For children’s and parental-education author Jodi Dee, stories that reach and teach children are key to a happy and fulfilling life. For Dee, that belief ties back to her own childhood, when she was surrounded by anywhere from 20 to 42 children every single day, learning and having fun.
Dee’s mother founded and operated the Busy Bees Preschool Center in Fitchburg, Mass., and the center was attached to her house. “I literally grew up in the center, from playing to working as a teenager,” Dee says. “I wasn’t one of those teens who could sleep in, since below my bedroom 20 to 30 children were playing outside in the playground.”
But while obtaining a master’s degree in education and starting her own family, Dee was frustrated to find few books that matched the ideas she felt were essential for young children and parents to understand. “Feelings are our superpower,” Dee says. “Feelings are our internal navigation system. They give life meaning. Without a ‘bad’ feeling, you wouldn’t know what you didn’t like or what you did.”
Soon, she was on her way to creating the character of Jesse True, a boy whose
experiences mirror the lives of most children—that is, struggling to understand his emotions and responses to surprises life throws his way. The book quickly became a series, following Jesse True as he deals with everything from the first day of school and a bully to a sharp encounter with a bees’ nest.
Next, Dee wrote a series of picture books that teach children different ways of seeing one another, the environment, and the objects that surround them. In The Little Green Jacket, a richly illustrated, black-and-white format is the backdrop to a bright green jacket that arrives as a gift for a little boy named Mike and then travels from person to person throughout its lifetime, being worn by different children living very different lives. In The Dirt Girl, Dee tackles the way children respond to encountering children who are not necessarily like them. After first being judged by others for spending her time in fields, woods, and streams, the main character, Zafera, becomes their guide to a natural world they never knew existed.
Zafera’s world matches Dee’s own. She often welcomes in six of her children’s playmates at a time. She discovered how surprised other parents were when her children were small and could easily play with friends in her small playroom without issue. “What I did naturally was not intuitive for them,” Dee says. It was a moment of reflection for Dee about how much learning she had absorbed growing up in a preschool, both about early childhood development and how to set up and facilitate learning. “I really did learn through osmosis all the right toys and techniques,” she says, “and I naturally implemented this in my home without realizing I was doing it, which led to the writing of Create a Home of Learning.”
Create a Home of Learning teaches parents how to transform small spaces at home into screen-free areas of discovery and play that target the learning domains of a developing child. “Children learn through play,” Dee says, “and you do not need expensive toys or elaborate play scenarios or, at an early age, detailed instruction-led teaching.”
Looking ahead, Dee has an ambitious slate of titles planned. She is working on a picture book titled Yes, I See You, which takes up themes of compassion and love. A young Native American heals others emotionally by witnessing their pain. She is also writing a seven-book young adult series titled The Seven Natural Wonders, which follows seven children who develop natural abilities into superpowers and come together to defy a billionaire who is destroying the planet by altering gravity.