Of Tadpoles and Ladybugs: Donna Richardson’s Own Story
A love of literature and learning are common for many people in higher education. But for Donna Richardson, her love of those things led her to someplace she never expected to be: with her name on the covers of children’s books.
Richardson, director of the Central Comprehensive Center, didn’t set out in life to be an author, but a love of reading during her childhood certainly helped set her on the path to becoming one. As a child, Richardson was drawn to books, especially fairy tales and folk literature.
“When I was little, I enjoyed reading Nancy Drew, which were pattern books,” said Richardson. “I just couldn’t wait for the next chapter because they had a little suspense in them! Consequently, I learned to read independently with pattern language books, which are known for having repetitive patterns throughout the book.”
Richardson’s love of learning and reading continued into her adulthood, when her career took off in early childhood education. She taught in Oklahoma City Public schools early in her career, and went on to teach at the college level at East Texas State University, University of Arkansas, and Oklahoma City University. But throughout her entire career, Richardson’s prime interests were family literacy research, early reading, and school improvement. Richardson says that one of the most popular pattern books she has come across in her career, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, helped her realize she could make her interests work for her in a new way.
In 1999, Richardson sat down and began to write The Teeny, Tiny Tadpole, her first children’s book. She focused on using the pattern language technique, which helps children with their reading comprehension through repetition, rhythm and rhyme. The Teeny, Tiny Tadpole features the journey of a tadpole making her way through the life cycle to become a frog, meeting new friends along the way as she learns who she is. The book also includes repetitions and refrains, which Richardson says makes children more interested in the reading process because they can repeat the familiar phrases.
“It helps children make the transition to experiencing reading as a fun thing instead of feeling pressured like they must know this, must know that,” said Richardson.
Richardson’s second children’s book, Little Lilly Ladybug, follows the story of Little Lilly Larva who is on the road to discovering herself, much like the Tadpole. Little Lilly was inspired by Richardson’s upbringing near the Granite Mountains in Oklahoma, and the ladybug’s namesake is Richardson’s own grandmother. Both of Richardson’s books share many of the same traits, including focusing on a life cycle, with the purpose of acknowledging life’s changes as children grow and develop through their own life cycles. Little Lilly also touches on other aspects of life as a child and helps them understand how to process the changes that life brings.
“The Lilly Ladybug book teaches children about manners, politeness, and making friends,” said Richardson. “One of the things children have a hard time with is asking to play with other children. This book also helps children deal with that.”
Richardson self-published both of her books, stating that the writing and publishing process both took quite a bit of time. Working at the OU Comp Centers, as well as being a wife and caretaker, keeps her quite busy these days and she doesn’t have as much spare time to write as much as she’d like. She says the best times for her to write and promote her books are the rare three-day weekend, when she can relax and focus on her next book, which will feature birds.
Richardson says that writing has helped round out her life and that she plans to keep writing as long as she still has stories to tell and inspiration to draw from. And like most lovers of literature and learning know, inspiration can come from anywhere.
“When I started teaching back in the sixties, I wanted to be Mary Poppins,” said Richardson. “I just wanted to give children a spoonful of sugar and that is kind of what those books are…a spoonful of sugar to help them love reading.”