Crwth: Were you still actively teaching when you came up with the idea for Sophie Trophy?
Eileen: Yes. It was 2004 – I retired from teaching in June 2011.
Crwth. Sophie obviously adores her teacher, yet she still misbehaves. Is this a trait you commonly saw in the classroom?
Eileen: Oh, yes. Some kids just cannot control themselves. They get excited about everything and before you know it, they are misbehaving when their intention is to show interest.
Crwth: Sophie Trophy has an enthusiastic nature that gets her into trouble. When you were a teacher, how did you handle kids like Sophie?
Eileen: I worked to keep my students engaged. I read to them a lot, told them stories and used dramatization in the classroom.
With kids who had trouble controlling themselves, I would praise them in front of the class. I would point out when they gave a good answer that showed they were paying attention. I’d make sure they were pulled into the lesson and got attention. Quite often that’s the thing: they want attention. It’s nice to single them out for something positive. It also raises their classmates’ awareness of their capabilities.
All these things helped them to understand that I cared about them. If they knew that I cared about and respected them, it would be easier to get them on track.
Crwth: You mentioned in your guest blog that you were a dreamy child but that you started to get control of it in Grade 3. Did someone else help you or did you come up with strategies on your own?
Eileen: I was getting behind in a couple of subjects – Reading strangely enough and math. In Grade 3, I started to pull ahead in part because I was singled out as having an ability. I was the best printer and writer in the class. That was a turning point for me. I thought to myself, “If I can do this well, I can do other things well too.”
I don’t remember my Grade 2 teacher at all. If I didn’t have a picture of her I wouldn’t be able to tell you who it was. That teacher obviously didn’t have much impact. I remember Kindergarten and Grade 1. Grade 2 I had bad marks. I seriously remember watching clouds and the trees and plastic bags in the wind, but I don’t remember what happened in class. I would notice a scuff on the floor shaped like a question mark…
What was your original question? I might have got sidetracked.
Crwth: Haha! It’s becoming evident why you did such a great job with Sophie’s dreamy character.
Eileen: My husband will tell you I tend to zone right out now and then. I’m still an incredibly active dreamer.
Crwth: This is a good time to segue to something you mentioned in your guest blog post: Sophie has a disability. Can you elaborate?
Eileen: When I decided to write a story that takes place in a school, I started thinking about interesting students I had taught, and a list of eight kids stood out in my mind. I realized they all had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most of them were bright. Some excelled at sport; some were beautiful artists. Quite often they were good at science and math. They had a struggle, but they were amazing kids – one is now a computer programmer.
I want kids with ADHD or something similar, something a kid feels they must be careful of, to feel like they have company when they read Sophie Trophy. And for readers who don’t have challenges, I want them to realize “okay, well, this is what kids are like. In a classroom you have all sorts of kids. We have to be accepting.”