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The strength of courage, the power of hope, and inspiration that emanates from the book, Not Too Far From My Back Door, aptly represents the nature of work, the dedication and passion that its author Tania Louise Smith upholds; a true and knowledgeable advocate for the emotional wellbeing of children near and far. We thank Tania for joining us to share her expertise and journey into writing and publishing this important story. 🙂
Your picture book, ‘Not Too Far From My Back Door’ is visually, lyrically and emotionally stunning. Congratulations on its release!
Please tell us a bit about your background in social work and why this story was important for you to write.
I have worked in the past as a social worker in the area of child protection in both the United Kingdom and here in Australia and now I am a homeschooling Mum to my three children.
Children’s emotional mental health is only really recently something people are genuinely being mindful of. In the area of child protection, there are many children who do not have safe or appropriate caregivers who can model positive emotional mental health and many times their care givers are multiple and/or emotionally unavailable. Therefore many children, as well as many adults just simply don’t know what to do with the big feelings and the overwhelming emotions. There are also many children who come from loving, stable homes who are ultra sensitive and greatly impacted by things many other children may not even notice, given their sensitivity to emotions, outside stimuli and internal dialogue. I, myself was an ultra sensitive child and too an adult, so a lot of inspiration is drawn from my own self, my children, the children around me and the children I worked with. Clearly there is a need to find safe spaces in our world where one can reflect, let go, recharge and renew. In my book it’s within Mother Nature that each of us can find these spaces.
The book was called Not Too Far From My Back Door so that I could remind whomever was reading or being read to – that all these places and strengths are not far away at all and can be accessed easily – they are not too far from their back door. I wanted to leave each reader with a new way of thinking about a problem, an emotional download and then uplift and strengthen, as I feel these are skills we all can learn, develop and sharpen in our personal evolution. I wanted parents who have the capacity, to be able to use my book as a jumping off point to discussions about emotional mental health and an inroad to conversations about the more positive coping skills.
My favourite part of the story is when the child goes back home and they are at first a little hesitant or worried but then they realise all the strengths and resources are around them and within them that Mother Nature has taught them about. They realise “there it was, there it always will be”. That they always had these qualities within them and that they will always have this within them. It leaves each reader empowered and strengthened.
I start the book in quite a somber tone where the child is very sad and tearful, so my favourite part is leaving the reader with an invigoration of courage and capacity.
The illustrations in the story seem vivid, with bold, yet undefined brush strokes, full of movement and energy. What was it about the illustrator’s work that resonated with you?
The illustrations to me seem quite dreamy and whimsical – like a memory. I resonated with the softness of the edges, no harsh lines or complete finishes. The artwork mirrored the themes within the book’s delicacy, grace, tenderness. That’s what I think of when I look at the art work – there is a fragility there but also strength.
What do you hope readers will gain from reading ‘Not Too Far From My Back Door’?
I hope each reader will feel at peace after reading this book. That they will know it’s ok to feel those big feelings, to explore them but then to let go of them. I am hoping they will learn about their internal strengths and I am hoping they can remember that Mother Nature can be a peaceful place in which they can access this side of themselves if they need a place to retreat, rest, renew and re- emerge.
Where, in nature, is your peaceful place?
I love the water. It feels cleansing and peaceful but in another sense inspiring and emerging. You can be fully emerged physically which helps emotionally to let go and be at peace.
What strategies can you provide to children, parents, caregivers and educators in utilising this book as a resource?
Firstly listen and validate. If children feel unheard and displaced they will find alternate ways to get that emotional regulation which may not be healthy. Listen to every sore toe, every hurt heart, every disappointment. Listening is such a validation in itself. You don’t need to fix anything but just listen and console. If the child wants to talk about solutions then go down that route too but most important listen but also hear them.
If children want to be alone in their times of emotional sensitivity or sadness, anger et, then this book is a great resource to have them read and reflect on during this time. The child in the story comes in with big emotions and departs much calmer and empowered. It is a great avenue for modelling working through some emotions.
I also believe this is a book that should be on the book shelf of every home and revisited time and time again as each child’s level of understanding and maturity will reflect the messages that they take from the story. They might be experiencing something new they hadn’t experienced before so the story resonates more with them now, they may not have understood one of the messages but as their emotional maturity and processing ability develops their level of understanding heightens and therefore more engagement. Or they even understand something more differently now as they personally evolved so the story takes on additional or a differing meaning. Their relationship to the story changes as their relationships with themselves and others change, develop and fluctuate.
If parents or caregivers are feeling unsure how to approach a topic or want to discuss their child’s emotional well-being or their current emotional health, this book is a great jumping off point. The child can see that other children have these same feelings and that one can come out of it even more rejuvenated. It will make it easier for them to open up and explore these feelings when they see a character like in my book feeling similar to themselves. It provides not only a great jumping off point for kids but a great point of reference.
What’s next for you in terms of children’s book writing?
I am keen to develop more for the sensitive and highly sensitive children. More stories, more resources et. I easily identify with these issues and am personally invested in promoting positive emotional regulation. It is the sensitive child too that can feel alone and not quite of this world thus they need stories and characters that are like them.
Thank you for your insights, Tania! 🙂
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