Interview with Colleen Doyle Bryant, author of “Be Proud”

Your Talking with Trees children’s books teach lessons on honesty, respect and other good character traits. Why do you write stories with a lesson?

It all started from a bit of desperation. I was raising four kids under the age of 10 during the time when parenting articles were all about protecting self-esteem. Experts, at the time, recommended children should be taught to behave by offering rewards and other incentives. I tried it… and it was awful. My kids were just learning to be manipulative and self-centered, focusing on the reward instead of the impact their choices had. I wanted them to make honest, caring, and respectful choices because it felt right on the inside—not because they were getting a reward on the outside. So I started finding other ways of explaining ideas about honesty, conscience, and responsibility that focused more on savoring the true reward of making good choices—the self-respect that comes from making choices you are proud of. Through trial and error, I found ways of talking the kids through character building moments in ways they really connected to. When I saw their friends struggle with the same issues, I figured maybe other parents would be interested in stories that teach kids how to make good choices for the right reasons.

So you didn’t plan on becoming a writer?

I didn’t envision becoming an author; but I wrote and designed marketing communications professionally for years, so I knew how to write and how to create a publication. Once I had the idea for the stories, I looked into what it would take to publish them. Thanks to today’s publishing environment, I was able to hire an illustrator, layout the books, and publish them.

How did “talking trees” come in to it?

Trees have been around for generations. They were here when our grandparents grew up, and they’ll be here long after our kids grow up. I thought, “If they could talk, imagine the wisdom trees would have.” So in my mind, the talking trees became wise elders who could convey life lessons in a kind but direct way.

Why does each story include a flashback to when the child’s parent or grandparent faced a difficult situation?

Growing through challenges can feel painful, but chidlren need to feel the pang of conscience that tells them whether something is right or wrong. The flashbacks soften the pain by showing kids that they aren’t alone in making mistakes. The trees, having observed generations, were a great way to show children that people they now look up to (their parents and grandparents) struggled with character building challenges as well. The flashbacks teach children that both the pain and the mistake are temporary—that going through challenges is a natural part of growing into someone they can be proud of.

Where do you get ideas for your stories?

Raising four kids can be a bit wild, but on the upside, they are a never-ending supply of good material. Every day, something new happens. Maybe someone is roasting marshmallows over my scented candle (time for a chat about responsibility and “What if?”), or maybe today someone’s not owning up to turning his sister’s favorite stuffed animal into the dog’s favorite chew toy (time for a chat on honesty and respect). Our stories ring true for our readers because they are based on real-life situations. Of course my kids sometimes get upset and ask, “You’re not going to put this in one of your books, are you?” Not to worry—each story is a blend of events from my childhood, the lives of my children, and the challenges I see other kids facing.

Are the books for parents or teachers?

Both. The books are heartwarming and a little funny, so they make great stories to read with children for fun or to gently teach a lesson about honesty, conscience, respect, responsibility, empathy, and caring. We also offer tons of free posters, worksheets, lesson plans, coloring pages and more character education printables on the Talking with Trees website (http://TalkingTreeBooks.com).

How many books are in the series?

There are currently three books: Be Proud, Book 1, teaches kids about honesty and conscience; Be Bigger, Book 2, teaches about treating others with respect and persevering through life challenges; and What if?, Book 3, teaches kids to think before they act or speak so they will be more respectful and responsible.

 

How did you team up with your illustrator?

The illustrations in the Talking with Trees series are really important because the stories teach kids how to listen to the cues their body gives them about whether choices are right or wrong. Readers need to directly empathize with the kids in the story as they process ideas about good character. Manuela Soriani, the illustrator for the Talking with Trees books, did an amazing job bringing the trees and the children to life. I was writing in the US while she was working in Italy, and we found each other over the Internet. When I explained the books, she instantly sketched a kind, grandmotherly oak tree and I knew ours would be a great partnership. I sent her the manuscript with some direction about the dynamics between the characters and lessons I was trying to convey for each spread and she turned them into brilliantly emotional illustrations. I was so thankful to work with Manuela for her collaboration and artistry. She helped turn words on paper into captivating illustrations.

Are more books planned in the series?

I have lots more ideas and have received some requests from readers based on the life lessons they struggle to teach children, so check out the Talking with Trees website (http://TalkingTreeBooks.com) or follow me on Twitter (@momstoryteller) for the latest releases in books and free printables.