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Why children's storybooks matter

Updated: May 7

female author and male artist working on a children's book at the beach
Reeta and Darren - Sketching out the first Willow the Wonderer storybook

Autumn is the perfect season for reflection

Summer has come and gone and autumn is taking hold of our not-so-small island paradise of Australia. The chapter on 2024 is not only underway but has almost reached the half way mark. Yes, it is scarely two months away! The cooler change forces us indoors, creating the space for instrospection and reflection - and that is where my mind has mostly been these past two weeks.

Three years young

We marked the third anniversary for Wise As Stories at the start of this year. Since first picking up the pen to work on Willow the Wonderer, we have been on a sometimes wild, and mostly eventful ride - it has been challenging but also gratifying.

With our highly globalised world showing no sign of 'normalising', it felt important to take time out to reflect on why we do what we do. In business speak this is described as defining your purpose by answering the question: why we exist?

Reflecting on such 'existential' matters is important. It helps brings clarity and renewed focus to the work we do - and if not, shows us that we'd probably be better off pursuing something else.

Since leaving the corporate world, I've come to realise that this exercise is also very beneficial to do a personal level. Life, you see, is an ephemeral and passing experience - our time here is llimited. It is good to check-in every now and again and make sure we are making the most of it.

Reaffirming our purpose

As Darren and I reflected on our purpose, we found ourselves going back to why we started Wise As Stories in the first place.

We realised that at a substantive level, the purpose for Wise As Stories (and us as the founders of this creative enterprise) remains the same. But we now have greater clarity on what it means - and with that, are getting better at telling our story.

The problem that spoke to our heart

Wise As Stories has its roots in a deep and meaningful conversation Darren and I had one afternoon whilst walking along the South Valla beach in New South Wales' Mid North Coast. This was around the time of the first COVID lockdown in 2020.

We shared what we had both felt in our hearts for a long time:

A lot of the stories we grow up with both, formally in terms of the books we read, but also informally in terms of the conversations and messages that we get from society, is at best half true or incomplete, and at worst, false.

This is an especially problematic feature of the stories that are fed to us as childen.

The stories we consume whilst young tend to leave a very strong impression on our minds, our psyche. They shape our expectations, desires and worldview - and continue to influence us at a subconscious level even much later in life. This makes children's storybooks especially important.

Unfortunately a lot of these childhood stories are composed of stereotypes, cliches and fairy tales. Hear it often enough and at some level we start believing these fairy tales and fantasies to be true.

Most of us spend a lot of our young adult life chasing these fantasies and whilst there may be joy to be had, it tends to be fleeting at best - Lasting fulfilment often evades us.

As the futility of our pursuits become clear, it brings with it a certain amount of disappointment and mental anguish - this is even (or perhaps especially) when we reach some of these fantastical goals.

Actor Jim Carrey is famous for saying “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that's not the answer.”

But it's not all bad as this realisation is becomes the catalyst for some serious soul searching.

Finding solace in a different set of narratives

Everyone tends to take a different path for examining their lives and assumptions. For Darren and I, when we got to that stage what finally grounded us was the study of philosophy and contemplative traditions, and the practice of meditation.

The roots of these traditions go a long way back into human history. The insights that came from these are interesting in that they have a timeless quality - they are as relevant today as they were to a human living 3000+ years ago. For this reason, we like to refer to these insights as wisdom.

Understanding the wisdom that have come from these traditions helped us fill the gaps in the narratives we grew up with - and ultimately get on a path where we could cultivate a sense of contentment and happiness from within.

Creating a different set of naratives for the next generation

Why this wisdom has fallen out of mainstream narratives is beyond me. I can only guess that they didn't suit the needs of modernising industrialised economies and the growing influence of capitalism and consumerism.

Either way we felt that we had been led astray and lamented the time and life energy we had wasted chasing ghosts ...

We could not help but wonder: What if we had been taught or introduced to wisdom earlier? Would that have helped? Would that have changed the choices we made? Would that have helped lessen the 'suffering'?

Our heart was telling us, 'Yes!'

Maybe a little suffering is not such a bad thing - and indeed could be a prerequisite for examining life more deeply - but having some guidance to that can make sense of it all and alleviate the suffering is also important. It is this guidance that is missing and so hard to come by.

As we walked along that beach that day, we talked about our shared desire:

To create a different set of narratives for young children - stories that are grounded in timeless wisdom about life and living.

Maybe, just maybe, it will help the little ones out in their journey through life.

And this wasn't just a pipe dream either - both Darren and I had started working on ideas in the space separately. We decided to join forces and develop out an idea that Darren had conceived 20 years prior: an illustrated storybook called Willow the Wonderer about the search for happpiness.

The ingredients of 'wise as' stories

As much as we wanted our stories to convey wisdom about life and living to the little ones, I was adamant that we would not preach ... Being a headstrong child (and adult) being "told" what to do and how to think always irked me.

So Willow the Wonderer storybooks would first and foremost be great stories: Stories full of adventure that would whisk kids away to a place that is full of thrills and wonders. It would be tales that the little ones would thoroughly enjoy and hence remember.

It was also important to me that the stories helped children learn important skills, such as literacy and numeracy. Having grown up in an old fashioned schooling setting where punishment and shame was dished out in droves when we struggled to grasp these things, I strongly feel that learning should be made to feel as natural as possible - this makes it easy for kids who would otherwise have a resistance to the whole business of school.

This is one of the reasons I've written all books in perfect rhyme and incorporated a knowledge or early childhood education component into the folds of the narrative - so that our unsuspecting readers are learning simply through listening to a story.

For his part, Darren wanted to bring new and interesting art forms into the world of children's book and create beautiful illustrations that would not only captivate the litte ones in but also spark their imagination. The aesthetic trend of the time may lean towards the pale, pastel colours and sparce imagery - but children's sponge like brains responds to rich colours and detail. Darren wanted to bring these qualities back into children's books.

The main stay though would be the seeds of wisdom: Woven intriciately into the fabric of these narratives, our hope is that these leave positive impressions on young minds and with time, blossom and guide them through life.

Willow the Wonderer picture book series continues to grow

Willow the Wonderer series is now three books strong - with the fourth on its way.

The feedback from our readers have been overwhelmingly positive, with the series maintaining its near perfect five-star rating since release of the first book in November 2021.

Growing up with a balanced world view

As much as we feel that the Willow the Wonderer storybooks will do good things for the wellbeing of children, we don't expect or indeed want these to be the only stories they grow up with ... it is inevitable that they will encounter many other narratives - some good, others not so much - as they grow up. Our hope is that our stories where relevant, complement, and where relevant, counter, the other narratives.

By consuming many different types of narratives, we believe children will grow up with a balanced outlook on life. I think it is in this sort of more balanced worldview they'll find more contentment, fulfilment, happiness and peace of mind.

So, why do we exist?

If I had to condense all of the above into a sentence that describes our purpose, it would be to:

Change the Narrative : By creating stories that plant seeds of wisdom and knowledge

And that ladies and gentlemen, we are more than happy to get out of bed for.


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