Family inspires children's books from two new local authors

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Important lessons, colourful imagery, simple language: children’s books impart a lot to young readers through a relatively small amount of content.

Two Edmonton authors have stepped up to the challenge of writing for a young audience, publishing their first children’s books at the end of 2020.

Darrel Gregory was halfway through the publishing process with his first book when inspiration struck for a second. A comment from his granddaughter led to a teaching moment he could share with readers.

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“One of the things I’m interested in is mindfulness, and why do our brains say the things they do and impose these limiting beliefs on us,” says Gregory. “I heard my granddaughter say, ‘I’m not that good at it.’ Within an hour I had a first draft. I was interested in this idea of, at what age do kids start hearing these negative messages from their brain?”

I’m Not Very Good At It

That conversation would turn into I’m Not Very Good At It, Gregory’s second book published this year. The young protagonist learns about self-confidence and positivity, and how the effort is more important than the outcome. It took him about an hour to get the outline down, a much faster process than his first book, Genny Faces the Green Knight.

He started that book almost two years ago. It’s a story about a young girl with a powerful imagination who learns about the importance of confidence and believing in yourself. Gregory says the message mirrors his own decision to become an author of children’s books.

“I remember one morning, about two years ago, waking up and realizing something is out of whack here with what I am doing and what I feel I should be doing,” says Gregory.

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He had tried publishing books in the past while working as a director with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, but couldn’t break into the industry. His two granddaughters provided the inspiration to give it another shot, this time writing books for and about them.

While I’m Not Very Good At It takes a traditional minimalist approach for a much younger audience, Genny Faces the Green Knight was written with a Grade 4 to 6 audience in mind.

The book is longer, with more text per page. Illustrations still play a major part, but there’s a lot more reading for those transitioning from children’s books to novels.

Gregory said he re-wrote the book 20 times, trying to fit in exactly the right words while also creating opportunities for vibrant and interesting illustrations. Edit after edit, he was cutting words and trying to do more with less.

His first two books were published in late 2020 and Gregory is now working through ideas for three more books, including more about his first protagonist, Genny. With a couple titles now in print, what lessons is he applying while working on new books?

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“Taking joy in the doing, in the trying. It’s hard sometimes because sometimes you don’t get a lot of feedback,” he says. “It’s just a matter of being comfortable with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. That sort of mirrors what I’m trying to write about.”

Izzy Is Me

Vincent dela Luna plays with a similar theme in his first book for children, Izzy is Me, where he talks about confidence and understanding.

Published at the end of 2020, it’s a story about a girl with autism who has difficulty expressing herself. People around her think she’s acting out, but she doesn’t know how to get across what she wants.

Dela Luna wrote the book in hopes of helping children, as well as adults and teachers, understand what individuals with autism go through, to have empathy with their situation instead of teasing or bullying people they don’t understand.

In university, dela Luna had dreams of becoming an author but got the chance to get people’s attention through video; he would eventually work in film and television production in Vancouver for 15 years. He left the industry to take care of his children full time, moving to Hawaii in 2015 before settling in Edmonton two years ago.

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He has two children with autism. While his son speaks at a whisper, dela Luna’s daughter is non-verbal.

Edmonton author Vincent dela Luna with his daughter, Izzy.
Edmonton author Vincent dela Luna with his daughter, Izzy. Photo by Supplied /Postmedia

But it was meeting Temple Grandin, a scientist, advocate and autistic woman, that really inspired dela Luna to move forward with his project. Hearing her talk about what it’s like to live with autism made him realize he could pass along that same understanding to others.

“It just clicked,” says dela Luna. “If you taught these kids in school that white people and black people were the same, then they wouldn’t have another thought when they got older. If you taught them that it’s ok to be disabled, it’s not a stigma.”

Written in rhyme

Izzy is Me is not only a story about a girl with autism, it’s also a book for a girl with autism. Dela Luna’s daughter loves music and can repeat back lyrics to some of her favourite songs; he knew he would have to write his book in rhyme.

“If I wrote any other book, she wouldn’t read it,” says dela Luna. “When I read it to her, I can read it to her like a song. When I die, I want her to see something and know that daddy loved me.”

Izzy is Me was born, a story about acceptance and understanding written for a daughter to show that she is loved.

Family proved to be the inspiration for both new authors, looking to address big issues with a young audience in a way they can understand and keep their attention.

The books, and more info, can be found through the authors’ personal websites, and Gregory’s titles are for sale locally at Audreys Books, and all three publications are also available at Amazon, Chapters and Apple iBooks.

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