My first solo book, “Mandy Does Mean Things” is in production right now. The artwork, done by the super-talented Jenny Leong, is beautiful. The publishers are amazing and overwhelmingly supportive. The feeling is a little bit similar to being in third trimester. I know all these incredible things are happening, but I can’t see them. I just have a rough draft, kind of like an ultrasound, to look at. I can hardly wait to hold this new baby – a book – in my own hands! You can’ t ever be sure exactly when it will happen, but you know it will happen, and soon. I can’t wait for this new baby to meet the world! I just hope my water doesn’t break.
This book was born out of necessity. Shortly after my child was moved up from nursery school into the preschool class, she started showing signs of distress. She was in a classic regression, suddenly exhibiting behaviors that she had left behind a year ago. She was also having trouble sleeping through the night. It couldn’t be denied: my three-year-old child was stressed! I tried my best to figure out what was behind her anxiety but I couldn’t seem to get to the bottom of it. Finally, one day, she found the words to tell me what was going on. She was terrified of going to preschool because there was a girl in her class who was mean to her. “Always. Every day,” and then she collapsed into a puddle of tears.
It was the first time in her life that she had encountered someone who was intentionally and consistently aggressive. And she had absolutely no idea how to cope with it. I realized that my child did not have any skills to deal with this new situation, and I needed to help her find some. In the past, I had always turned to the children’s librarian and she would help me find a book that would help with whatever issue my little one was going through. (We are fortunate to have an incredibly knowledgeable children’s librarian nearby!) She could only recommend one book, and it was really for older children. I tried it, but it didn’t really hit the mark. So, I asked my friends who were teachers. I asked other librarians. I asked child therapists. I did countless internet searches, but I could NOT find what I needed.
Finally, in desperation, I grabbed some paper, stapled it together, and drew a story with little stick figures. That silly little book with its funny stick figures turned out to be so very helpful for my child. I put all the things into it that I had learned from the teachers and therapists who were working with us. It was very important to me that in the story the protagonist learns to use her own words to express herself. The adults in the story are a supportive safety net offering reassurance and help, but they do not solve her problem for her. I also included what anxiety feels like in the body — to help preschoolers identify the feeling for themselves — as well as what the body looks like when you need to feel confident. All of these are tools that a little person can learn.
It was also important to me to never label the antagonist. I very intentionally avoided saying the words “Mandy is mean.” Mandy may change — after all, she is a little person herself, still learning and growing. I feel that it is important that we are careful not to put labels on children. They change so much in the early years of life. They often surprise us.
Because that makeshift, randomly stapled, crayon-and-paper book was such a helpful tool to use with my child, I got some input from the experts and refined it even more. Next, I had my good friend Jenny turn my funny stick figures into the beautiful art you see here. In addition to being a wonderful illustrator, she is also a mommy, and she shared my passion for getting this book into the hands of families that need it. We hope that you will find this book helpful too.
As for my little girl, she learned to overcome the first interpersonal challenge of her little life. I know she will encounter others, but I will always be able to remind her, “Remember Mandy?” “Oh yeah, I’m not scared of her anymore.”
My first standalone book, “Mandy Does Mean Things” will be released on August 3rd!
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