by Roger Zotti
PJ Nickels, whose latest books are “Nuni of Nunivak Island. A New Friend,” “Vultures in the Cemetery,” and “Lewis the Lemur Adventures. The Belly of the Beast” (Pennie Rich Publishing), is an amazing woman – and let’s hope an autobiography is in the works. Why? I’ll let her tell you.
“I was a non-reader. I come from a family of non-readers and school was a nightmare for me, as it is for many children and that’s where we get the high dropout rate.”
PJ was in the sixth grade when it was discovered she couldn’t read. Then in the ninth grade she dropped out of school. But she wasn’t going to stay down for the count: At age 35 she earned a Bachelor’s Degree and at 45 a Master’s. Also, she holds a Doctorate of Ministry in Education. It’s no surprise therefore that for PJ, it’s crucial for “children to receive an education in reading because reading is the key to everything. It must be taught strongly in every piece of our curriculum.”
And what does PJ hope readers take from her most recent books? “Well, it is opening the literacy door for all children,” she said. “I also want adults who see these books and read them with children to understand that everything – I repeat, everything – can be a teachable moment.”
One thing that bothers PJ, she said, is “some people are trying to put us in a box. They are saying, ‘These are children’s picture books.’ But they emphatically are not.” These people are, PJ continued, “trying to throw the books into the children’s picture book target market – and that is not where they belong. The books are education books in disguise.” Then she added with a hearty laugh, “I’m trying to sneak up on the kids.”
When asked about the ages at which her books are aimed, PJ replied, “They can be read as early as a parent or grandparent is willing to sit down and read to a beginning reader. But the books can go as high as school. A high school teacher can use these materials to teach kids how to write.”
PJ was a teacher and principal and believes that “we need to continue doing all we can for literacy in our country.” When she was a principal, she said, “I noticed many children could not pass tests because they could not read, and then I found teachers had become frantic to figure out ways to teach across the curriculum. They would ask themselves, ‘How do I fit in history? How do I fit in this and that subject?’ One of the major goals with the materials I am writing is that science is embedded in them and so is history. Many subjects are embedded in the books.”
The books’ illustrators are Anita Saunders (“Lewis” and “Vultures”) and Juliann Kaiser (“Nuni”). Their imaginative use of colors is vivid, active, and engaging. For more information about PJ Nickels and Pennie Rich Publishing’s other books and authors, and their audio books, visit www.pennierich.com.