SpeechWorks had the opportunity to visit with Kelsey Kloss, author of Malty The Blue Tiger. Ms. Kloss is also a senior editor for Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Prevention magazines, and a contributor for Scholastic Parents.
Malty the Blue Tiger is an adorable book written in both English and Spanish that tells of the adventure of a tiger named Malty. It is filled with rhyme, repetition, and a few fun characters.
SpeechWorks: Congratulations on writing your first children’s book. What inspired you to write Malty the Blue Tiger?
Kelsey Kloss: Thank you so much, Jann! My inspiration in writing this book was to share a love for language, reading, and the unique things that make us one-of-a-kind. In this story, Malty copes with being criticized for the sound of her voice, which happens to be a loud “ROAR!” As a child, I also had a different voice—it was difficult for me to pronounce certain sounds due to muscle weakness, and others often pointed it out. Loving my own unique voice was something I had to learn to do as I worked on my speech, but I never saw any books that covered the topic of sounding different. Many children do speak differently than their peers, whether it’s due to a speech sound disorder or where their family is from, and your voice is such a deeply personal part of who you are. I wanted Malty to be a friend for them throughout their journey, and for anyone else who wanted to learn a new language or simply enjoy a funny, touching story.
SW: Why did you decide to write this story in both English and Spanish?
KK: There are so few dual language books on the market, in which the text is presented fully in both languages. I learned Spanish as a child myself, so I know how helpful those tools can be. To make sure it was easy for beginner readers to learn new vocabulary in both languages, we highlighted and color-coded keywords for easy comparison, and included an illustrated glossary that reviews those words. Learning a language can bring so much joy to both children and adults, and it opens our eyes and hearts to a whole new world of books, songs, and people. What’s more, it has real benefits: Research shows being bilingual boosts children’s creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills, and Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that people who speak two languages have more gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for attention and short-term memory.
SW: What was your favorite part of creating Malty’s story?
KK: For me, seeing the genuine laughter and smiles when children meet Malty is the most rewarding. This book is meant to not only teach invaluable lessons, but also to be goofy and funny (surveys show that’s the biggest thing children look for in books, and in turn, it can help encourage the love of reading!). One of my favorite parts has also been bringing together hundreds of parents and teachers from across the world and connecting them with learning resources and wonderful experts like yourself. At Malty the Blue Tiger, we want parents and teachers to know that they can connect with our community, ask any questions they might have, find crafts and activities that promote learning and have fun with Malty-inspired recipes on MaltyTheBlueTiger.com or by joining us on Instagram.
SW: Malty the Blue Tiger incorporates a lot of elements that SpeechWorks enjoys seeing in children’s books – rhyming and repetition. Why did you decide to make this a rhyming story?
KK: I’m so happy to hear that! Understanding how words rhyme increases a child’s phonological awareness—or the understanding of sounds that exist within our language. What’s more, when your child sees that, say, the words “rocks” and “fox” sound the same, she’s boosting her reading skills by learning how those two words use different letters to make the same sound. Both rhyming and repetition also help increase children’s memory, which can be especially helpful for beginner readers who are using texts like this one to improve reading fluency.
SW: A character readers see throughout the story is a little lizard. What role does the lizard play in the story?
KK: The lizard was the ingenious idea of our talented illustrator, Risa Horiuchi. She brought Malty to life in such a vibrant way, and also added a hilarious twist with this reptile companion. A background character who isn’t explicitly explained in the text can actually help sharpen children’s observational skills as they’re reading (for instance, you can ask your child to describe the lizard on each page as he roasts marshmallows, swings from vines, and so forth). It can also be a great opportunity to boost your child’s creative thinking. We love letting little readers come up with their own background story by asking questions like, “What do you think this lizard’s name is?” or “What do you think the lizard would say to Malty on this page?”
SW: Besides blue, what three words would you use to describe Malty?
KK: Friendly, adventurous, and one-of-a-kind!
SW: Can we expect other adventures from Malty in the future?
KK: Absolutely! In early May, we will be releasing an English and French version of the book, and we couldn’t be more excited. This will give young readers and even adults the opportunity to learn or practice French, with all of the same helpful features of the Spanish version, including highlighted and color-coded vocabulary words, an illustrated glossary, and a dual language “Did You Know?” section about blue tigers (some people believe they exist!). We plan to continue releasing new versions with additional languages in the future. Just as importantly, Malty the Blue Tiger will continue building its online community by providing free learning resources and services—such as our “Ask an Expert” franchise—on MaltyTheBlueTiger.com.