Updated: 1 day ago
It's the height of winter but we are basking in the warmth of the reviews we are getting for Willow the Wonderer - 'Beautiful' is how most of our readers describe the book. It seems that everyone, from great grandchildren to great grandparents, are falling in love with Willow - our hearts could not be more glad. As we countdown the final copies of the first print run, we thought we'd share some of the highlights from the reviews and the 'backstory' in this blog. For those who make it to the end ... there's a sneak peek of what's coming next.
Willow the Wonderer is a genre defying children's book
Willow the Wonderer is an enchanting tale about the search for happiness. It is beautifully illustrated, has quirky rhymes and even makes counting fun.
It also tackles the most existential of all questions in our human experience - what is happiness and where can I find it?
The book is by no means a definitive guide to happiness … but it does offer our readers a resolution. The story ends with an insight into the nature and source of happiness - or as we like to think of it, a seed of wisdom on happiness. We hope that this seed blossoms with time and guides our young readers on their journey through life.
What is the right age to be talking about happiness with children?
A few people have asked or questioned whether it is too early to be discussing the 'deeper philosophy' around happiness with children.
We believe, and this goes to the heart of why Darren and I produced this book, that:
"it's never too early to plant seeds of wisdom in young minds"
I can say from my own lived experience that the stories that I read as a child have been amongst the most influential in my life. Even if there were elements that I was not able to intellectually grasp or explain at the time, at some level it became embedded in my psyche and influenced - rightly or wrongly - my outlook on life. And it's those childhood conditionings that have the hardest to change in my adult years.
Besides, who is to say what a child can or cannot grasp; they may not have the vocabulary to express themselves fully but that does not mean that they don't have an innate intuition to understand things.
I feel it's best not to underestimate children. Plant positive seeds early; it may just be the help children need to navigate the many 'false narratives' they are going to encounter through life.
Encouragingly, judging by the vast majority of reviews and feedback we've received, most people agree.
When we started off working on 'Willow the Wonderer', Darren and I talked about it as a story we wish we'd grown up with. Nine months on it seems these are stories that we've all, at some level, been yearning for.
The first set of reviews
Willow the Wonderer was our first book so we were understandably a little nervous about publishing it. We thought we'd better 'test' it with a few folks before releasing it into the wild.
So we gathered up a good mix of people from all works of life - from bankers, scientists, psychologists and consultants to artists, musicians, yoga teachers and spiritual healers - and gave them a copy of the book.
It was interesting to hear the feedback. Everyone had a slightly different take on the book. They asked different questions and liked different aspects. They all however agreed that this was a book they'd want their children to grow up with - it was a children's book in a class of its own.
It is said that our desire to be happy, is what makes us all the same.
Is it any surprise then that a book that talks to a universal wisdom on happiness would resonate across the spectrum?
And so we finally released Willow into the wild...
We had a rocky start.
We received the books in July 2021 just as the East Coast entered a full lockdown for four months so had to delay the launch till November. Sure enough, the Omicron wave soon took hold. We then re-launched the book in March 2022.
I knew we had a good book on our hands but I remember wondering - in this world of celebrities and influencers, who's going buy books from 'anonymous-us'?
Six months on, Willow the Wonderer has found it's way to readers who have loved and embraced the book - and given it mostly four - five star ratings. From what we can tell, they are a very special bunch.
These are people who not only have great taste in all things, but also conviction in their taste. They don't wait for the 'gatekeepers' to tell them what is good or not, and they certainly aren't slave to trends. They have a pioneering spirit, they like to discover new thing and they set the trends. If it wasn't for them, many good things would go unnoticed.
If you are reading this, you are one of them.
Willow the Wonderer replaced The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Amongst the first lot of buyers was an old colleague of mine, Paul.
He had bought the book for his daughter who must be about three or four years old. He sent me a text shortly afterwards:
'Issy loves the book and asks for it every night as part of bedtime routine. It's a huge compliment because it has been The Hungry Caterpillar for the last 18 months.'
I have to admit, I was a little chuffed to hear that Willow the Wonderer had replaced The Very Hungry Caterpillar, at least in Paul's household :)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is an all time bestseller that (according to Wikipedia) has sold a copy every 30 seconds since it was published in 1969 - it's an incredible feat for a book that was also very innovative in its time.
Parents reads the same book over and over again
I also realised that when children love something, they really, really love it!
Parents of young children tend to suffer for their children's love; they're the ones who have to read the same book a gazillion times...
It was a good thing then that we kept Willow the Wonderer short and sharp - you are welcome.
And we do hope that the grown-ups reading (and re-reading) the book also find a nugget of inspiration in the story too. Darren and I certainly use it as a reminder.
Planting seeds of wisdom
A few months later Stephanie, Paul's wife, tagged us onto a post mentioning that their daughter had memorised the book and goes around reciting it out aloud.
It was the sweetest image and touched us deeply.
Producing the book, and then having to learn the ropes of publishing and eCommerce to get it out there to the world, has been a deeply personal journey for both Darren and I. The marketing side has definitely been trying for two otherwise 'shy and retreating' types...
If it wasn't for our strongly held conviction 'to create stories that planted seeds of wisdom', we would have walked away from it all months ago.
Reading that there was a little girl growing up somewhere, reciting to herself that 'happiness lies within and it knows no bounds', made every effort we've put in, worth every while.
This conviction (to use storytelling to plant seeds of wisdom) has come from our life experience; it's not religious or spiritual or anything else other than a lived human experience. I've elaborated on this at the end of the blog, as we have received a note or two seeking to understand the connection, if any, to faith.
Grandmothers are Willow's biggest fans
When we first launched the book, we really had no idea what to expect - we were new to the book business after all. As the reviews started coming in, I realised that a lot of them were from grandmothers. This again, was a very poignant moment for me.
Some of the fondest childhood memories I have is of the times we (my siblings and I) spent with our grandmother over school holidays - she'd come over and stay with us.
I learnt many things from her; crochet, raising chicks and ducklings, making mango pickles and jams, and cooking the meanest fish curry there is. The best times though were when we had finished our morning chores and sat down with our cups of tea and biscuits, listening to her stories whilst she crocheted away.
It was only later on in life I came to realise how much I have been influenced by her stories and the lessons contained therein.
Seeing Willow the Wonderer create a whole new set of memories for grandmothers and their grandchildren is gratifying beyond words.
And not only are the grand daughters, grandsons and even great grandchildren loving the books - their parents love them as well. It seems that grandmas are totally nailing the presents department with Willow the Wonderer!