#AuthorInterview with Ruth Maille, author of The Power of Empathy
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Ruth Maille co-author of The Power of Empathy: Be the Friend You've Always Wanted.
FQ: In your letter from the author, you explain why Orbit has two band-aids on his head. For those who aren't familiar with Orbit, they learn that his band-aids are from the pandemic. How did the pandemic affect Orbit, and do you think he'll ever be able to take the band-aids off?
MAILLE: When Orbit was born at the onset of the pandemic, we were in a confused, unhealthy, uncertain, and scary place. The future was unclear; adults struggled to understand what was happening and did not know how to explain it to their children. What do I say? How much do I say? Why is this happening etc.? These questions caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in everyone, young and old. Orbit's goal at that time was to point out the positive things happening in the world and help try to answer some of the questions children had but had no idea how to ask. The Power of Positivity opened the door to communication as well as hope.
As time went on, I began to notice how kindness was lacking as the world opened up. Exhaustion from the persistence of the pandemic was multiplying the all-time high-stress levels in everyone's life. Children were feeling the effects of this. As an educator, it was a topic worth writing about. Everyone, no matter what age you are, can show kindness and cause the rippling effect that kindness has.
With each book that I write, I am learning more about what children are facing in their day-to-day life. My goal, Orbit's goal, is to help children around the world tackle these topics and help make the world they live in a little bit brighter.
I am not sure if Orbit's band-aid will ever come off. We, as humans, have a lot of work to be done. That is why Orbit constantly challenges children to help him spread his message of positivity, kindness, and love through acts of kindness, appreciation, and gratitude. My most recent book teaches children the essential skills to express Empathy to one another because that will help our world heal.
FQ: Related to my first question, how did the pandemic affect you? Your outlook on life, your daycare/preschool, and how the children at your school interact with each other?
MAILLE: At first, like everyone else, I felt a lot of fear. Many thoughts went through my mind, including many sleepless nights and worry. As hard as I tried to stay healthy, exercise, and keep busy, my most challenging time was having the social part of my life taken away; that wasn't easy mentally. I kept asking myself, "What's the lesson in all of this?"
As time passed, I discovered a lot about myself and where I wanted to go with my life. I became more mindful in all aspects of my life, including my career. I intentionally listened more to what my preschoolers were sharing about what was important to them. I began to see things differently through their eyes. My children inspired me to share what we were learning from one another as part of my journey to becoming an author. I became their voice to the world.
FQ: Empathy is something that is seriously lacking in so many people today. Were the kids at your school familiar with the word/concept? Or if you had to explain it, did they immediately grasp the concept?
MAILLE: Well, the first step to tackling the topic of Empathy is learning what emotions are. My daycare children vary from infancy to 5 years old. Some understand common emotions like happy and sad. The more complex emotions like anxiety, anger, frustration, and excitement were difficult. We would do hands-on activities to explain and learn about these emotions. One activity that they loved to do was singing. If you're happy and you know it. We would change the word happy to other emotions and then apply a facial expression or activity that matched that emotion. Over the summer, they got good at developing new ways to express their feelings. I knew all I was teaching was working because of my parent's feedback and what they witnessed at home.
Once we understood feelings, I introduced the meaning of Empathy. I would point out when someone was empathic to another person. We talked about how it made them feel and how we felt. I remember the day when a 2.5-year-old child stopped what she was doing, turned to me, and said “I'm going to sit next to Paula; she looks a little lonely. Wow! That proved to me that you are never too young to learn about emotions and empathy.
FQ: The examples that the children in the story give to explain Empathy are excellent. As an author, how hard was it to come up with examples that children would understand?
MAILLE: Thank you for that compliment; that means so much to me. I am blessed to work with children daily. As I listen to them intentionally, I make record of what they teach me. Much of what I write comes from real-life experiences, which helps other children relate and see themselves in the story. Most of the time, examples come quickly, but when they don't, I research the topic, play with different scenarios, and then I go to the experts, my children, to ask what they think.
FQ: I was so happy to see positive examples of Empathy included in your story. So many books seem to dwell on the negative aspects of things. How important was it for you to include positive examples?
MAILLE: It was essential to include positive examples. Empathy is the first step in having positive relationships because it helps us understand and relate to others. Empathy has two parts, shared emotion and seeing other perspectives. Both parts of Empathy are ways we try to understand other people and share emotions with them. We should celebrate the goodness in the world, so positive examples are essential to see the whole picture. I want the children that read my books to walk away with positive and negative real-life examples so they can understand all aspects of the topic. When you focus on the positive, it is easier to come up with solutions to any problem.
FQ: Lots of children's books use animals to tell their stories, but your series focuses on children. Do you think it's easier for kids to relate (and understand better) if the book is about kids like them?
MAILLE: Yes, when children see themselves in the story, it helps them to connect. When that situation comes up, they are familiar with it, allowing them to understand it better and ask questions if need be. Orbit brings in the fantasy and imagination aspect of the story. So the children get the best of both worlds.
FQ: Your books are very interactive – they get kids excited to offer their own answers. What is the process of working up the text for a book so you can get something that will have kids jumping up and down to offer their thoughts?
MAILLE: I write similarly to how I speak with children daily. Children have a lot to share. I want my books to give them a platform to feel safe and share their thoughts. We all learn better when having fun, so I hope my books translate to fun for everyone reading them.
FQ: Would you tell our readers about the Orbit Kindness Challenge?
MAILLE: The Orbit challenge is a 30-day challenge that children can participate in after downloading the "kindness card" from my website. Every day for 30 days, you participate in one act of kindness. Each day you complete an act of kindness, you put a sticker on your kindness card. Once your card is complete, you receive a prize. If children email me, I will send them an award. The goal is to do 30 random acts of kindness and cause a rippling effect on those you touch. It doesn't matter how long it might take to complete the card; the important part is spreading kindness.
FQ: Do kids send photos for you to share on social media? I imagine they must get excited if they see their photo used on your sites.
MAILLE: I enjoy receiving pictures from parents, grandparents, and educators. I use them on my website, social media, and physical posters at craft fairs. I am happy to share their excitement. It makes me very so happy to see them enjoying my books.
FQ: Would you ever consider doing a book for older children? Pre-teen or teen? Either about the same topics you've covered in your "Power Of" series or maybe even take on a different topic.
MAILLE: I will never say never. I never thought I would write four children's books, two activity books, and one coloring book. Because I work with preschool and early elementary school children, I see the immediate need for topics for children this age and know how to express what I am trying to share. It's not out of the question to write for older children. However, at this time, I will continue to focus on children 3-8 years old. I have many more topics I want to explore and share with this age group.