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Why I Acquired VIVA’S VOICE

Viva's Voice Book Cover

I’m not sure if I’ve ever published a picture book as timely as Viva’s Voice. It releases one week from today, while workers around the country gather and strike. People are organizing and unionizing in numbers not seen in decades.

That storyline spoke to me nearly two years ago when I first saw Raquel Donoso’s tweet in a Twitter pitch fest. But it wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. I also loved the juxtaposition of a loud little girl and her quiet father, and the celebration (rather than suppression) of her strong, spirited nature. And I loved that that aspect of Viva ultimately helped her father in his moment of fear. The fact that the book is inspired from Raquel’s lived childhood experience further had me hooked.

The notion of a parent being open to a child’s support, of celebrating that vulnerability, is so important. But so too is the celebration of what we can do when we come together to help each other—to speak out for equal rights and fair pay and better conditions for our lives. All of these critically valuable concepts come up in this story.

And it’s in the storytelling and Carlos Vélez’s expressive art where these concepts weave together. This is not a didactic book; it does not preach about any of these ideals. It shows a loving relationship, a hardworking family, a community seeking fairness. It opens a place for readers and their adults to have a conversation about the questions and hopes that these things raise.

It’s in those conversation starters that I find so much value in this story and part of why I acquired Viva’s Voice. I hope you love the book as much as Reese and I do. Viva’s story matters, and so does yours.

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Simple Joys

It’s National Simplicity Day, in honor of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday—perhaps the original minimalist.

I wasn’t previously aware of the holiday, but it’s resonating with me in this season of life, as our family and household struggles to find balance across summertime, sparse childcare, a new business, additional jobs, reconnecting with friends and family after two years of limited travel; it’s a lot. And I say this from a place of substantial privilege.

Regardless of where life circumstances stand, many of us seem to be juggling too much. And in that, it is so easy to lose sight of the simple joys, and the simple ways to find them.

I didn’t realize how wrapped up we had become in planning things and overpacking schedules and hustle until Reese and I sat down a few weeks ago to draft our traditional Summer Bucket List. I was brainstorming items to add when she stopped me and said: “Mom, this is supposed to be fun, and we’re turning it into more work. What if we don’t do a Bucket List this summer? What if we just have fun when we feel like it?”

Reader, I was stopped in my tracks. She was right, as she so often is, and I was taken aback by something I hadn’t even realized was happening. What started a few years ago as a means to protect space for joy had devolved into another task list.

Kids are much better equipped than we adults are at being present and celebrating simple joys. They apply fewer false labels of morality to their decisions, which is beautifully liberating in the way that childhood can be. Children are makers of spontaneous fun.

I love the practice of holding space to seize moments of joy when they present themselves. And one of the better ways to do that is to start saying no to things that don’t spark joy for you. You do not owe everyone your time. You do not owe traditions the sake of keeping if they no longer serve you. You do not need to plan every minute of your day. Perhaps, like me, you just need to change the lens through which you’ve been seeing the day.

Here are a few simple joys from my past few days that I took a moment to consciously notice. And here are a few Simple Summer Joy suggestions from Reese. I doubt any of these would have made our traditional Summer Bucket List, and I am grateful for each one. We would love to hear some of yours.

Patricia’s Simple Joys

  1. Reading in the hammock (coincidentally, a fantastic book on doing less: How To Keep House While Drowning)
  2. Finding a hidden container of baby frogs and flowers and twigs that the kids had caught for pets (safely returned to the wild)
  3. Going for a sunrise walk to start Monday
  4. Finding a new (to me) fantastic coffee shop
  5. Watching a bedtime episode of The Babysitters Club with the kids (snuggled up in bed)
  6. Noticing that my coffee this morning was extra smooth and delicious today
  7. Meditating outside before my family was awake
  8. Writing out The No List (it’s like a reverse to do list, and it feels amazing!)

Reese’s Simple Joys

  1. Go to the library as often as you can
  2. Go swimming
  3. Eat popcorn for dinner
  4. Draw something
  5. Make popsicles
  6. Listen to your favorite music
  7. Schedule play dates with friends
  8. Watch a good show with someone you love

#NationalSimplicityDay #SimplicityDay #TheSimpleLife #Minimalism #MinimalismLifestyle

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What We Learn from Love

Today is #FathersDay. As part of celebrating these #relationships and the ongoing discussion of #socialemotionallearning, today’s blog features a guest post from author Nelly Buchet and a cover reveal for our forthcoming book Abuelito.

