Please tell me a bit about yourself—your background in writing for children and in other areas.
Following a 30+ year career in business management, I took some time to return to school full-time to complete my undergraduate degree, a goal I completed in May 2021. During the summer of 2020, in one class, a Wellness Science class, my focus of study and research topic was childhood anxiety. The data was staggering. Having raised a daughter with anxiety and ADHD, I struggled to get support from the medical community back then, as anxiety wasn’t a point of focus as it has become today.
Back then, I had to explore all options through naturopathic medicine, homeopathic resources, and eventually neurofeedback therapy to help my child. I learned much through those resources back then. Now, through the class, I found science has finally realized the impact that anxiety can have on one’s life and future. The science research was proving the long-term impact anxiety has as a “go-to” response once someone has had an enduring episode of trauma, including the impact of the pandemic. Many children have experienced a sharp and drastic removal from social situations for a long period, without understanding the necessity. Others have been forced from exposure to social situations, and now experience social anxiety while re-entering activities. It is due to the duration of the crisis that children truly need to recognize anxiety symptoms as they start, then learn coping mechanisms to reset those emotions to successfully move forward with confidence.
Tell me about your most recent work......what inspired the premise? What about your story is topical right now?
I published my first children’s book in January 2021. Niko Discovers the 5 Senses Game came to life because of the impact of my research impacted me. Within two weeks of completing the class, I began the manuscript. I had dreamt of one day writing a children’s book for the past 25 years, but never knew where to begin, and thought it was just a pipe dream. However, my passion to help children and families in some way became the driving force behind my writing. After completing a 2500 word draft, I sent it to a licensed social worker and a career primary school educator. Both encouraged me to make this book a reality.
Ultimately, my goal was to create a story for families to establish an easy game to support their children and themselves. It’s a way that they can help each other through gameplay together, or independently. Building communication strategies for making emotional health a priority for every family is a critical first step in empowering children to manage their own emotions.
My next story is about separation anxiety. It is another area that I believe every family experiences, and this one is a sweet story in rhyme, and I can’t wait to begin illustrations.
What do you hope young readers, and perhaps even parents take away from your story?
The age group for my story is 5 to 8-years-olds. Some of those children are reading on their own. However, my dream is for parents to enjoy the first read of the story with their children, because they will learn the simplicity of the game, yet experience the important impact it can have on their child and even themselves.
The protagonist is experiencing anxiety, and his mother explains those “feelings” and how they can create tummy aches, headaches, and worry. Mom shares a “game” she uses to help stop those feelings and suggests they sit on the back porch to play. The game teaches him how to use each of the five senses, methodically, to explore his environment. Learning to spend time describing the objects a child selects, steers their focus toward the object, its characteristics, and how those qualities complete that object will impact the child’s emotions reflecting the object because they tend to select their favorite thing, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
I want children to recognize they can learn the same game, and find relief from those BIG emotions whenever they need. The story is just the beginning. I have created several other products to support children bringing the game from the story into their daily life.
First, an Activity & Coloring Fun book which includes Niko and several coloring sheets, word games, puzzles all centered around the five senses. There are about five pages that help children with memory recollection from the story. These features help in building a foundation for using the 5 Senses Game in their everyday life.
Then, realizing kids could actively play with little support, I designed a two-sided wipe-off placemat with Niko providing directions for each sense, and the other side listing descriptor words, to build vocabulary plus helping children stay within each sense a bit longer challenging them to find new ways to describe what they discover. Plus, I added in a coloring area and an illustration where they learn how to play the game using a photograph or illustration.
Anxiety can be an all-consuming emotion, and often, when kids begin to succumb to it, they unintentionally lash out at those around them. Helping them to independently choose to take a few minutes to play the game is critical. Showing them they have a superpower to retake control of their emotions is my goal. I developed a couple of simple visual cues to trigger a reminder of the game. The first is a simple Niko wristband in similar colors to the story. Then a set of magnets, that if on the kitchen refrigerator or a whiteboard in the child’s room, may help empower them to play the game to take back their control.
What are your fav scenes (and why)?
My favorite scene is near the end, while Niko is reflecting on each of the choices he discovered during the game, and how each made him feel. The readers witness his discoveries, and how each plays a part in resetting his emotions from worry and anxiety, to calm and happiness.
Where do your ideas for stories generally come from?
Raising two daughters and recalling the challenges they faced during their formative years I recognize society today has greater challenges for children. My focus is to help them build strategies to fill their social-emotional toolbox for success.
For the other children’s writers out there in my audience, could you share a little advice on either writing or marketing children’s picture books?
There are so many ways to build product ideas around a story's theme to provide greater opportunities for enriching the lives of children. For me, 85% of my sales are bundles including at least three products per sale. I know my book’s strategy works best with the extra tools because it’s a skill I am attempting to teach. Whereas, other authors may provide strictly entertainment. But having a marketing plan to include extras, like coloring books, bookmarkers, and even stuffed animals will build more excitement around the story.
One other happy surprise, I donated a book to a special organization that provides books to children, globally. Because of that donation, my book was entered into their Females of Fiction Awards, and I became a finalist in the picture book competition. I am so grateful as I have avoided the high costs of the various awards organizations, as my goals have been focused on my spending my marketing budget outreach for the book in other ways.
How has the current pandemic changed or shaped how you write your books? What about how you market them?
The pandemic has truly helped me to find my niche. I am spending time building themes around future books, workbooks, strategizing how to expand my reach. Recently, a local business person asked how they could help get my book into the hands of all the kids in K-3rd grades. I have developed a couple of programs for them to consider. He plans to reach out to other leaders to fund the project. It could mean getting over 500 bundles to children in my community. A nice start to reaching my goals.
I am learning how to work remotely and doing school remote visits. I prefer in-person meetings, and look forward to getting on the other side of this period.
Tell me about some of your other books and projects!
I am now in production of The 5 Senses Game Play-Along audiobook and digital downloadable worksheet. The goal for helping children to learn to play independently, and yet ensures they stay on track during the game works best with consistent replay. This will support parents and children, so they can play whenever they need, and parents can play too if they choose.
What's next for you?
Illustrating my next book is next on my schedule. I have not decided whether to do it myself, hire someone, or even challenge a high school art student with the project. I love opening up new challenges to build skills and experiences for children of all ages. So, I will be meeting with the art department leaders to see if they think any of the students may want to try.
And tell us something people might not know about you.
I mentor a seven-year-old girl, who has a pretty difficult life. We spend time doing activities she has never done before, and I encourage her to push and challenge herself. This past Christmas, we focused on giving back to the community. She and her mother often receive a lot of support, I felt its important for her to learn the value of giving.
I tried to think about how to share with her the rewards for helping others. With the holidays approaching, I knew it would be busy, but I was up for the challenge and created a project I called the 12 Days of Giving and found several organizations that we could focus on and find ways to help. It was amazing. For 12 days before Christmas, I committed to spending an hour or so with her after school every day (not my typical plan), to make cookies to donate to Veteran’s organizations, we made dog biscuits for shelter dogs, we spent time sitting with kitties up for adoption at the Humane Society, we made Christmas cards for residents in nursing homes, donated non-perishable items to the food bank, and a few other activities along the way. I think I am getting more out of this relationship than she is! It will be an annual event going forward. My time with her has been so wonderful. I encourage everyone to consider volunteering as a mentor. The only commitment is 1 hour/week for one year. I challenge anyone to see if they can limit that time to just one hour. It is so rewarding to know the impact she’s had on me will last forever.