When it comes to reading to children, Jean Stangl wrote the book--several in fact.
Stangl's first publication seven years ago was a cut-out story for Highlights, the well-known children's magazine. "It was a whole new direction in my life. It came quite by accident," said Stangl, who had never taken a creative writing course.
While telling a story to her 2-year-old granddaughter, Stangl cut folded paper. At the end of the story, she opened the paper to reveal a jack-o'-lantern. Friends encouraged her to submit it to a publisher and, after researching the market, she sold it on her first attempt. Her second story appeared in Ranger Rick. Now at age 62, Stangl has 19 nonfiction and picture books to her credit, as well as 200 magazine articles.
"Anyone can write a book. I know because I did it," she said.
Several of her books contain stories with thematically related cut-outs that parents or teachers can use.
Gillian Mines, children's librarian at the Camarillo Public Library, especially likes Stangl's "Paper Stories" for the preschool story time. "Young children need a visual aid. As I read, I cut. They get very excited to see the result."
Stangl has also written a series of teacher-aid books for Fearon Publishers. These contain stories and patterns to cut out finger-puppets and flannel board figures. Her book "Magic Mixtures" offers recipes for creative art mixtures such as play dough. Dodd, Mead published "The Tools of Science," a hard-cover book that describes third- through sixth-grade science projects for the teacher and student. "Crystals and Crystal Gardens," published this spring, features gardens grown from household materials.
Stangl's "No-Cook Cookery" book, in Spanish and English, contains no-heat recipes in which a child can participate. For instance, "potato candy" illustrates bits of chemistry through the changes that result from mixing kitchen ingredients together. Most of these books are in public libraries; four more will be released this year.
To get her ideas, the Camarillo resident used her experience as a mother, grandmother and as a teacher of 30 years. Stangl taught preschool and kindergarten everywhere that her husband, a retired naval officer, was stationed.
She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in early childhood development. Stangl returned to college during the 1960s when Head Start programs and the field of early childhood education were becoming important.
Between 1975 and 1985, Stangl taught in Ventura Community College's early childhood education program. Virginia Fletcher, who teaches at Our Redeemer Lutheran Preschool in Oxnard, took "Creative Movement," "Science in the Pre-School" and other courses from Stangl.
"Jean taught us the importance of building children's self-esteem by making them believe they can do it too, like getting them involved in the cookery."
Stangl is also regional adviser for the Society of Children's Book Writers for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Through workshops, she teaches adults how to write children's books. Stangl suggests that the novice writer take a workshop to learn about the categories and marketing procedures for children's literature.
"It can be so difficult and time-consuming to do that on your own," she said. A writer's club or support group is good to reinforce the interest and for encouragement, she added. And "Writer's Market," an annual reference work that lists the requirements of many book and magazine publishers, is also useful, she said.
Rejections? Stangl admits to many. But she said optimistically: "I don't look at it as a rejection. It's just the little piece of paper that's returned with your manuscript. I just send it out again the very next day."
The Society of Children's Book Writers is open to anyone interested in literature for children. For information, call 482-1075.