Abuelito, a story I co-wrote with my friend David Corredor Benavides, is about the power of friendships—those we share with loved ones who are no longer with us, as much as those just beginning with newcomers in our lives. Based on David’s real-life relationship with his grandfather in Colombia, Abuelito tells the story of a child and his beloved grandfather. But it’s a little different than a classic grandparent story. There’s a third character—a very cute third wheel—who wants to be part of this extraordinary friendship. And who wouldn’t? She’s younger than Alejo, in complete awe of the “big kids,” and clearly doesn’t know how to approach them. Instead of asking to join, she stays on her side of the fence and mimics the boys’ activities as though she were with them.

All of us relate to the feeling of wanting to be part of something special. Younger siblings certainly can! And so can adults. I know I felt it when David told me about his abuelo. This desire to be included, and what to do about it, is one of the social emotional tenets in Abuelito. Readers see that Alejo and his grandfather aren’t purposely ignoring their little neighbor. She is hiding, in a sense. It becomes clear to the reader that if we want something, we must be brave, take action and, in this instance, ask if we can play.

Our little girl finds this courage when Alejo needs her the most. Interestingly, she finally makes her presence known out of empathy for Alejo, rather than wanting to gain something for herself. She’s now the one who has something to offer. Comfort. Compassion. This is another moment of social emotional learning in Abuelito. Not only does the little girl take a proactive role, she actively rescues her hero, Alejo—or “Abuelito,” as she calls him. Friendships are fluid: there will be seasons when one person needs more attention and TLC than the other, and yet both parties benefit from the relationship. Friendships are investments.

Additionally, readers can surmise that Alejo himself learns something: he understands that his neighbor was there all along. Inviting her over would’ve been a kind gesture, if only he’d known. In the future, he’ll be more aware of people in his peripheral vision. Both characters grow from this new friendship.

When life gives you lemons, someone new may be out there to make lemonade with you. For me, this person was David. Together, we made this book to honor both the friendship with his grandfather and our own. And yes, David’s nickname really was “Abuelito.”

Nelly Buchet is the author of ALA Notable Book and Irma Black Award winner Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family (PRH, with art by Andrea Zuill, 2020), the four-board book Can’t Do series (Bonnier UK, with art by Pau Morgan, 2021), and How to Train Your Pet Brain (Beaming Books, with art by Amy Jindra, 2022). She has taught nonviolent conflict resolution in schools and created a nonprofit project that brings picture books to refugee children through orphanages and libraries. She splits her time between Berlin, Germany, and the US. @nellybuchetbooks.

Abuelito, written by David Corredor Benvides and Nelly Buchet and illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo, will release in March 2023.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May is #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. As part of this important ongoing discussion, today’s blog features a guest post from licensed social worker, trauma therapist, and author Bethany Walker.

The Struggle Bus. We’ve all been there. It’s a tough day, none of our choices seem to be right, we’re tired and frustrated and feel like we’re banging our heads against the wall. As adults, we have the capacity to express these emotions. Our children, however, have to learn this skill.

So how do we do this? How do we empower our children when they’re on the struggle bus? Social Emotional Learning.

Social Emotional Learning is a key part of childhood, just as much as learning reading or math or how to tie a shoe. SEL is described as “process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions” (CASEL, 2022). By providing children with a variety of tools in Social Emotional Learning we can help make this process more engaging and fun!

Books are an excellent tool for Social Emotional Learning. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. Books can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.

The Struggle Bus by Julie Koon is a great resource for teaching children how to understand and regulate the tough emotions that come from hard days and persevere until they finally reach their goals. In addition to the book, Kind World Publishing has a great selection of resources that parents and educators could use to take the story even further in helping their children through SEL.

The next time your child is having an emotionally hard day, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can help them learn to drive their Struggle Bus.

Bio:

Bethany Walker is an author, licensed social worker, and trauma therapist. She currently resides in Longview, TX, with her husband, daughter, and pets. Bethany focuses her practice on children and families experiencing mental health crises and trauma. She is a member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @bookshelfofbeth.

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Blank Slates

This morning, I found myself with an unexpected Sunday home alone. No kids, no adults, no meetings, no travel. My day was a blank slate, a gift of time.

As I looked into the opportunity of the day, I found myself consciously resisting the urge to fill the space, in spite of litanies of work and domestic duties and even reaching out to others that I could have done.

It has been restorative, and it also has me considering all of the blank slates in our lives. We have the ability to realize these canvases for rest, reflection, and creation. But we have become conditioned to fill each gap, to turn to our phone screens in moments of silence, to start the next thing.

It has taken a lot of self-work to get to this place, where I can make a conscious choice to hit the pause button when I see it. That said, I am also using part of today’s canvas to create.

Humans are creators by our very nature. Our need to express ourselves, to explore ideas, to find ways to unite and understand and listen and learn: these need tending. They need a canvas.

