The Backstory: IT'S OK
It is my pleasure to welcome educator, public speaker, mindfulness teacher, and children's book author, Wendy O'Leary to the blog. Wendy is here to share all about her latest book, IT'S OK: BEING KIND TO YOURSELF WHEN THINGS FEEL HARD. I have had the privilege of seeing Wendy in action educating my students and she is a pro who has used her passion and skill to create much-needed SEL picture books. You do not want to miss these.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind IT’S OK. First off, please tell us a little bit about your story. Children, like adults, experience difficult emotions. Those feelings can be hard. It's OK is a sweet book that offers children a gentle yet powerful way to handle these difficult moments by bringing self-compassion into their lives. Children are invited to practice along, offering care and kindness to themselves as they read the book. The repeated phrases support children in remembering that self-compassion is always possible simply because they matter. The examples of difficult emotions in It’s OK, make the practice relatable and useful in their lives. The book captures the essence of these helpful practices in a child-friendly way and offers additional information and practice ideas at the back of the book. This book sounds like it needs to be inside of every elementary classroom. These are skills that children can struggle with and your book gives teachers and parents a user-friendly entry point to this important topic.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from? I wrote this book early in the pandemic. I was redesigning all my workshops to best reflect what I felt was most needed at that moment, emphasizing self-compassion more explicitly. I could see how children, families, and caregivers were struggling, and I wanted to offer tools that could most effectively support them. I planned to share a practice for adults in a teacher's workshop called the self-compassion break. This practice uses the three research-based aspects of self-compassion taught by the founders of the Mindful Self-Compassion program, Dr. Kristen Neff and Dr. Chris Germer. I also wanted to offer these teachers a child-friendly version of this practice to use in their classrooms. At that moment, I realized how helpful it could be to share this essential skill for resilience more broadly in a children’s book.
Thank you for seeing the need and finding a way to get these tools into the hands of parents, teachers, and children. A picture book is the perfect way to relay this practice!
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now IT’S OK? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page? Once I had the idea, I began playing with it immediately. It felt like this was the right book for this moment in time. The book flowed from that initial inspiration. I couldn't agree more that this book is coming out at the precise moment it is needed. The last few years have been tough on children and every day I encounter situations with my children and students where they would benefit from self-compassion. And while strategies and practices have previously existed, I didn't have the expertise to confidently relay them. With this book, I can now confidently introduce this topic and support my students in their development of self-compassion.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas? Everything I write is an extension of my work, teaching skills for emotional resilience and well-being. Though I teach all ages, so far, all my books have focused on children. My ideas come from my classes and trainings. I love the creativity of designing a class and thinking of new, interesting, and accessible ways to present concepts to children. For example, my last book, The Monster Parade, came from an activity I designed when I was working with large groups of kindergarten children and wanted a fun way to play with concepts related to emotions (i.e. how they feel in the body, that they are always passing by and that they are all welcome…) We did a parade of feelings activity. It was not only fun and playful, but it also led to a better understanding of and conversations about emotions. After teaching the class, I started to picture how this could be shown in a book and realized this was a great way to share this understanding with more children and families.
It is evident from your books that you are writing from a place of passion. I have been lucky enough to see you present and work with children multiple times and can attest to the fact that you are an expert in your area and in your understanding of children. The books you are creating are a gift to children and their grownups that can be used to build on a multitude of SEL strategies and concepts.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing? As I mentioned, all my books are written for the purpose of teaching skills to children. Therefore, impactful books vary depending on what I am writing. My recent book, It’s OK: Being Kind To Yourself When Things Feel Hard, was inspired by books written by Chris Germer, Kristen Neff, and Shauna Shapiro—all books about self-compassion for adults.
That said, when my children were younger, I always searched for books that would help open the door to conversations about things that were relevant in our lives at the time, such as sleep struggles, loss, worry…. Those helpful books generally inspired me to write books that could support children and families. Though I learn from and am inspired by books, what most impacts my writing is my teaching and my meditation practice. I agree with you about the power of books to begin what could be challenging or sensitive conversations. And I appreciate that your books can be used in a proactive rather than reactive way.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials? I don’t have any must-haves and, in fact, move around and work in different areas, sometimes even leaving the house to go to a café for a change of scenery. When working at home, I like having the house to myself as I sometimes talk to myself when writing. I often walk around my house when playing with an idea as I talk it out (in my head or aloud). I often enjoy having a cup of tea, while I write, especially in the colder months. I also have a journal next to my meditation area as I can sometimes get ideas when meditating and want to be able to write those thoughts down soon after I practice.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors? I don’t think I have any advice, but I am happy to share what I have found beneficial. Being clear about my intention, which is to share teachings and practices that I love and feel can be so beneficial to others. I periodically remind myself why I want to write a particular book, what is important to me about it, or about writing a book in general. I try not to get caught up in the other stuff. I also try to approach my writing like I do my meditation practice, with lots of gentleness, kindness, self-acceptance, interest, and, in accord with the newest book's topic, lots of self-compassion! I try to be playful and curious if I feel stuck on something. I put down ideas and partial sentences to get myself going. Sometimes when I am under a deadline and feeling a bit blocked, I may even put a timer on for 20 minutes. Doing that gets me started, and I typically continue long after the timer is up. I also know I need to leave my writing for a time and then return with fresh eyes. I will do reviews and play with the words multiple times before I submit anything. Aside from the writing itself, I have found my self-compassion practice to be so helpful in the process of getting published. I put myself out there in ways I would never have before. I am so grateful I have learned to be kinder to myself even when things do not go as I had hoped.
We have talked a lot about the importance of self-compassion for children, but you bring up a great point that perhaps this same concept is what most of us authors need more of. We are in an industry full of rejection at every turn and it is so easy to quickly turn on ourselves and let the doubts creep in.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us? I do have exciting news but unfortunately it isn’t official yet so
I love secret news! So excited for whatever you have in the works and I look forward to when we can hear more about it.
Where can people connect more with you? Facebook – wendy oleary, educator, author consultant Instagram – wendy_oleary_mindfulmatters Email – email@example.com Website – www.wendyoleary.com
Readers be sure to connect with Wendy via her socials and website. And educators check out Wendy's educator guides, youtube videos and if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity, look into opportunities to have Wendy join your classroom. She is amazing with students and will help develop their mindfulness and self-regulation skills. (Can you tell I am a fan?)
And while you are exploring all of the wonderfulness Wendy has to offer, don't forget the reason we are here, her latest book, IT'S OK (Bala Kids, 2023) with illustrations by Sandra Eide. This amazing book is available now!
Wendy thank you so much for joining the blog today and for sharing all about IT'S OK.
Wendy is generously offering one winner (US only) a copy of IT'S OK.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT WENDY O'LEARY
Wendy O'Leary, M.Ed. is a certified mindfulness teacher and author of three children's books. Wendy is an educator and public speaker on the topic of emotional resilience and well-being for children and adults and teaches mindfulness and self-compassion.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.