Women connect children with songs and educational books

By Rachel Smith, The News & Advance

FOREST, Va. (AP) — Children’s book author and songwriter Sarah Ernst has worked with children almost her whole life in some way, shape or form since she was a child, starting with babysitting when she was 9 or 10 and volunteering at a church nursery.

“In any way possible, I’ve always worked with kids in some way and then once I graduated from college I started my photography business, but kids have always been my passion,” she said. “So it started out as a true love of working with kids.”

For Ernst, you either like working with children or you don’t, and it is always readily available to her.

“It’s so black and white. You know you’re not enjoying it and you’re impatient with it, it’s incredibly frustrating — or that you’re a big kid, and you don’t mind being reckless, and you enjoy this interaction with them,” she said. “And I think that is just the base. I really enjoy working with children. I love interacting with them. And I think we share a love of playing and laughing and learning too.”

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This has always been a part of Ernst’s personality, as a child and now as a 42-year-old living in the woods.

“I love to laugh, I love to be ham and a game of football with them. I love to have fun with them and I love to learn everything in nature.

As a child, art was her outlet and she would write short stories and add illustrations to go along with it.

In 2017, she wrote a poem/short story called “Dragons Really Do Love Tea,” and it was just a little rhyme on her phone for a while.

She always wanted to publish her own book when she was younger and didn’t want to look back and wonder why she never agreed to it.

At first she didn’t even intend to sell the book – she just wanted to write it, illustrate it, and put it together for herself.

“I just want to have the cucumber,” she said, “and if I end up with a box of books in the attic that no one has read, so be it.” “But I know I kind of crossed this off my little bucket list of dreams from my childhood and that’s how I started.”

Her books are sold on her website, Amazon and at Givens Books on Lakeside Drive.

From the book, her company Wild Pickle Press was born, which now includes three more books: “Tomboy,” “The Small Gray Goat” and most recently, “Shout No!” published in January 2021.

Her career took an unexpected turn while leading a small group at the grassroots level with kids between the ages of 3 and 7 in 2018.

Ernst said she was fascinated by bugs and snakes and had never bothered them, so she wanted to teach children about venomous snakes through a song after she bought her first ukulele.

“I only picked one because I really just wanted to learn it. That is. And even though I wasn’t really good at it at all, I couldn’t figure out how someone could sing and play at the same time and it just felt impossible,” she said. “I thought this was a fun little tool and I couldn’t hardly let go of it.”

She wanted to compose a song to help them identify snakes and what to do if they saw a bear.

From those songs came another, another, and another – until she had enough to compose an album of 20 songs called “Imagine, Feel, Walk”.

She now has four albums that can be found on major audio platforms and are played all over the world.

“It all happened organically, unexpectedly, but equally wonderfully,” said Ernst. “It was a very beautiful and unexpected trip.”

When you look at the past few years, she says it was surreal. One of her songs was nominated for the Independent Music Awards, she was invited to the FloydFest Music Festival last year and recently won the National Songwriting Contest with California Strawberries.

“Music is a powerful tool. If it is engaging, they will learn from it,” she said. “I have enjoyed teaching through it and also try to strengthen feelings and use my songs to talk about feelings, and use my songs to build confidence to encourage a love of nature and inspire imagination.”

It was this thought that inspired her latest book and song, “Shout No!” A book that teaches children how to respond to a difficult or potentially scary situation with strangers or even friends and family members.

She had to be careful when she wrote it. She didn’t want to scare the kids, but she wanted something they could memorize and not only better understand difficult situations but also how the kids could react if they became aware of such situations.

The song is simple but for Ernst, if only one child is saved from a potentially dangerous situation, it will be worth it.

In an effort to make sure every child has access to it, the song can be downloaded for free on her website.

“I’m not the best singer in the world and I’m not the best guitar player. I’ve never claimed to be those things, but I have a chance to make a positive and possibly valuable impact on a child or a family in some way, not just in America but in different parts of the world,” she said. “And this is a very rewarding opportunity, and I really try not to take it for granted.”

Ernst hopes that everything you share in the community will bring value, smiles, and education to some degree.

“I hope people see what I do as positive and real and I hope it’s also useful and fun,” she said.

Ernst reads her books and plays songs in area libraries including the Campbell County Library, where she frequently worked with Katie Lane, events and experiences manager.

Lynne met Ernst after she hosted a children’s Dragons and Tea party at a Campbell County library in 2017.

“The fact that she did it all on her own is so powerful for the kids,” Lynn said. “And knowing that one of your neighbors in the community was able to publish a book, sell a book, and share his amazing art—I want to share the stories of the people who live here.”

Lynn said Ernst is donating some of her books to the library so kids can read them straight off the shelves, which is good for low-income families.

“I think it’s very noble of her that she makes sure that no matter what the situation, children have access to her books, whether they pay for them or not,” she said. “And then her music, she’s so much fun to play and sing with her.”

Lynne Ernst described him as a “very beautiful human being” who cares about nature and people.

“And whether it’s through books or her photography, she wants to enjoy every moment, whether it’s protecting the Earth or celebrating those family moments. She’s just a good person at everything,” she said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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