However, blank canvases can also be overwhelming. (This overwhelm is often part of why art directors supply storyboards to artists, along with a means to jumpstart a conversation around finding a shared vision.) Facing a silent moment, a blank page, an empty score, an unscheduled day: these all have the power to help us turn inward.

If you aren’t in a place of comfort or familiarity with that source—your inner self—then a blank slate can be unnerving. But it can also be the perfect and same space to start to know yourself a little better. And that is an excellent creative space to explore.

Whatever your means of expression and rest look like, and wherever you are along your journey of personal evolution, I encourage you to seek out these moments. We don’t need entire days as a canvas—but we do need to start breaking the habit of reflexively filling free moments with things that aren’t our true mediums. It’s in those moments that we can reconnect with our own humanity. And in doing that, we can better connect with others.

P.S. I would love to know: Are you actively resisting the urge to escape into distraction rather than reflection or creation? Where are you finding or protecting moments that feed your creativity? Do you recognize blank slates?

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Making Magic

Reading with a child is a gesture of love. It is a tangible gift of time, our most precious resource. Reading can stop the noise and fury of everything else that surrounds us in that moment. It creates a space for questions and conversations, observations and laughter, a means to model gestures of kindness and creation and exploration and how to get through hard stuff.

We love picture books for so many reasons, but their ability to make us laugh, to help us cry, and ultimately to allow us see each other and ourselves a bit more clearly are my favorites.

It is critical to our collective survival to protect the creative space of picture books and children’s literature, to protect the magic of what happens when we read with children and when we help them start the journey of literacy. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you it is not.   

Picture books, children’s books, are vehicles for a multitude of life skills. Of course, this includes literacy and critical thinking. But alongside that, the experience of being read to taps into social and emotional learning cues that children will carry throughout their lives. And what stories are available to read, to hear, to hold need to include everyone’s story, not just those that reflect our own.

Today is National Children’s Picture Book Day, part of the larger IBBY-sponsored International Children’s Book Day. I hope you can take a few moments this weekend to read to a child in your life or to yourself if you have a chance to revisit a favorite book (or find a new favorite). It is also a great reminder to support your local libraries. Shop independent bookstores. Champion teachers who are working to broaden classroom collections for readers.

Read together. Make magic.

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Finding Your Person

Maddie and Mabel book cover standing up in front of Maddie and Mabel illustration of them standing.

Growing up we lived in a town that came alive during the summertime but was sleepy in the
winter. There were very few people who lived in our neighborhood year round. It was just us. We
spent so much time together, the two of us and our imaginations. That was all we needed.

We could spend hours under a blanket fort or setting up shop beneath a chair to be car
mechanics. The couch became an airport counter in an instant, the stairs, the perfect stage to
perform our shows. We were each other’s built-in play date. Each other’s built-in best friend.

As sisters, we are a constant. No one quite understands us like we do. We know each other’s
stories. We know the what, the who and most importantly, the why. The inside and the out.

It doesn’t matter if we talk five times a day or don’t talk for five days. What matters is that we can
reach out whenever for whatever we need. We are each others’ touchstones. We hope that
everyone can find that someone in their lives, sibling or otherwise. Their Maddie or their Mabel,
whomever that may be.

—by Kari Allen and Kelsey McGloin

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Anticipation

A bare tree reaching into a bright blue early-spring sky

Did you know that the word anticipation shares Latin roots with the word heave? I had been curious about its etymology as I considered how much of our human nature evolves around what we wait for, what we expect, what we are excited about, what we fear, what we wonder.

Our lives are filled with all sorts of anticipation.

I am steeped in it currently. Kind World Publishing is on the eve of its first season release—just one week from today. I am worried, excited, nervous, grateful. I anticipate wonderful things, both for our authors and illustrators as well as for our fledgling company and our family. I also anticipate more unknowns, things we will have to navigate and figure out and flex toward.

We cannot anticipate everything, although we are hardwired to do so as part of our survival mechanisms. Evolution has led us to stay alert, to wonder, to look ahead.

It is that anticipation reflex that has also added to the challenges of the past few years (and months, and days). How do we draft plans when so much keeps happening that catches us unaware? As the world churns with chaos, we brace ourselves for the unknown, possibly anticipating the worst.

Heave means “to lift or haul (a heavy thing) with great effort.” At first, I was confused and surprised by the root word that anticipate and heave share. But anticipation is, in its own way, a constant effort on our parts—one that can feel tremendously heavy at times.

We all carry so much; I am mindful that my anticipation is mixed with contrary feelings. I am worried for humanity; I am hopeful for our company; I am curious about the collective future.

