We protect what we appreciate.
Relationship has become the center of writing. Over time, I discovered within my stories of relationship, the human connection with nature had also become a constant. In a way our relationship with nature mirrors our relationship with other people. My granddaddy always said, “You can tell a man’s character by how he treats children and animals.” That statement has stuck with me over with the years. How a person engages with animals is a mirror to how they engage with other humans. How I treat those with less power reflects my value system.
I don’t have to be a climate scientist or an environmental researcher to make an impact. As a mom, school counselor, and writer of children’s books, who wants to foster an appreciation for nature in young people, I have learned small teaching moments can make a big impact. It can be as simple as going outside at night and looking up. Watch for bats and talk about they help balance our ecosystem. Take a walk with your kids and count how many different trees you see. Talk about how trees work as the lungs for our planet. Research plants native to your area, and plant those in your yards, community centers, or schools. And it can be as simple as not shrieking when you see a bee, but instead talking about how thankful you are the bee chose your yard! Talk about how bees help keep plants healthy and growing. Sharing nature with our kids at a young age helps them grow up to appreciate the natural world around them. We protect what we appreciate. And our planet is worth protecting like our lives depend on it.
Keep looking up.
Ad Astra Per Aspera
To the stars through difficulties.
When I toured my future college 25 years ago, I thought Ad Astra per Aspera was the least inspirational motto for a college. Shouldn’t a motto end on a high note by reaching the goal? Like one of those cheesy dorm room posters that reads: Shoot for the stars, and even if you miss you’ll land among the clouds. But, alas, the journey to the stars isn’t glossy like the dorm room poster.
Truthfully at 18 years old, I couldn’t even have conceived the difficulties that I would have to dodge, and some I would have to ride out, in order to reach my star. And when you reach one star, another will appear in the distance, you’ll just have to avoid a few more meteors to get there.
Ad Astra per Aspera. The difficulties make the journey meaningful. It's the difficulties that teach you the substance of the star, and it’s the difficulties that teach you how to navigate to the next star.
Over my birthday this summer I saw my dear college friend, Shahgol. I shared with her ideas for the When Daddy Shows Me the Sky book launch. She’s a person that finds universal connections in all things, and one of the most joyful people I know. She said, “Of course, Ad Astra per Aspera,” like somehow she knew my book would get published all along.
This summer was the first time I had thought of the Latin phrase in years.
It is pretty perfect.
Keep looking up.
During my childhood, the library was my safe space (later I would add bookstores and museums to that list). I have vivid memories of my elementary school library which was situated in the heart of the school. One set of glass doors led to the lower elementary wing and another set led to the upper elementary wing. The hallways would be filled with chatter and laughter, that I often wasn’t a part of, but once I stepped through those glass doors the sound was sucked away. In that space, I could imagine anyone I wanted to be. I remember being drawn to the biographies of famous women like Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall, and the fantasy of Greek mythology. Athena was my favorite.
And it was in the library that I discovered poetry. I was in 5th grade, and I checked out a poetry compilation for a class project. I distinctly remember reading “The Term” by William Carlos Williams. That poem amazed me. How could he paint such a clear image with so few words? The poem was both so quietly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing. Was it about the resiliency of the human spirit or coming grips with our human mortality, as our man made objects outlive us? Questions from my ten year old brain that I’m still working to answer.
I fell in love with poetry. And I suppose I’m still in love with poetry, because I can read the poem again thirty years later and still be awed by the words.
The first poem I received recognition for was one that I wrote in the spirit of my old friend WCW. The poem placed 3rd in my college’s literary magazine contest, validating my 5th grade poet’s heart.
Nothing is as splendid
as a homegrown,
That sweet, sticky juice
onto your shirt,
Libraries, bookstores, and museums will always be my safe spaces. When I travel, I duck into a bookstore or a museum to breathe in the ideas, and to be around people who need the space like I do. Ideas, questions, and possibilities that turn
With the wind over
And over to be as
It was before.*
Keep looking up,
*excerpt from “The Term” by William Carlos Williams
Families Don't Have to Match
When my niece and nephew came into my life over a decade ago, I searched to find picture books with children of color as main characters. Representation is important. In particular, I was looking for stories with kids being kids in everyday situations, stories which were a challenge to find. I gave my nephew a collection of Ezra Jack Keats, and how thankful I was to find Not Norman by Kelly Bennett which was a contemporary book at the time. But it was even harder to find books with multiracial families. According to Diverse Book Finder, between the years of 2009-2014 there were 7-14 books published per year portraying multiracial families (yes, that’s 7-14 total books). No wonder I had a hard time finding the books I was looking for! In 2019 that number had increased to 44+, making progress.
