Media Coverage

The Best Recess Ever Author Stephanie Mara Dawson

by Kaylynn Bright

"Hopefully, the book will send across the message: be happy if you are a child that's in a wheelchair, be happy if you are the child who plays chess instead of football. Whatever you're interested in, go ahead and be happy with that, and people will accept you for who you are---or maybe sometimes they won't."

Stephanie Mara Dawson

The name of your book is The Best Recess Ever. Why was it important for you to write this book? It was important for me to write this book because there are many children who are good readers, or perhaps good students, who find themselves, unfortunately, not "fitting in" in the school environment. In writing The Best Recess Ever , therefore, I wanted to address that issue and focus on a subject children would enjoy, which is recess. Thus, the title, The Best Recess Ever , evolved. The literary focus of the main character, who is a reader and a lover of literature, explores her struggles to maintain her independence while enjoying both recess and her love of books.

What was the exact moment you decided to write this book? When did the light bulb go off? Actually, this was one of my second storylines. My first work was a math story. Upon reading my math story, my publisher said, "Okay, this book is nice, but we want something about you." My reply was, "I want to teach. I want people to learn from my books." He then said, "Well, find something about yourself." From there we spun it into getting the literacy component across and having the main character be a good reader and then creating this "Stephanie" character, who is myself . . . who is your daughter . . . who may be you . . . who could be a boy as well. Stephanie is just a student.

The central character is you. What characteristics did you draw from yourself in developing this story? What is the correlation you have with Stephanie?
The first correlation that I have with Stephanie is that I am a lover of reading. I'm a lover of words. I'm a lover of sounds. I consider myself to be a linguist, and I wanted the central character to have that component as well. Secondly was the area of acceptance. I knew that my mom loved me. I received a lot of love at home. I received a lot of love at church. But at school, as I grew older, I found that kids didn't like me, and I couldn't understand why. I later learned that I was disliked because I excelled in school. That jealousy component became clear to me around the time I was in the fourth and fifth grades. Actually, the main character, Stephanie, is a reflection of myself as well as every other child experiencing similar problems. I cannot say that this character was mirroring me in second grade. My second grade year was much better than my main character's second grade year. The story is just an encasement of my life, my observations as a second grade teacher, as well as what I feel children are going through today. I wrote the book primarily with the desire to inspire children to read. Generally speaking, children want to read only about things that interest them --- something realistic, yet fun and light. And that's how the whole character came about.

What makes your book different from the rest of the books that address self esteem? What makes it distinctive? The distinctive element about my book is that although its subject matter deals with self-esteem, it's not one of those books that comes out and tells you, "Now this is what you should do." Nevertheless, the message, "believe in yourself," is quite apparent. As the story unfolds, the reader will intrinsically discover, "Hey, I'm okay just the way I am."

What are some of the other subliminal messages you perhaps try to get across with this book? One of the messages I wish to get across in this book is that we live in a multi-cultural society. As an African-American person and as an African-American writer, I've been torn with questions about my focus, "Are you writing a Black book?" "Are you going to write a White book?" or "Are you going to sell out?" And I found myself thinking, "Well, what world do I live in today? I live in a melting pot, the multi-cultural society of today." My book reflects today's society because my book is for all children, not for any specific ethnic group. But one thing I must add, if I could be so forward to suggest, is that we as African-Americans have to maintain our own culture, but function in a society where there are other people from different backgrounds. I hope that I can get that across in my book as well.

What if some people pick up the book and see a little girl, who happens to be the main character, on the cover? How do you plan to reach little boys and parents of little boys?
That's something that I thought about as well with the book. Historically, your female child is more interested in reading than your male child at that kindergarten through second grade age. So, our main character is a female. The boy children, who are often readers as well, enjoy listening to stories in the classroom, however, about girls, even though they claim not to like girls. Actually they do; they just like to say that they don't. It's very interesting to hear the story about a little girl. If it were a boy going through the same struggles, historical and social expectations would be that we wouldn't feel as sorry for him as we would for a girl.

In this book, Stephanie finds that she can make friends with other people, but what about that child that's lacking social skills? What are the other tools that children need besides being a good reader? Stephanie had to reach out to those other kids. Do you address the social skills in this book? The main skill that we sort of address is that you have to be pretty happy with who you are. Hopefully, the book will send across the message: be happy if you are a child that's in a wheelchair, be happy if you are the child who plays chess instead of football. Whatever you're interested in, go ahead and be happy with that, and people will accept you for who you are---or maybe sometimes they won't.

What age group is this book ideal for?
This book is ideal for your kindergarten reader up to your second or third grader, but it's enjoyed up into the fourth and fifth grades as well.

What has been the reaction from some of your readers, big and small?
One reaction from the readers that I have presented the book to has consistently been, "I felt just like that." So many people have come up to me after sample readings, both formal and informal, in my home and at schools, responding with similar "cookie-cutter" comments such as, "Gosh, I remember not fitting in as well," or "I remember feeling just like that." It was a healing process. It was surprising to me as the author to meet people that seemed attractive, seemed to have it all together, relating to that little girl that just didn't quite fit in at that time of her life. It's just been a great experience for me as well.