I am lifting all of these thoughts, every day, with a considerable effort to remember that I cannot control the outcomes of each of these things. Especially at these times when we might anticipate the worst, I look to what we are doing with Kind World Publishing: to put a bit more good out into the universe, to use stories to create connections, to help tip the scales toward our better selves—to celebrate the best of us.

If you find your way to our books, I hope—I anticipate—you will find something that helps you do that as well.

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We Are All Struggling

Bottom view of winter snowy trees in the blue sky. Frosty branches with hoarfrost twigs in a sunny day.

At least, that is what Twitter tells me. Instagram tells me that we are in this together and with enough inspirational quotes, we’ll get by. And Pinterest offers a multitude of ways in which to craft, project, pinboard, or otherwise organize our way through these times. (I don’t know what Facebook would tell me to do, as I avoid it like the… oh.)

Social media is a dangerous place to get a sense of the collective conscious. Of course, this has always been true, even before mass messages were sent through satellite connections.

But. People are struggling. It is winter in half the world, after all. And it is January everywhere, which comes with expectations to do better. On top of a medical pandemic, we are also awash in a pandemic of attempted authoritarianism driven by greed and fear. Societies are divided. People have died, have become disabled, have lost loved ones, or have lost touch with each other. Many feel as if they have lost touch with themselves. And kids sense and see all of this.

I haven’t written much about our collective struggle; it has been covered ad nauseum. I have not found much useful solace among the shrill pieces of complaint or reflection or advice or finger pointing. The cynicism becomes tiring. The advice feels hollow.

Increasingly, as I seek ways to motivate our family through a space that has seemingly lost all points of reference, I find myself turning to things untouched by our self-inflicted state of messy human existence. Yesterday morning, the nearly full moon was still up and brilliantly shining across a subzero walk. The moon carries on.

On Monday, a Cooper’s hawk silently watched us as we cross-country skied our way around the small lakes.

Last week, I spied a red fox slipping cautiously and gracefully through the woods behind our home. Nature carries on.

The days are slowly getting brighter again.

It is nearly February.

Time carries on. Even when we feel we’ve lost touch with it.

I do not have advice for you, reader. Only empathy and patience, and the sharing of what I’m doing right now. I ask myself on the long days: Have you hugged the kids? Are you hungry? Tired? Cold? What is one small thing you can do right now that brings a sense of comfort or accomplishment or rest?

I am so grateful to be doing this work, to be publishing books like The Struggle Bus (a timely read for us all), and simply to be here. Every day, I remind myself: this is enough.

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Irony and Rest

A couple weeks ago, I started writing a post themed “do less, encourage rest,” in the spirit of our collectively self-inflicted holiday chaos.

Ironically, I was writing the post on a Monday evening, laptop perched literally on my lap, in the lobby of my children’s piano lesson academy, while also answering the endless question “what will we have for dinner after this?” and thinking over a seemingly infinite litany of errands and work.

The hypocrisy was not lost on me. I stopped writing, closed the laptop, and paused. In such a state, who am I to tell others to slow down?

A number of influencers today (including Glennon Doyle) noted we’re addicted to Productivity: we feel uncomfortable when we stop moving. Busyness is a means to distract ourselves. But from what? The answer varies by person, but it’s worth reflection. What are you afraid to sit with if you slow down enough to face it?

In late November I promised my kids that I would close Kind World Publishing’s shop during their winter break. It seemed such a lovely idea—until said break arrived. I struggled for nearly a week to allow myself to do nothing, to sleep in, to unplug. (I worried about what wasn’t getting done; am I enough if I’m not working?)

My original notion was to shorten my to-do list. But in recent days, I’ve realized what I really needed was (temporarily) to ditch the to-do list altogether. I needed to be fully present.

When I discussed this post with Reese, she (wisely, always so wisely) pointed out that by not doing everything else the past week, I was doing the most important thing—spending time with her and Axel. And when that “to do” is done, it still should be done over and over again. Love doesn’t belong on a list. The most important things are ubiquitous.

I have a parade of hopes and goals for the new year, both personally and professionally. Some will be on my fresh to-do list; others will be bigger than that. The privilege of having time to reflect means I also have the responsibility to use these insights to the best of my abilities. For me, this means staying aware of our critical human need to pause and reconnect—with ourselves and with each other. To actively resist being active every moment of our life. To create and protect space for all of the thoughts and feelings and fears and dreams.

Humans—all humans—deserve the right to rest without guilt or worry, and to create without pressure to produce.

I hope your 2022 is healthy. I hope you find an important nontangible you are seeking. I wish us all peace and rest and wellness and space. I wish you a to-do list worth doing, and a life worthy of pause that exceeds a list. Happy (almost) 2022 to you and yours.