Every week I feature a friend, family member or acquaintance doing remarkable work for human betterment that somehow ties to our weekly theme. This week we are looking at children's books. I have two notable friends doing work that needs mention with Children's books. You might have read about James Owens and The World is Just a Book Away, earlier this week. Now, let me introduce you to Kyla Ryman. She has brought some well researched, artistic, forward thinking kids' books to market with her business partner Jessica. Read on and learn a bit more about Kyla and her company Home Grown Books.
1. Tell our readers a little about you, and your history, your passion, your work.
That’s a big question. I guess that if I boiled down my focus, it would be to rethink what learning and education can be for kids. I went to an alternative high school in NYC, studied at Bank Street College of Education, and taught for many years in progressive schools as a reading specialist. Then I attended an Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference about 5 years ago, and it blew my mind. I had to spread the word that the world of education can play out in so many different ways. I’ve started a company that works with artists to make engaging books for kids who are learning to read. I am really into promoting a more organic style of education. I liken it to the slow food movement- diversifying choices and starting with basics. Play is such an important part of learning, as is pulling back and thinking about what the kids need and supporting and scaffolding their learning in natural ways.
- Tell a story, have we met? When? Where? Who introduced us? Oh, maybe you are my niece, well, just give a little history here. People love a setting.
I am friends with your cousin, Blaise, from my teenage years! I think we met at some parties- you were part of that interesting, artistic family related to Blaise that had wild names. I also always salivate about the Dolphin Studio calendars. More recently you and I connected when I was trying to figure out how to make some plush cats modeled from one of my books. I finally found a place in Cochabamba, Bolivia that is a fair trade women’s collective to make them- they are great.
- Imagine a story. It is 2030 and we have brought the environment into balance. How did we do it?
We took back our power from the biggest players, started living more locally and cleaning up our mess. We valued beauty, nature and community over profits, and we support each other, so that we are free to make choices that are not out of fear. That’s how we did it. This Sunday, I hope everyone is showing up for the climate march in NYC!!!
- If you had the power to make one change in the world what would it be?
Everyone needs to stop blaming each other for the past and move on to figure out how we can make things work for the future- really we need to end violence of all kinds!!!!
5. What is your current passion?
Having big conversations about what we really need to think about in education. What kind of adults do we need in the world? Can we get them by pushing curriculum down to younger and younger kids? Does a business model work in schools? Are we creating a product or are we raising people? I think there is a deeper level of learning and thoughtfulness when children are studying something that they are interested in and feel in control of their learning. It’s emotionally healthier, and you must have a greater sense of community for all of that. The community is key. We also have all of these divisions- separating children from the world, separating aging people, people with physical and mental issues. Everything is so polarized right now. Then we get scared and don’t learn from each other because we never see each other. The whole system is out of balance and wacky.
- How did your passion come to be?
Being a teacher in very different settings and being a parent to two very different children transformed my ideas around schools and learning and the possibilities of what could be.
- Who/What has been most influential in your work?
I learned a lot about supporting kids organically from Bank Street, but AERO allowed me to pull back and look at the bigger picture, like structures around power and kids and education. That organization is doing great work promoting the thinking of John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Zoe Weil, Grace Llewelyn, Wendy Priesnitz and so many more!
8. Where do you find your inspiration/motivation?
Man, kids are so present. When they are in a supportive environment, without an arbitrary curriculum being shoved down their throats, they are so happy and joyful. That gives me hope.
9. Aside from working, how do you spend your time?
I bike, I read, I hang out with friends, dance and I enjoy being around art. I enjoy cocktail hour too. Sometimes all at the same time.
10. Tell about a transforming memory.
I remember when I learned to read. I loved this silly book: “The Monster at the End of this Book: Starring Lovable, Furry, Old Grover” and I remember my dad used to read it to me in a very funny and dramatic way. So, I decided I wanted to learn to read it. I practiced reading that one book over and over until I made no mistakes. I also had a fourth grade teacher who did a quiet reading time everyday- the first teacher who did that- and I really started to become a serious reader, then. After I read a book over a 100 pages, I realized I was a reader for the first time. I started reading at night before going to sleep, and I haven’t stopped since.