What advice would you give to parents whose children have been bullied at school?
My advice for parents whose children have been bullied at school is simple, love them first. When children know they are loved at home, they are able to go out and conquer anything in the world. But when they don't have that initial form of love that comes from the home, that's when they might fall into the pitfalls and social patterns of not fitting in and may begin making poor choices just to gain acceptance. But really, the best advice is just to love them and encourage them to believe in who they are. Once again, if you are a chess player, or if you're the reader, or even if you're the nerd, just be happy with that. Love yourself first.

And what advice for parents whose children have a learning disability?
The number one advice to parents with children with disabilities would be acceptance. In most cases, parents love their children, their beautiful children, and they want them to do well and excel in school. But, unfortunately, that is not always an option for every child. Once the parents accept that their child does have some limitations as far as the learning environment is concerned, they can go forward with seeking the appropriate resources. The appropriate resources may include needs assessment, special education, or tutorial groups. After those resources have been sought, realistic expectations may be set according to their ability levels. It is important to set appropriate expectations for your children so that they strive to learn to the best of their ability in spite of any learning disability.

What has been the most difficult part about writing this book?
The most difficult part about writing this book has been trying to please everyone. That's when I had to go back into my main character, and my self-esteem, and my purpose, and my goal---and really examine that and shut everyone else out. That's how I was able to come up with the final revision that was able to be printed.

What is the latest book that you've read?
The latest book that I've read would have to be The Other Woman by Eric Jerome Dickey. I pause as I say that because I've been so busy with my own work and production.

Okay, that might not be a fair question. What is your favorite book of all times
? One of my favorite books of all times is. . . That's one that really stumps me because I've read so many books. I do have a favorite: The Night Before Christmas . That was one of my strongest memories of my childhood books. In fact, I still have that book in my home. I remember the phrase, "visions of sugarplums that danced in their heads," and I remember the picture of those children in bed, and there was a peppermint candy cane and a gingerbread man above the picture. And I remember closing my eyes that night, and thinking I too would dream of sugarplums. So, my favorite would have to be The Night Before Christmas. Even as an adult, I purchased another copy and read it to my classes for several years.

How can someone catch up with you?
The best information is available at, which has a current list of my events, of venues, dates and times of where I'll be in the local Houston area.

What can we expect next from you?
You can expect many things from me---of course, another book, and then, yet another book, and then yet another book. I have several at bay that we're just working on right now, to say modestly. And there's a little surprise coming up as well. And it would not be a surprise if I told you, so I'll just leave it at that for now.

What is your mission statement?
You do all of this for what? I do all of this to inspire a love for reading. And I also have a motto: Reading is for everyone. Reading is for the 2-year old, reading is for the blind person, and reading is for the learning disabled. Reading is for everyone. I want people to be inspired to read - not just my books, but any books. Enjoy the words, enjoy the pictures, and enjoy the adventures that books have to offer.

What is your favorite
scripture from the Bible? My favorite scripture from the Bible is: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

Who is your favorite character, if I may so call a "character" in the Bible?
Oh, I definitely have a favorite one. And this person is Joseph. And I've already decided that when God blesses me with a child, a man-child, he will be named Joseph. I love the story of Joseph because he was such a faithful steward. Joseph's life mirrors my life, not to compare myself to him in a grandiose way, but we are similar in that I was that favored child, that child that was loved. Joseph received love from his father, and yet did not receive that love and acceptance in the world, not even from his own brothers. Those very same brothers sold Joseph into slavery. During the time when he was a slave, even at that difficult point, Joseph was still a scholar and he loved God. He persevered and even had a position of favor in the king's household. The king's wife, after being rejected by Joseph, made trouble for him by being untruthful. But even with that, Joseph still was richly blessed. He went on to become a king, and even in his power and in his might, Joseph's story shows how God is a God of restoration, how Joseph was restored to have much better than anything he ever may have lost. Even as king and in a position of power, Joseph could have turned his brothers away during the famine, but fell at their feet and cried and kissed them and invited them to dinner. I remember reading that story when I was probably about in the fourth grade; and someone would probably say that that was quite mature for a fourth grader, but I remember reading that because that was around the time when I, myself, began having problems with acceptance. I said, "You know, Joseph kept on going and kept on going until one day his troubles were over. I read that story time and time again as a child. I read it in a children's Bible. I read it in a Living Way Bible, and in an adult Bible. I read that story of Joseph in every version of the Bible I could get my hands on, and I applied it to my life. God has shown me, through that scripture, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," that you really, really can. It's not always going to be roses. And it's not always going to be everyone falling at your feet. But, if you love God, and if you do not hate those people that persecute you---and if you just keep on going, you will go forward; and God will restore everything that you thought you lost, in a way that is so unimaginable that you would not be able to believe it.

Anything else you would like to include?
Even as an adult Stephanie Mara Dawson is the little girl in the book, the girl who loves to read. Also, I do firmly believe that "Reading is for everyone." Thank you.