I had received an email from The Mental Health Foundation that they had some creative grants available. I had recently sold my shares in a business where we were self-publishing gratitude journals for adults and children. I was quite outspoken around mental health issues and I was always very open to sharing my own personal journey with borderline personality disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts. I ended up in crisis and thankfully received two years of intensive cognitive behavourial therapy in my early twenties. So, almost twenty years ago, I learnt mindfulness, breathing exercises, transcendental meditation, self care tips and how I could literally re-wire my brain to think in new ways. I was asked to write my story for a doctor to provide hope for those battling with it. Back then, the stigma associated with mental health issues meant I choose to use a different name (due to pressure from my family). I am so pleased things are changing.
That journey inspired me to look at ways I could share tools to help people to not end up like I did. The whole idea of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff has to change. We know about powerful, yet simple tools that our children should be learning, with the hope it might prevent them from wanting to jump at some point in their future if they can use them.
So, after the email came through I had an idea to make a book about anxiety for children. I had set up a new company with my great friend Craig Phillips called ‘Wildling Books’ and were already making children’s books. Craig had just won the NZ Book Awards, Best Illustrator for 2018 and so we were able to pitch our idea along with his amazing skills when we applied for the grant. I simply provided Craig with the four main emotions around anxiety, (nervousness, fear, worrying thoughts and apprehension) and a tool for each to help manage that emotion. Craig worked his magic and wrote the poem in one sitting and it hasn’t been edited at all. He really is an amazing writer not to mention his fabulous skills as an illustrator. Craig (who is originally from Australia) studied over all sorts of native plant books to ensure his art truly reflected what it is like in NZ.
I wrote the parents/teachers notes at the back as a way of explaining further the tools that Aroha uses in the book. I wished I had something like this as a child, as I suffered terribly from anxiety, which then developed into other issues. With rates of anxiety on the rise for our children, I feel this book could be a great resource for children.
I knew from the very start that the main character would be female, as I am a huge feminist – but I also wanted her to be Māori. This was important to me because a lot of my extended family and close friends are. Māori and they are not reflected in our books. Our children should see their own faces on the bookshelves, and Aroha is strong and clever, and will be a positive role model for children. However, the book isn’t about what she looks like, it is about how she feels and the tools she knows to use to manage those feelings. It was just another aspect that was important to me.
We won the grant from Like Minds, Like Mine to create the book, which we were absolutely thrilled about. This has helped our little family company get the book produced much faster. The book is due to arrive into New Zealand early June. Scholastics has already indicated they will be ordering copies and our New Zealand distributor, Anneliese from Tikitibu, had a fabulous response at the recent Gift Fair where she didn’t even had samples. She said the pdf version of the book brought one lady to tears … that just blows us away!
Jenny Palmer, author of Feel a Little, had this to say about it: “Aroha’s Way is a beautiful, descriptive and relatable book – an important book – helping children to normalise, understand and even develop their own tools for dealing with their feelings.”
Craig and I know this can make a positive difference to children and that really fills us with so much pride.
Aroha’s Way will be arriving in New Zealand early June and can be pre-ordered through www.wildlingbooks.com.