Lois Alter Mark
March 11, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Even before his first book, Hush Up!, was published in 1980, Jim Aylesworth had an audience for his work. As a first-grade teacher whose favorite part of the day was reading aloud to his 6-year-old students, Aylesworth decided he ”wanted to be a larger part of the book world than just a reader” and started testing out his own story ideas.

”My students gave me a great education. They made it very clear what works — rhythm, rhyme, repetition, noise, and a certain gross factor,” explains Aylesworth, now in his 23rd year of teaching in a Chicago suburb.

Aylesworth learned his lessons well. His 18 books, especially 1992’s best-selling Old Black Fly, are truly a celebration of sound. ”Most of my books are meant to be read out loud to a group of children, and My Son John should really be sung,” says the 51-year-old author, revealing the strong, simple voice of a folksinger as he demonstrates with the title verse.

”Books that go for the sound are the ones that kids will sit for even on an indoor-recess day, when it’s raining out and they’re wired,” says Aylesworth. ”When they scream for me to read again, I know it’s working.”

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