Eric Litwin, the original author of the Pete the Cat books, is committed to helping teachers and families guide young children with positivity in a way that nurtures their mindset by making them ripe for growth.
Litwin wrote the first four Pete the Cat books illustrated by James Dean – “I Love My White Shoes”; “Rocking around in my school shoes”; “Pete the cat and his four groovy buttons”; and “Pete the Cat Saves Christmas,” as well as the Nut family series, “Groovy Joe,”https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/”The Poop Song” and a book for teachers, “The Power of Happy Reading”.
How did you come to write books?
The basic story behind all of this is that I was a third grade teacher and many of my students struggled with reading. The realization of what it meant to them was really, really shocking to me, because they didn’t like (it). They were missing elements of their reading base and they were very negative about it.
I had a clear vision that if they didn’t like reading, they wouldn’t read as much, they wouldn’t catch up, school would get more and more frustrating and everything from their self-esteem to their economic prospects. future, was going to be diminished.
It became a question of “How do I stop this negative feedback loop?”
So how did you stop him?
I became convinced that it was about helping kids do two things: 1. Build their reading base and 2. Have a positive attitude — and that we needed to start this as young as possible: daycare, preschool , also at home and in kindergarten and first grade.
I started thinking, “What would it take? What would it entail to create books that would do those two things – help children develop a positive attitude and a foundation for reading?” I became more and more convinced by things that are now really backed up by reading research.
For this to work, you were sure that the children had to participate in the book. How did you encourage that?
I started adding things like questions, “Did Pete cry?” And the kids are obviously going to say “My God, no!” Plus, repetition just leads students to be more engaged…and successful prediction.
What neuroscience is showing us now is that our brains are somehow designed to predict and automate. Prediction creates a sense of security. It builds trust, so we start adding prediction or repetition.
Your books are also undeniably musical. What is the importance of having singing stories?
I am interested in the link between music and readiness to read. This also turns out to be clearly linked. Speaking, we have pitch. You can go down and go higher as we speak. In phonological awareness, (there is) the development of rhymes and sounds in words. All this is reflected in the songs sung.
So what I tried to do was add music, movement, and repetition with a positive message that would lead to great attitude and resilience. This is what you find in all my books.
You’ve noticed a surge in positive messages from books lately. Why do you think that is?
Probably because of the pandemic. Many people have gone negative during the pandemic and feel stuck. We’re all trying to find a way to get our good attitude back or adjust it, and so that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot.
What did you find?
Many teachers, parents, and children are emerging from the pandemic feeling negative, somewhat overwhelmed (and) wanting to feel positive. A positive attitude helps us feel better and be more successful in whatever we try to do.
By definition, a positive attitude, most people would agree, means to some extent being more open to new experiences and new people; pleasantly in the present, not lost in ruminations or fears; friendly with others; and cautiously hopeful.
How to return to a more positive attitude after the pandemic?
The first thing we need is a simplified understanding of how our positive and negative mind works.
We’re at an inflection point, where ideas from neuroscience, from Buddhist psychology, from mindfulness, from positive psychology, from cognitive psychology somehow come together. It’s a fascinating time when we can create a pattern to help us.
My model is intentionally oversimplified for busy people. It works like this: we have to understand; to have a simple template to help us figure out where to go, like a map or a user manual. What we need to understand is that our positive and negative mind are just two different modes, and in fact on brain scans they light up different areas of our brain. So, to oversimplify, we have two ways of thinking.
What are the ways of thinking?
The first is the negative (mode of thinking). This is our default mode. It’s passive, it’s repetitive, it’s automated. This is why our negative thoughts somehow come. Primarily, this area of our brain tends to focus on the past. It could be rumination, or the future: things that worry us and ourselves.
But that part of our mind is meant to protect us, it’s our protective mind.
The second mode is the positive or growing mind. It takes commitment. It takes effort, and it’s constantly evolving. While the negative mindset feels like watching replays, with thoughts repeating themselves over and over, the positive mindset feels more timeless. The purpose of this state is growth.
If you think about it, we really have to do both things, right? We have to protect ourselves and we also have to grow.
What is the common way we get stuck in negative thinking mode and how can we fix it?
When we have traumatic experiences, our mind becomes more hypervigilant towards self-protection, and the pandemic is a very big traumatic experience. So it would make sense that a lot of people, almost everyone I know and myself included, would have our mode of protection become a bit hypervigilant. What we are trying to do now is to evolve into a balance – between the protective and growing mind, the positive and the negative – that makes sense for each of us individually.
Some psychologists advocate a three to one ratio of positive to negative experiences. We want more positive experiences and feelings than negative ones.
What this helps us do…is achieve a few things:
1. We’re not going to blame ourselves for thinking negative thoughts, we’re not going to see it as a failure. It’s our default mode, where we go, and it makes sense after traumatic experiences that we go there. It doesn’t help us to blame ourselves; it only makes things worse.
2. We cannot force these thoughts to go; they are there for a reason. What we want and need to do, because our growing mind and positivity requires effort and commitment, is to simply cultivate positive experiences and ideas.
How do children’s books and songs help us accomplish this with children?
We are all so busy; it’s hard to imagine adding new things to our plates, but the way to cultivate positive experiences, thoughts and feelings is to incorporate them into our day. Remember that negativity naturally repeats itself. But positive experiences and ideas demand that we repeat them…through effort.
Most people have reading time with their young children. Of course at night, but I hope also during the day. If you don’t, do it. Because at night we read the books they want. So we want to establish a time where we read a positive book every day. I think morning is a good time.
When I take my 21/2 year old son in the morning, we start with “You Are My Sunshine” every (day). We start with this song. It sets a nice tone for the day, and it comes up again and again.
So, read the same positive book every day?
Yes. Read the same book, do the same thing. Change them over time, but the idea is to really let ideas and experiences sink in.
Another part of that is making sure we read with great expression. It is not enough to read the words. You have to put meaning and experience into it. We read with our whole body, we read with our face and our hands. The meaning of words is conveyed in how you say it, not just what is said. Infuse the book with meaning.
And get your kids involved, right?
Yes. It must be human and interactive. This is where the magic lies. There is a theory in positive psychology by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson called positive resonance: when we go back and forth with each other, it creates energy. We can do it with songs and with books. This is how you get your children to join.