Dr Niamh is a children’s books’ author with a PHD in Learning Through The Imagination.
She spent 30 years working as a psychotherapist ~ work which took her to live and work in the Horn of Africa for 10 years, during the war-torn nineteen-nineties for Oxfam, UNICEF and World Food Programme.
She now dedicates herself to being a Nana and writing and developing personalised children’s books. We were over the moon when she agreed to tell us more about her latest book "Find My Name In The Alphabet Train".
What inspired you to write “Find My Name In The Alphabet Train”?
It is always very difficult to say where inspiration comes from. It can be a sudden light-bulb moment (or seem so) or come from being experienced in a particular thing and finding a unique niche. This is how it worked for me when I created Find My Name In The Alphabet Train.
There are lots of personalised books out there. Some are lovely, others a bit light in content. I always wanted to do a personalised book, as children are 9 times more likely to engage with reading if we place them at the story’s heart. Your name is very special. The ancients believed it expressed the soul. My name is based on an Irish legend and I have always loved having an unusual name. Niamh is more common now, but when I was a child my mother had to apply for a special dispensation to the bishop to name me Niamh. In those days it was considered a pagan name, so I can honestly say that I am the first to be named Niamh in the last century! Doesn’t that make me seem ancient?
A name carries our whole identity, so I wanted my story to be name-based. It must also be fun (for the gift market, especially great for grandparent/auntie presents) as well as educational. I love sounds and phonics and exciting vocabulary and agree with literacy specialists (and the latest Ofsted guidelines) that we should have high expectations of our children and help them to be all they can be. They have incredible imaginations. I am never afraid of using unusual vocabulary and more expressive, dynamic words. Remember how nearly every little girl in the land was singing about “frozen fractals” during the Frozen phenomenon. They certainly didn’t understand what a fractal was, but they loved the sound of it!
The idea for a personalised alphabet book incorporating all these elements was born! I wrote the rhyme in phonics meaning I have used adjectives, adverbs and verbs that either begin or end with the letter or have the sound of the letter in the middle of the word. For example: Pecuiar Pig through the paddock did pop: P p p ; Picked up a pumpkin, pride of the crop: P p p
Why did you decide to write a book based on phonics?
Developing literacy skills begin with listening and verbalising rather than reading and writing. If children don’t have a good grasp of phonics and find it difficult to hear the difference between sounds and rhyming patterns, it will be more difficult later on for them to recognise words by sight. Stories written in rhyme and rhythm help our children develop what is known as ‘auditory discrimination’.
Do you have plans for any more books?
I will be following up on Find My Name In The Alphabet Train with a personalised counting book to encourage little learners to count up to 20! In fact, I am developing the idea with a local nursery school to be used widely as a learning aid. I also have a personalised story for older readers, which is a magic story all about going in search of magic powers and discovering the powers (such as strength, resilience, courage) were within you all along!
Why do you think it is important for children to enjoy reading?
What’s in a book? Everything imaginable. Reading transports us to other worlds and stimulates the imagination like nothing else does. Reading is the gateway to discovering the universe! What’s more, children love the sound of your voice. When we read out loud to our children, they learn to associate books with love and affection.
What challenges did you face whilst writing your book and how did you overcome them?
There were so many challenges to face in choosing to create personalised books, not least the technology. It has taken me two years to bring this project to where it is now: a beginning. We are not automated. Everything is done by hand. This means we can really give personal attention to our customers. For example: a customer contacted me to explain that his son had learning difficulties and could I give his representative image dark glasses? I immediately agreed and now offer glasses to those who wear them (and coloured glasses to dyslexic children). I am also thinking of offering a wheelchair where necessary.
Have you always loved reading?
I have always LOVED reading. I lose myself in books which I know gives my imagination room to flourish. I escaped a very difficult upbringing by losing myself in the thoughts of great, eternal minds and being inspired by great lives. My grandchildren share our family’s love of reading, which is great, as we can explore so many different worlds together.
Who is your favourite children’s book author and why?
I think my favourite modern children’s author is Roald Dahl for the wonderful liberty he takes with language as well as his invention. I love the way in which he challenges children with his made-up words and stimulates their imaginations to experiment with, and love, language. My favourite classic writer has to be Lewis Carroll. Superlative imagination.
If you could do anything else for the day what would it be and why?
I don’t want to do anything else other than create books and share them with my grandchildren or get feedback that somewhere, a child is also enjoying my stories. There is nothing better.
If you could spend a day with one of the PrenderPals who would it be and why?
It would have to be Prenders the Parrot for his wisdom and love of magic!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our interview with Dr Niamh. We loved finding out more about her and her wonderful book.
We think her book makes the perfect Christmas gift and if you would like to buy a copy please visit her website.
If you are also interested in some other fun and educational Christmas gifts for children this year, we would love you to visit our shop too.