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Introducing Sue, Sue, and Prue…

Left to right: Prue Pittock, Sue Hindle, and Sue Lawson

We love this terrific trio, named Sue, Sue, and Prue (cue all the irresistible Kath & Kim jokes)! Sue (Lawson), Sue (Hindle), and Prue (Pittock) are the minds behind a new unique children’s book called You Matter: Be Your Own Best FriendThis isn’t your run-of-the-mill picture book: it’s a guide to understanding feelings, to caring for oneself, and to reducing worry in everyday life. It’s framed as a tool kit, with lots of exercises and strategies for learning about how our emotions work and how to best practice self-care as a young person. This handy introduction to our vivid inner lives is the brainchild of beloved children’s author Sue Lawson, healer and health practitioner Sue Hindle, and illustrator Prue Pittock. We had a visit from all three creators to sign copies of their book, and sat down with Sue Lawson to tell us a bit more about You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend… 

You Matter is written as a tool kit to help young people connect with themselves. Can you tell us a bit more about your latest book for children, and how it is designed to be used by readers? Can you also mention the age range that this book is aimed at?

Thank you for asking me to pop over and chat about You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend. It’s been such a joy to work on this book with Sue and Prue.

You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend is a practical, empowering, and hopeful book written to help children examine and deal with their emotions and feelings. The book is written for children of all ages. It can be read to kindergarten children and even toddlers, with adults leading the youngsters through the exercises, or it can be read by independent readers 8 years and older.  It’s designed to be a flexible resource to help children and families.

After a conversation about an increase in childhood anxiety Sue, an educator and healer and I decided to combine skills and create a book to support children and their parents, caregivers, and teachers in dealing with strong emotions. We began work in 2019.

There’s a variety of activities in each section as we know from our own experience that different people, no matter their age, will resonate with different approaches. We’ve carefully selected each exercise and had other teachers, school well-being staff and a psychotherapist read our book to ensure You Matter’s content and advice is both correct and useful. The book can be used in so many ways. Ideally, we’d love children to read and build their tool kit when they are feeling grounded and content, so that when they are feeling strong emotions, they have a range of tools to reach for. However, children will benefit from the book no matter how they are feeling.

We wanted to keep You Matter bright and practical so as not to overwhelm children. The bite-sized exercises, white space and Prue’s gorgeous, bright illustrations make it a hopeful, fun experience.

The chapters look at what children can do for their own mental and emotional health, such as spending time outdoors, breathing exercises and meditation, affirmations, adequate sleep, and so on. It avoids things that rely on adults, and in fact doesn’t mention guardians or caretakers at all. Why was it important to write a book that encouraged children to discover the resources within themselves, regardless of anyone else?

We wanted our book to be child focussed. Too often children are told how they feel or how to respond to their feelings. However, just like adults, children need time and space to explore and identify feelings. Doing this then allows them to decide how they want to work through their feelings. That may be something they can do alone, or it might be something that needs to be done with the support of friends and family.  Friends and family play a very important role, but sometimes we need to work through matters on our own before we’re ready to ask others for help.

So, in a nutshell, Sue and I wanted to empower children to explore their feelings and emotions and to understand they can play an important role in navigating them. The answers aren’t always outside of us – sometimes they are within. We hope our book will help children learn to identify feelings, to understand there are no good or bad feelings and to know that there are many ways to work with them.

While it is a book for children, we hope parents and adults who live with or work with children will read and discuss the book with the young people in their lives.

You have written many books for children and often collaborate with others, such as Boonwurrung Elder Aunty Fay Muir. For You Matter you have teamed up with healer and first-time author Sue Hindle, and illustrator Prue Pittock. Can you tell us about Prue and (the other!) Sue, and how this project came about?

How lucky am I to work with such incredible women? Since my young adult book Freedom Ride, which was shortlisted for the CBCA Older Readers Book of the Year award, I have been collaborating with other writers, including Aunty Fay, Sue and the very talented Karen Tayleur. All three are very dear friends. My publisher introduced Aunty Fay, Sue and I met at one of the fabulous healing and meditation workshops she runs and Karen was my first editor at Black Dog Books. My publisher, Maryann Ballantyne, is the creative brain that guides us. Working with these wonderful women is a complete joy. I love bouncing ideas, sharing knowledge and in Sue and Aunty Fay’s case, helping them navigate publishing. It’s a real privilege.

You Matter is Sue’s first book.  As I mentioned, it started as a conversation. Sue and I were discussing how more young people seemed to be experiencing anxiety and what we’d noticed and where and how it could be tackled. Next thing you know we’re drafting a manuscript. While it’s Sue’s first book, I know she will do more. She’d actually studied children’s writing many years ago…which I didn’t know until we started working on You Matter.

Wild Dog Books publisher, Maryann Ballantyne immediately supported our idea and asked who we thought would illustrate it…we both chose Prue. Prue’s illustrations are so fresh, expressive, and uplifting. She has taken You Matter to a whole other level.

Prue has been an illustrator and artist for years. She understood exactly what the manuscript needed. Prue’s work has been shortlisted and won many awards.

An article in GT Magazine mentioned that the original manuscript for this book was 30,000 words long! The final product, it says, it about a third of that length. How did you go about trimming and refining your focus for the book, and how did this process help crystalise what was most important to include?

I truly believe it is in the editing that a story shines. Which is why it isn’t unusual for me to overwrite a project. In fact, every book I have written has been about double the length of its final draft. Sometimes more. When I started writing, I was what is known amongst writers a ‘brick layer’. Brick layers write a line, edit it, write a new line, edit that and the line above it. They then write another line and edit again. Get the idea? This works for some people, but for me, it stifled my creativity and killed my joy for writing. I suspect for me this approach was born of lack of experience and confidence. These days while I write the mantra ‘just write it, fix it later’ circles in my head. And that is exactly what I do. Pour it all out onto the page, and once I’m done, I take the red pen to it.

I encourage Sue to also get it out and fix it later. We’d meet, plan, work independently, meet again, edit and so on until we had that first draft. I think we included every single thing we’d ever learnt and spent way too many words explaining each topic. Together we read and reread the manuscript, chopping and refining. Then once we had done all we could, Maryann suggested ways we could again tighten the writing. Finally, once Prue had finished her illustrations, we pared back again. Less really is more!

During the editing, we were both a little worried we might edit the softness from our book, but Prue’s art and Maryann’s keen eye ensured we didn’t.

Was You Matter written in response to COVID and the impact it’s had on children, or was it already in the works before the pandemic began? Why do you think now is the perfect time for this book to be released?

We started writing You Matter in 2019, so it’s good luck more than good planning that resulted its release at such a perfect time. As I said earlier, a conversation in mid-2019, pre pandemic days, sparked You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend.  Sue was seeing more and more young children in her practise and in her work at kindergartens with high levels of anxiety. I was also seeing an increase in not only children I worked with, but children in my life. That encouraged us to work on something to support children. As time went on, COVID only served to sharpen our resolve about creating a useful, hopeful book. The pandemic really didn’t influence the book at all, but certainly has increased the importance and timeliness of its release.

We’re grateful You Matter is available as the world faces such enormous change and upheaval. Pandemics, bushfires, floods, warfare and so many other world events make for stressful times.  No wonder university researchers are finding alarming rates of anxiety and mental health issues in children. You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend is about looking after yourself, understanding how you are feeling, and being gentle with yourself. Something all of us, not just children, need.