By Addie Swartz , Kristin Stanberry
Parents understand that "tween" girls (ages 9 through 13) face a period of tremendous physical, social, and emotional change. It's not enough for adults to simply dispense positive messages. Kids need reinforcement from other sources as well. The Beacon Street GirlsTM book series (created by B*tween Productions, Inc., and authored by Annie Bryant) fuses serious issues facing tween girls with joyful, well-rounded characters, including a girl with dyslexia. Based on the real-life needs and experiences of tweens, these age-appropriate books provide quality experiences that reinforce parents' efforts to build their daughters' self-esteem and help young girls express their individuality.
We recently spoke with Addie Swartz, founder and CEO of B*tween Productions, Inc. about the Beacon Street Girls book series.
Q: The tween characters in the Beacon Street Girls books are interesting, well-rounded girls. They encompass various ethnicities, abilities, disabilities, and family situations. How did you decide what disabilities and scenarios you would include in your stories?
A: Our goal was for the Beacon Street Girls characters to capture the essence of real-life girls attending middle school today. We wanted our characters to serve as role models who are as interesting — and as vulnerable — as the girls reading about them. Before developing the characters, we spoke with hundreds of girls in communities up and down the Eastern seaboard. During focus groups, which were really ice cream and pizza parties, we interviewed a healthy cross-section of girls from different socio-economic groups. We met them in after-school programs, at Boys and Girls Club centers, and at soccer games. I also have two tween daughters of my own; they and their friends provided input as well. We asked girls about their passions, challenges, family situations, and concerns. They provided great ideas and input about what the characters should be like — even how they should look and dress. School emerged as a common theme among the girls we spoke with. From this field research we created composite characters.
Q: You've done an authentic and accurate job of portraying Maeve, the character who has dyslexia. her as a well-adjusted girl with a learning disability. In developing her character, what type of research did you do?
A: We interviewed many girls with learning disabilities (LD), and we found them to be wonderfully alive. However, it became clear to us that kids with LD are often teased in school. To ensure that Maeve's character was accurately represented, we also spoke with several learning disability experts. Learning disabilities represent too serious a matter to not get it right. We consulted with national reading experts, including Joyce Hakansson, formerly at the Center for Applied Technology (CAST), and faculty at the Carroll School, a private school for students with LD in Lincoln, MA. The experts also read the books before publication to make sure Maeve's character and her experiences are believable. Based on the input we received from the experts and girls with LD, Maeve emerged as a warm, vibrant, rich character who contributes a lot to her family, friends, and community. Yet, she struggles with organization and reading. For example, in one of our books, Maeve dreams up and initiates a community service project. She has great leadership and vision; but, because she is disorganized, she needs her friends to help her carry out the project as a team. The story highlights her talents as well as her need for support to carry out her goals.
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