This week’s Meet a Mom interview is with Brooke Vitale, a Greenwich Mom of two who has two decades of experience as a children’s book editor and recently started writing her own books for little ones! We spoke to Brooke about her family life in Riverside, opening her own publishing firm, Charge Mommy Books, and tips on getting kids interested in reading.
Can you please share a bit about your family and life in Greenwich?
My husband Andrew and I live in Riverside with our two boys, Sammy (6) and Alex (4). We’re a proud North Mianus and PIFS family! Our house is a bit of a zoo, with the two boys running around, plus a dog and 2 cats. But it’s a happy zoo!
Love that! Why did you move to this area?
I grew up in Orlando, but moved to Manhattan after college to pursue a career in publishing. My husband grew up in Greenwich and his parents still live here, so when we decided it was time to get out of the city and start a family, Greenwich seemed like a logical choice.
Can you please tell us a bit about your career in publishing?
I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a children’s book editor, first at Sterling (the company owned by Barnes & Noble), then at Penguin, and most recently at Disney Publishing. Over the years I’ve gotten to work with some amazing authors. I have been mentored by an amazing group of women who helped me find my way in the publishing industry, including Jane O’Connor, author of the Fancy Nancy books, and have been able to pass that on in mentoring a new group of powerful women. I’ve sat in on meetings with movie producers to pitch books and have seen my books hit the best-seller lists. But for all the books I acquired for publishers, my most fulfilling role is the one I have now as a freelance editor. I work with a lot of authors who want to self-publish their books. It’s so much fun to help them make their dreams a reality. I love knowing that I’m ensuring that their books are the best they can possibly be. As a writer, my greatest successes are the books that are still coming. For the first time, I’m writing my own books, with ideas that come totally from me, and I’m loving it!
What do you love about children’s books – both editing and writing?
For lots of kids, books are their first introduction to language. They are their first introduction to storytelling. I love knowing that I’m putting GOOD books in the hands of kids. That I’m helping to shape their perception of the world, and that my words are hopefully instilling in them a lifelong love of reading and learning.
What makes a *great* children’s book?
A great children’s book is anything a child loves! We’ve all got our favorites, and we’ve all got those we don’t like, and it’s not the same for any of us. But from a writing perspective, the best picture books are usually based on something kids can understand. A subject they are familiar with like bedtime or farm animals, or a popular play pattern, like dinosaurs, construction vehicles, or princesses. There’s a reason most books have kids as protagonists. It’s because they’re relatable. At their core, picture books should capture a child’s imagination. They should show them the world in a way they never thought about it before, even if it’s a part of the world they encounter every day. And they should leave them wanting more. More books, more adventure, more fun!
How do you come up with your ideas?
A lot of them start with my own kids. They have fantastic imaginations and are always running off doing something crazy. My newest early reader, How to Pick a Pet, came from my kids wanting literally every pet at the pet store. But they can come from anywhere. My upcoming picture book Slushy, Slurpy City Snow started with a spark of an idea from a conversation with an illustrator. Say Cheese stemmed from my older son finding my old digital camera and falling in love with it. Ideas are all around us, they just have to catch me at the right moment.
Why did you decide to launch your own publishing firm?
The publishing world is crowded, and it’s hard to get your book in the door of a big house. But even at the biggest publishers, it’s hard to get the attention needed to make your books take off. Marketing spend is saved for the select few “lead” titles, and the rest of the authors have to fend for themselves. So I figured that if I have to fend for myself anyway, I may as well do it on my own terms!
What separates Charge Mommy Books from our publishers?
A focus on understanding how children learn to read. We’ve been working with a literacy specialist to make sure everything we put out meets the highest standards, with a goal of focusing on literacy. In addition to our picture books, we are putting out a line of leveled readers, consistent with what kids are starting out with today. But we also know there is a shift in reading toward the science of reading, and we are meeting that demand with a series of decodable readers. Our first set includes five books, each focusing on a different short vowel sound. We’ll be continuing this line with more sets focusing on the order children learn to read letters and letter blends. We want parents to know that whether they are choosing an early reader or a picture book, we are a brand they can trust and depend on.
If a mom has an idea for a book, what’s the best way to connect with you?
Charge Mommy Books is not currently accepting manuscript requests, but writers looking for editorial help can reach out to me at brookevitale.com.
How did becoming a mom influence your work?
It’s everything. I often say, I have no idea why people let me edit books for kids before I had them. I have learned so much from my kids, and from seeing how they react to different kinds of books. Two years ago, when I was teaching my own son how to read, I realized that many of the books out there for early readers just aren’t engaging enough. And many of them aren’t written at the level of a beginning reader. (And I get that, because having written tons of level 1 early readers for publishers before having kids of my own, I know that most people writing them aren’t truly educated in how kids learn to read.) So I started learning about phonics, and how kids blend words, and what they are truly capable of when they are beginning readers. And then I started applying that learning to my own books. Which was when Charge Mommy Books was born. The research I did into reading and the time I spent sounding out words with him now shapes all of the early readers I write.
What do your kids think of your work/books?
They love them. You’d think it was their birthday the way they react when new books show up. And they’re so proud to take them to school and announce, “My mommy wrote this,” or “My mommy edited this.” Last year we even did a book with my son’s kindergarten class at North Mianus. The kids picked theme and the title, and drew all the pictures. I then wrote to their ideas and had a designer lay out the book and had it published on Amazon so that they could feel like they had created an actual book. Getting the kids involved in the actual creation process has been such a blast!
Do you have any tips for reading to kids to make them more interested/captivate their attention?
Voices are always good! It’s hard for kids to focus on a book when it’s being read in a dull tone. Energize your voice and engage with the language yourself and you’ll find your kids are doing the same. And pre-read books. If you’ve gone through them once, you’re less likely to stumble on the words, making the whole experience better.
For us, the house is full of books. They’re on every surface, just waiting to be picked up, and that means they DO get picked up, whether to be read aloud, or just to look at the pictures. They can’t resist looking if it’s just sitting there.
What’s next for you?
We’re planning to launch our preorder on our decodable books March 15, 2022. Our first five level 1 early readers will be available in June, and then we will be putting our first four picture books on sale in September, so lots of great stories coming. I’m hoping to get some school and library visits scheduled in the fall to share my books with our local kids. And on the editing side, I’m presenting at a Women in Publishing conference next month that I’m excited about!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve met so many people these past few years who have said “I always wanted to write a children’s book.” The thing is, it’s no easy task. But if that’s you, and you dream of doing it, then do it! Don’t let fear hold you back, because that one is a dream we can make come true!
We love to support local businesses. Can you please share your favorite places to:
Go to dinner for date night: Valbella
Get coffee: I’m a Starbucks girl, if I treat myself at all. Usually I brew it at home so I can get the kids to school.
Workout: My basement! We’ve got an elliptical and I’m on it every morning at 6:30!
Get your nails/hair done: JLo Salon for my hair. 100%!
Go shopping for yourself/for your kids: Target!