Q: First tell us something about yourself?
I am a lifelong resident of Minnesota, where I live with my supportive family consisting of my husband and two children. I am entering my 30th year as a primary elementary teacher in my community, where my favorite skills to teach my students are to love learning to read and to believe in themselves. I am a vocal advocate for children’s mental health, so I wrote a children’s book named IMAGINE: An Inspirational Story of Calming Strategies for Children in order to help give them mindfulness coping tools. In conjunction, I also founded a non-profit organization, called Handprint On My Heart, that offers resources to families who have children suffering from anxieties to help them find peace.
Q: How and when did your journey start as a writer?
My earliest memory of my writing journey started when my 2nd-grade teacher told me that my first handmade book was special and encouraged me to be a writer someday. This never left my mind throughout my life, as I cultivated my own love of reading as many creative children’s books as I could get my hands on. However, I chose to stick to only journaling for myself as I worked as an educator and gladly raised our kids. It wasn’t until I witnessed one of my past kindergarten students joyfully going for his own dreams that I realized I should not wait anymore and move forward with my writing goal to write a children’s book!
Q: When did you write your first story? Is it published or not?
I started writing my first story in the summer of 2018. The first draft only took me about a month to complete because I was so passionate about the content for my students and all of the children that I knew who had growing anxieties in a very uncertain world. I waited to bring it to a publisher for about ten more months because I was editing it over and over and I was trying to be the illustrator myself. I am so glad that I made the decision to collaborate with someone else to illustrate IMAGINE because C.A. Nobens did an incredible job of bringing my ideas and characters to life! We published the book with the first local publisher that I wanted to work with, Beaver’s Pond Press of St. Paul, MN in June 2020.
Q: Tell us something more about your books?
This is my first experience as a published children’s book author. It was exciting to be chosen as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards program in the summer of 2021! What an honor! I was also thrilled to work with the Trifecta Dance Collective Youth Company in Chicago, who used IMAGINE as the basis of a meaningful dance film to connect social/emotional expression with an arts platform for all ages. Reading my story to children is always special to me, but I was happy to be asked to read to a larger audience through the YouTube show called “Read with Carylee” too, as well as to my home school population of Gideon Pond Elementary! You can find these entertaining links on my non-profit website @ HandprintOnMyHeart.org!
Q: Why do you choose kids as your reader ? is there any specific reason?
I happily spend most of my days with children as a primary teacher, a mom and an aunt. All of those children have a handprint on my heart, so I have a deep passion to help them access their education and their potential strengths and talents. I didn’t even have to think about it. Young children were my natural target audience because I have been witnessing them struggling with more stress and trauma in the past few years. I felt that I needed to help them gain confidence and help them have calming tools available to them. I believe it is my purpose in life to be a consistent and strong support for each child who enters my life to assist them to reach their goals and know they matter. We all just need to know we are loved!
Q: How did these stories and characters come to your mind?
Remember that past kindergarten student that I mentioned had inspired me through his own passion to reach for his dream? Because he made such a difference in my life by simply being true to his own compassionate life, I decided he would be the perfect the main character within the IMAGINE story. Both the real Jon and the character Jon sincerely want to help every peer around them while also having true theatrical experiences to help calm their minds with their imagination and bodies with physical stretches or movements. All of the other characters are also caring and meaningful people to me, as they are all based on family members and other past students! I want all of them, including every child that I can reach, to have the best tools to help them self-regulate and strengthen their own mental health for life.
Q: Do you want to leave any message for your readers?
Believe in yourself while being YOU! Just because your ideas may be different than those around you does not mean you should give up on what makes you happy. Your ideas are what make you unique! Our world needs more unique ideas, so you can add more color and interest to the community around you! Continue to persevere and make your dreams come true through hard work that is coupled with your joy! You will contribute so much to the lives of so many with your passions and compassionate actions. I am routing for you!