For Westfield resident Rosanne Kurstedt, her career and her interests go hand in hand.
An adjunct professor in the Masters Literacy Teaching Program at Fordham University, the mom of two looks forward to publishing her first children's picture book this spring.
'And I Thought About You' is based on a real-life routine Kurstedt established with her oldest son when they were living in Hong Kong.
"The story is about a working mother and her son, and she comes home from work and he says, "What did you do today, Mama?" and she recounts her day and after she says what she does, she says "And I thought about you,' recounting what he does. It's a touching story," she said.
Forgoing the tradition publishing route, Kurstedt collaborated with her neighbor who rendered lush illustrations that complement the narrative. The two look forward to spreading the word about the book by appearing at local book stores and libraries as well as developing a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
A working mother herself, Kurstedt said she is interested in pitching the story to morning television shows, "not only is it a beautiful book about the connection between the mother and a child" but also because research indicates that mothers shouldn't feel guilty about going to work.
"Their children are okay and, in some cases, they fare better than those whose mothers stay at home," she said.
While this will be Kurstedt's first published work of fiction, she is no stranger to the genre. The writer said she has eight other manuscripts, all based on personal stories, that she hopes to publish someday as well.
"One is called 'Hunting the Moon.' We went out at four in the morning to see a lunar eclipse and we couldn't find it. So I wrote a picture book. It's not completely what we did, but it's based on that," said Kurstedt, who noted that her sons enjoy her stories based on recent experiences the most.
Another title 'Dashing Dylan and the Buddha Principal' tells the story of Kurstedt's then-first grader who rubbed the head of his new assistant principal, who just happened to be bald, when he bent down to tie his shoe.
A member of the Westfield Writer's Group for the past three years, Kurstedt credits her fellow authors with improving her work.
"I really enjoy being a part of it because the women in the group are not necessarily women that I would interact with because our kids are at different ages or we live in different parts of town," she explained. "It's a nice mix of different people that I wouldn't normally run into. The pieces I have submitted are tremendously better because of their input, I think."
While Kurstedt's entry into the world of children's fiction is something new, the professor penned a professional book for teachers "Teaching Writing With Picture Books as Models," published by Scholastic.
"There is something really exciting about writing something professionally that helps teachers and moves teachers along," she said. "In that sense, when I've been able to articulate something so clearly it moves a teacher to do something differently and better, that's really exciting. But most of the time I get more joy out of writing the personal stories."
In her career at Fordham, where she received her doctorate, Kurstedt works closely with teachers who have returned to school to pursue their masters degrees.
"It's great for me because I get to stay involved with really young people as they're learning to teach and I really try to help them with the practicalities of day-to-day life in the classroom and talk with them a lot about how what they do represents their underlying beliefs about teaching and learning," she said. "So they should be reflective and cognizant of what they're saying to kids and how they're talking to kids and how their room is organized—things that are important that sometimes people forget—and they say they appreciate that."
Education is something that has long been a priority for Kurstedt who, with the help of two others, started a school in Hong Kong while she was living there more than a decade ago.
"I hooked up with two people who wanted to start school and they were looking at The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, which is an inquiry-based, concept-driven curriculum, which is my background. I taught at a school that was all inquiry-based. It's founded on the premise of gifted education and beneficial for all students. It's very child-centered. Since they were going with that curriculum, I hopped on board.
"We started with five kindergarten students and when I left we had 110 kids, 3 year olds to 10 year olds. We grew very quickly. It's still thriving. They're building a new campus and they're up through high school now," she said.
Kurstedt hopes to return to Hong Kong when the new campus opens.
"It's really exciting. Some of the original parents are still there and their kids are almost ready to graduate. It was a great place," she said.
Sharing her knowledge locally, Kurstedt ran for a seat on the and won in April 2011. The educator said she is enjoying her time on the Board.
"I'm actually finding it less frustrating than I thought I would; either I'm maturing nicely, or things are going well," she joked. "All the people on the Board have been supportive. We all come from such different points of view. So you can really look at issues from different perspectives and then understand them more deeply. We all have different expertise and we all value the expertise that each person brings. It's a good group to work with when that's the case. We don't always agree but we listen respectfully."
In her free time, Kurstedt also serves as an Education Fund of Westfield Board member as well as a Westfield Food Pantry volunteer.
Despite her many accomplishments, the professor is always interested in acquiring new skills.
"I'd like to learn how to be a graphic designer," Kurstedt said. "I think it would certainly help with my picture books because I also like photography. I take pictures of all the kids' sports teams. It's really just a hobby but it would be nice to integrate photographs with some of my picture books. I love picture books. There are so many that are so well-crafted and so beautifully written."
A fan of the work of award-winning author Patricia Polacco, Kurstedt's picture book recommendations include the following titles: 'Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon' by Patty Lovell 'My Mama Has A Dancing Heart' by Libba Grey 'Ish' by Peter Reynolds and 'All the Places to Love' by Patricia MacLachlan.
*Note: Kurstedt enjoys a cup of coffee with whole milk "on the light side" from or .