About the time my nephew arrived, I got serious about writing. I knew if I ever wrote a picture book, I wanted him to see his family on the page. Representation is important. My niece served as the model for the main character illustration for When Daddy Shows Me the Sky. When my editor sent me samples from illustrators, I took one look at Kate’s illustration and said, that’s her.
At the heart, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky is about a daddy and a daughter learning from each other.
For my young readers: whether your family matches or you’re beautifully different, whether you were raised by two parents, a single parent, two moms, or two dads, whether you were raised in a blended family, by grandparents, or aunts and uncles, with lots of siblings or as an only child, your family has VALUE. A family is defined by love.
Keep looking up.
Why a Yoga Picture Book?
I have taught children’s yoga for many years, and I like to incorporate books into my classes, especially those that integrate themes of science and nature. I find that many children’s yoga books lack fluidity and use lofty, abstract language that is inaccessible to young readers. Relationship is another key element I look for in a children’s book, and in typical yoga picture books, the child often is alone. What I love about my own yoga practice is the connection it facilitates with other living beings and the universe as a whole. In teaching children, I want to foster the skills needed to form and maintain healthy relationships. Primarily in our Western culture, we relate yoga with the postures (asanas); however, postures are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Yoga is also imbedded with ethical guidelines, which fundamentally involve not just how we relate to ourselves but to the world around us. According to Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtra, there are five virtues: nonharming (ahimsâ), truthfulness (satya), nonstealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacarya), and greedlessness (aparigraha). (To learn more visit: https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/philosophy/yoga-sutras/path-happiness/). So why not create a children’s book that incorporates not just the postures but a respect for other humans the natural world around us? I wanted a children’s book to feel like the practice: connected, fluid, and relational, so I wrote the books I was looking for.
When Daddy Shows Me the Sky provides the reader a glimpse of the simple moments that bond Daddy and daughter. The young girl marvels as her daddy points out the wonders of the night sky and channels that excitement through movement. The story teaches readers the seasonal constellations and unique characteristics of the night sky by pairing those elements with yoga poses. Pairing lessons with movement allows young readers to make connections between the natural world and their own emotional experience.
When Daddy Shows Me the Sky may be my first, but it won’t be the last. There’s always more to explore.
Keep looking up,
Every book has an origin story. To say When My Daddy Shows Me the Sky has been in my mind a long time is an understatement. Try twenty years. In graduate school, I first sketched a picture book storyboard about a Daddy showing his daughter the constellations. This was my first attempt at penning a picture book; I had been more of a poet up until then. After graduating, I closed the page to my sketchbook and moved on to new projects and work, but in the back of my head I always knew it would be the first.
Summer 2019 followed a five year creative writing dry spell for me, as my writing time mainly consisted of non-fiction articles for work. Statistics had hidden the stories. When I returned to my roots and began working in a school again, the stories started to re-emerge. I realized the hole I felt was due to being so far from my creativity. Since originally outlining When My Daddy Shows Me the Sky, I had become a yoga teacher, a counselor, and a mom, all of which became intertwined in the story. And suddenly it became a book I couldn’t have written 20 years ago.
At the end of March 2020, when time seemed to both stop and slip through our fingers, I decided to send my book out to publishers. After I hit send, I purposely pushed the submission out of my mind, nothing to do but wait. Six months later, I opened my email to see a message from Brandylane Publishers. I closed the door to my small office, so my coworkers and my students couldn’t see me dancing. It had finally happened. I experienced the *real* moment that I rehearsed in my mind since I was a girl, and it was everything I had imagined it to be.
Keep looking up,
Rebecca W. Wheeler
School counselor, psychology educator, and yoga instructor.