A brief conversation with
Frederick Alimonti about his book, Tommy and the T-Tops
1) Why did you write this book?
This book was inspired by events in the news. Particularly, the ongoing wars in the Middle East and elsewhere that are perpetuated by hatred. I thought it was important to relay to children that we need to embrace differences with others and also that only an open mind can break a cycle of hatred.
2) What messages are you trying to convey to the reader? What do you hope the reader will learn from your book?
I am trying to convey the message that differences are a positive thing. It is not enough to simply tolerate differences. Rather, if we keep an open mind, we will learn from differences and see that they actually add to our knowledge and abilities.
3) At what age does intolerance begin? Is it ever too late to stop once children get into their teenage years?
Intolerance starts with our ability to learn and discriminate. As parents, we must accept the deep and unbreakable trust our children place in us. If we teach them poorly in their pre-school years – by word and example – they will learn poorly and model unacceptable behavior. We must teach our children to understand and value the many differences that contribute and add to our diverse society. I don’t think it is ever “too late,” but I am quite certain that intolerance and prejudice are harder to overcome as we age.
4) Is this something that will affect children throughout their lives?
Even if children long forget this book, I hope they carry its lessons forever. A book like this can only be a small piece of an environment and education that values diversity. I hope it is one of many tools used by parents and educators.
5) Why dinosaurs?
As a child I loved dinosaurs. My children love dinosaurs. They seem to hold a special fascination for them. I hoped that the dinosaurs and an exciting “adventure” story would be an effective vehicle for some very serious themes. Ideally, the children should learn from the story without realizing that they are being taught.
6) What was the inspiration for the characters?
I love history and mythology – hence the many names from Greek and Norse Mythology etc. – Hector, Thor, Alexander. Most of the other names are copied from family. They know who they are. Also, I hope that there is something recognizable in the characters to our young readers. Thor is, at least a first, a bully. Tommy is a happy, curious child. Billy is something of a rascal. Alexander is the wise old grandfather. Hector is a hero, but wizened beyond his years by his experiences – a returning veteran in a way.
7) How do you think a story is best told?
I think a story has to entertain first, and teach second. It is important that the reader engage the characters and that the characters do and say interesting things. If the characters interest the readers, then we have to bring them to life with their dialogues and interactions. The discussions between first, Tommy and Alexander and then Tommy and Hector are at the core of the story. My intention was to link them through Tommy. Tommy become the vehicle for Alexander’s questions and wisdom. By the time Hector and Alexander meet, our reader should know that they are both wise and will like each other. Naturally, Alexander comes to Hector’s aid, and his wisdom – not his fighting – saves the day.
8) What makes a good children’s story?
On a basic level, any story that can draw in a child well enough to make him want to read and finish it is a success. With all of the quick-gratifications available to children today, books are too often neglected. I think the best children’s’ books have two other important components beyond just being a fun story: first, I think a good story engages a reader in active sense I so that the reader thinks, reasons, and anticipates; second, I think a good children’s story should have some important life lessons within. How wonderful are Aesop’s fables in this regard! And they make you think. Other favorites include The Velveteen Rabbit and Charlotte’s Web.
9) How would you like a parent [or teacher] to approach this book?
I hope a parent will use this book as a vehicle for discussion. As outlined in the back, there are several important concepts worthy of further examination. Tommy could even be a vehicle for discussing current events. One does not have to read too deeply into a newspaper to find stories both negative and positive dealing with diversity, war, grudges, and forgiveness.
Copyright © 2012 Frederick Alimonti. All Rights Reserved.