Our Picture Book is Really a Social Experiment Aimed at Grownups
Illustration from picture book, Myra and the Drawing Drama, art by Mario Menjivar
When I wrote the story of Myra, a little girl with dreams of winning the school art contest, it was clear that the message was from my shy inner child challenging grownups, albeit with a wink and a smile.
Myra is who I wasn't as a second-grader: confident, optimistic and unwavering. She rebounds quickly in the face of challenge and is blessed with the ability to be completely unfazed by grownups' reactions.
In reality, like most kids, we tend to follow the lead and guidance of grownups around us. But as we grow up, we realize that adults, even with the best intentions, are still figuring life out just as much as kids. They happen to have a head start, but don't always have it any more together than kids do.
Don't get me wrong, as a full-fledged member of the grown folk's community, I'm not looking to trash adults. But let's face it; between generational baggage and social programming, we're often disconnected from what used to make us see the world as full of wonder, magic, or fun. This disconnect makes it easy to forget how to think like you did as a kid, or to understand the kids in your life.
Then there's the misconception that if something was tackled a certain way and worked for you as a kid, then surely it should be handled the same way with any other kid. People are different, regardless of age. What worked for you may not be the best way to get through to another person.
Which brings me back to the story of Myra. It was based on something that did happen to me. I made a drawing that I thought was pretty cool. I tried my best to capture what I had in my 7-year-old head and was satisfied enough to move on. Then the grownups saw it, and all hell broke loose.
I was sent to a counselor and the vice principal. My mom was called in. Despite having my best interests at heart, no one seemed to be putting themselves in my shoes, much less recalling what it was like to just doodle whatever was on your mind and move on. Like a kid.
I admit, the whole thing was funny, hence the book. But the discomfort that adults felt back then when seeing my drawing seems even more palpable today, when I see some adults react to that moment in the book, when Myra shows off her drawing.
Whenever I'm invited to do a reading for kids, they admire Myra's confidence and determination. Each time, a couple of the grownups in the room shift in their seats and make a face like they've just tried a spoonful of something they're not sure about. And yes, 7-year-old me and grown up me love it.
The truth is, there were always two goals in making our picture book. The obvious one is to entertain and inspire kids with a self-confident character. The other, to recreate that moment when adults are so caught up adulting that they don't pause to consider things from a kid's perspective, and to see if their inner child can prevail.
One of the book's illustrations, seen above, shows Myra in the school psychologist's office, interpreting inkblot flash cards. But the book itself is Myra's, and any young reader's, chance to flip the script on the grownups. Her drawing IS THE INKBLOT for the adult to read, and grapple with.
As we began promoting the book, I realized how important it is that we don't downplay this part. Why? Because no one makes it to becoming an adult without being a kid first. The kid years aren't called the formative years for nothing.
Checking in with your kid self is the best way to clear the mental and emotional buildup of adulthood. And it's a great way to connect and understand kids without cynicism.
So, if you ever come across Myra and the Drawing Drama, and you happen to be a former kid, take a peek and bring that kid inside with you.
Myra and the Drawing Drama will be released April 2023