As part of our Big Family Brush-Up campaign, we were delighted to recently speak to leading children’s author, Heather Maisner, about her Dinosaur Douglas series. The books offer an exciting, fun way to explore
health-related subjects, including oral health, vitamin D, hand-washing and obesity, for Early Years children.
Heather’s first book in the series, Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs, is a fantastic resource to inspire younger children to brush their teeth and understand how sugar can affect their oral health.
1. What inspired you to write the first Dinosaur Douglas book, Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs, which focuses on oral health?
“I was at a mutual friend’s party and was introduced to Kate Barnard, Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital. During our conversation, she mentioned the shocking statistics surrounding children’s oral health and that tooth decay remains the number one reason why children aged five to nine years old are admitted to hospital in England. I was sorry to hear how severe the issues were and when Kate learnt that I was a children’s author, we decided to join forces and create a book to help children understand the importance of good oral health, and to try and help tackle the startling rates of childhood tooth decay.
“Kate and I regularly met up to share ideas, and the character of Dinosaur Douglas soon developed. Our main aim was for the character to be appealing and the books to be accessible to everyone. Once Dinosaur Douglas and the Beastly Bugs was published, I soon came into contact with many other health professionals who flagged up further childhood health topics that would benefit from the support of a book.”
2. How important is it for children to understand good oral health habits from an early age?
“It’s essential that children - and their parents - understand the importance of good oral health from an early age. The earlier children are engaged in good oral health habits, the better. Healthy teeth are crucial for all aspects of life and it’s important that children don’t suffer from pain or social inhibitions and lack of confidence through not wanting to smile, as they grow up.”
3. How does the book encourage children to take good care of their teeth?
“Although I didn’t originally plan it, the book came to be written in rhyme, which makes it easy for children to understand the message and enjoyable for parents and children to read together.
“Children also love the Douglas Dinosaur character and identify with him. They love that he’s a bit cheeky and naughty, and enjoy finding out what he’s up to. Children also respond well to the concept of bugs in Dinosaur Douglas’ mouth. This helps them to become aware of their own teeth and oral health, as they’re keen to avoid this happening to them.
“The book’s storyline is probably very familiar to families everywhere! Dinosaur Douglas has a bit of a sweet tooth and tries to fill his mum’s shopping basket up with sugary goodies, but she removes them, which doesn’t go down well! Later back at home, Douglas’ Grandma secretly sneaks him some sweets which he gorges on, and we see the ‘beastly bugs’ come out to play and damage his teeth. He’s then too full of sugar to eat his healthy dinner. The next day, Douglas develops a toothache and needs to see a dentist who discovers lots of bugs and says that Douglas needs four fillings! He teaches Douglas the importance of brushing and keeping sweets for occasional treats. The rhyme at the end of the book is a great summary for children to learn.”
4. With so many other sources of information for children’s learning, such as online resources and television programmes, how important are books to support children’s learning?
“Although a lot of people expected technology to take over from traditional books, it’s great to see that this has not happened. Children still love holding a book and reading a story. Nothing really replaces the importance of a parent reading to their child, especially at bedtime.”
5. What is the role that schools and nurseries play in helping teach children good oral health habits? Do you think there should be more focus and resources made available at school?
“Schools and nurseries definitely play a role in teaching good oral health habits and many try to do as much as they can. But more resources could surely be put into oral health education and it would be good if the new government sugar tax could go towards this. Childhood tooth decay is more prevalent in certain areas of the country and the levels of support can vary. I get in touch with local councils to see where I can help. The book is mentioned in the Government document Tackling Poor Oral Health in Children. Overall, good oral health education works best in a combination of home, school, and visits to the dentist.”
6. What has the response from children been like for your book? Do you have any positive oral health success stories from any of your readers?
“The response to the book continues to be fantastic and I love seeing the children’s reactions and hearing the positive stories. One mother told me that her son completely refused to brush his teeth and she had a real struggle. After reading Dinosaur Douglas, he’s very enthusiastic about brushing his teeth and runs to get his toothbrush at bedtime.
“Schools always give great feedback and say that the children often squabble over who gets to take the Dinosaur Douglas book home from the library! Children love Douglas and they’re proud to know him. He helps them to understand the key messages of the book and reinforces the importance of brushing regularly and a healthy diet.”
7. Did you encounter any difficulties introducing good oral health habits to your own children, such as brushing or encouraging healthy eating? How did you overcome these?
“My own children are grown up now but, like every family, we did sometimes struggle to achieve regular brushing. As a parent, you do as much as you can, but it definitely helps to introduce new ideas to refresh their enthusiasm for brushing. Children often learn by copying and the rhymes in the book encourage older children to read the book to younger siblings.
“Nutrition and healthy eating has always been a focus in our family because my late husband, Michael Bateman, was food editor of the Independent on Sunday, and we wrote and edited many cookbooks together.”
To find out more about Heather Maisner and to purchase Dinosaur Douglas books, visit her website.