Your favorite vacation.
Your best friend.
The love of your life.
Did specific people or images come to your mind as you read the phrases above?
If so, this demonstrates the power of a few seemingly simple words.
These incredible communication tools can awaken muted imaginations, conjure emotions, and motivate us to tackle massive accomplishments.
In fact, words are so powerful that the ability to use and understand them is considered a treasure.
This is reflected in the title of a new children’s book by Ramona S. Thomas.
Ramona ThomasThomas’s debut book, On a Treasure Hunt for Words is centered around four-year-old Jetta, a curious little girl from Louisiana who becomes fascinated with words as she learns how to read.
Every new word Jetta learns expands her curiosity about life and the world around her.
Young readers will be enthralled as they follow Jetta’s literary journey because she turns learning to read into an exciting treasure hunt for words.
Thomas says she was a lot like Jetta when she was a little girl. Curious by nature and determined to learn as much as she could about life, people, and the way things work, Thomas grew up to become an avid reader and devoted educator.
Now, she’s eager to see parents read Jetta’s story with their children, encouraging them to ask all of the questions that fill their young and inquisitive minds.
But what inspired Thomas to write On a Treasure Hunt for Words? And what tips can help a person who is interested in writing their own children’s book?
Thomas was kind enough to answer these questions during an interview with Bayou Trésors.
Bayou Trésors: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what was life like growing up?
Ramona Thomas: I’m from Oakland, California. When I grew up, kids played outside. We played games like tag, hide and seek, foursquare, or jacks with kids in the neighborhood. My father is from Louisiana and so are my grandparents. I also have Aunts, Uncles, and other family members in Louisiana. When I was a teenager and I visited Louisiana, I liked that a lot of the families were very close-knit and there was that famous Southern Hospitality in every house I visited. It made me feel welcomed and there was a nice sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘togetherness.’ It’s a very hospitable and friendly culture.
Bayou Trésors: How long have you been writing?
Ramona Thomas: Well, I’ve always had stories in my mind. But there were two times when I actually put them on paper. Once, in college, when I wrote a children’s book about nutrition. I wrote the book and one of my close friends illustrated it. And more recently, within the last two years, during COVID, when I wrote On a Treasure Hunt for Words.
Bayou Trésors: What initially triggered your interest in becoming an author?
Ramona Thomas: Several factors. For one, I didn’t see enough culturally diverse representation in children’s books. In addition to that, I've noticed that as the world continues to advance technologically, it seems that tangible books are not as present in children's hands.
Bayou Trésors: On a Treasure Hunt for Words is your first published book. What is it about?
Ramona Thomas: Yes, it's about a little girl named Jetta from Louisiana who spends a few weeks with her grandparents in Sacramento, California during the summer before she goes to kindergarten. Jetta is a very curious and enthusiastic little girl who loves words and wants to share all that she's learned with everyone else.
Bayou Trésors: What reaction do you hope children and parents will have after reading the book?
Ramona Thomas: I hope it will encourage parents to sit down and read with their children, and I hope it inspires children to want to acquire a larger vocabulary that leads them to want to go on a journey with Jetta.
Vocabulary and reading are so important.
My thesis dealt with the socioeconomic word gap among different populations in the U.S., and it cited research that claims children from more impoverished socioeconomic classes are exposed to significantly fewer words than children from more affluent backgrounds.
According to researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley, authors of The 30 Million Word Gap*, “a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family.”
The study adds that, “This gap does nothing but grow as the years progress, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds.”
So, it’s important that parents read books with their children and teach their little ones to pronounce the words. This helps children expand their vocabulary. For example, there’s the word "big." But a parent can also teach their toddler similar words such as “large,” or “enormous.” If a parent uses all of these words, it exposes their little ones to the word, and expands their vocabulary. If you use a word around a toddler, they’re likely to learn it.
Bayou Trésors: Writing a book is a journey. So, what are some of the most surprising things you’ve experienced during this journey?
Ramona Thomas: I didn’t think it would be a challenge to figure out how to end the story, but to my surprise it was. I had to figure out how to end it so that it wouldn’t be too long and make sure the ending would lead to the next book in the series.
Also, it was challenging to come up with character names and to find an illustrator.
Initially, I wanted it to be more of a picture book with fewer words. But Jetta had so much to say that it wouldn’t be easy to keep it as a picture book. So, On a Treasure Hunt for Words falls in between a picture book and the beginning of an easy reader.
Bayou Trésors: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an author?
Ramona Thomas: Carry a notebook with you so that when you have an idea you can write it down and won't forget it. You can also use a notes app or a voice recorder app on your phone to do that.
And make sure you have a mentor who can guide you along in the writing and publishing process, because it can be overwhelming, which might lead to procrastination.
But when you have a mentor who keeps you on a calendar or schedule and helps you on your journey to complete the book and publish it, that really helps. You don't feel so overwhelmed by the lengthy ‘to-do' list that comes with the territory.
People say, "You can just self-publish your book," but that takes time and many of us work multiple jobs. So, having someone mentor you along the way is a big help!
Bayou Trésors: Is there a website where people can learn more about you and your book?
Ramona Thomas: Yes. My website is http://www.ramonathomasauthor.weebly.com
Thomas’s book, On a Treasure Hunt for Words will be released on Amazon in the spring of 2023. Interested parents and teachers will also be able to request the book from their local libraries.