has two graduate degrees in Educational Leadership, certified in Gifted Education and is the founder of the Art and Cultural Enrichment program (ACE) at the June Buchanan School.
Currently an Arts and Humanities instructor at the June Buchanan School, as well as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors at the Artisan Center of Kentucky, Spady has been featured on/in KY Teacher Magazine, WYMT-TV, and PBS. She enjoys traveling around the world with her family and currently splits her time between Southern Kentucky and Taos, NM.
I’d like to move on and talk about these wonderful books, but first you should know a bit about me and my household. I taught dance for fourteen years; in fact, my husband and I met when we were instructors at a ballroom dance studio. Before deciding to be a stay at home mom, I taught high school English, and my husband now teaches at a school for the performing arts. So, in addition to having educational backgrounds, we’re huge proponents of the arts — and especially of incorporating the arts into education. Angela Spady has written a series that includes everyone: students, parents, and teachers alike. Her books show that it takes cooperation between all parties to best encourage learning and artistic expression.
Okay, now onto Channing: Channing O’Banning is a classic heroine: feisty, passionate, and full of joie de vivre. She’s not perfect, of course: she bickers with her older sister, often displays a lack of interest in academics, and struggles to maintain positive relationships with her friends. But through it all, she learns and grows. This is the kind of character you want your kids to read: one that they can relate to, but also one that they can learn lessons alongside.
In each book, Channing’s family takes a trip to a location that’s related to a unit she is learning about in school. They see the sights, talk to natives, and try new foods, and everyone’s horizons are broadened as a result. This kind of travel teaches our children that the world is a much bigger place than their own backyards, and it also teaches acceptance and appreciation of other cultures. I hope to have the opportunity to expose my son to other places, other ways of life. Travel has widened my life in ways I’d never expected, and I want him to have that same gift.
I also loved the idea of hands-on education that is promoted in this series; although I’ve always been a bookish sort of girl, not everyone learns best by reading and taking notes. My husband is a very kinesthetic learner; he needs to “do” in order for something to really sink in. And how better to keep students interested than by making the lessons come alive? Channing’s teachers bring in visuals and assign various projects to students with different interests and abilities (for example, with Channing’s penchant for art, she is asked to create a poster about a Native American tribe). This is something that educators can learn from: when students are more invested in the learning process, they are more likely to remember the things that they learn.
And these books are fun, and silly, as well. I would have loved them as a young girl because they are realistic, funny, and educational all at once. This is a great new series for kids, and I would encourage parents to read them, too. Reading a book and discussing it with your child shows that you’re taking an active interest in their interests, but in the case of these books, it also allows you to supplement your child’s learning. For example, after reading Channing O’Banning and the Rainforest Rescue, why not find a recipe for Costa Rican cuisine or pick up a tropical fruit from the supermarket? After Channing O’Banning and the Turquoise Trail, perhaps arrange a visit to a museum that features Native American art and artifacts and then encourage your children to create their own artwork based on what they’ve seen? There are so many ways for a family to learn and grow together, and Angela Spady’s support for this is evident in her work.
All in all, these books are a great pick for everyone involved in the education process: students, teachers, and parents. It’s wonderful to find something that works on so many levels. Thanks to Angela for her time and thoughtful words, and thanks to Marissa from Smith Publicity for facilitating this exchange.
Follow Angela Spady on Twitter: @angelaspady
Check out the Channing O’Banning website, full of activities for kids and adults alike! This site features cross-curricular activities to use in the classroom, but they can also be used by ambitious parents looking for educational activities to engage in with their kids. It also includes information about each volume in the series and some adorable coloring pages.