This month's Picture Book Therapy Thursday feature is Howard Pearlstein and his book "Sally Ann McFidgetbottom".
Howard Pearlstein is the author of 10 picture books that have been translated into five languages and an advertising copywriter who has worked on some of the world’s most popular brands, including Toyota, Verizon and Mitsubishi. A California native, Howard now lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Debi. Howard has three daughters, Amanda, Jacquie and Emily, who live across the country, and one dog, Maeby, who still lives at home.
What inspired you to write Sally Ann "McFidgetbottom"?
My wife teaches kindergarten and always comes home with the best stories. The ones that entertain me the most are the stories about the kids who can’t quite help themselves from misbehaving. They’re not trying to misbehave, but sometimes they have to dance down the hall instead of walking in a straight line or jump up at rest time to tell my wife about something that happened the day before. I thought that if these stories entertain me, maybe a picture book about a girl who can’t help herself from misbehaving would entertain others.
What was the process like from original idea to publication?
Surprisingly, the process from original idea to publication was incredibly smooth. I started writing the manuscript in February of 2020 and had a contract from Clavis Publishing by June. After completing the manuscript, I first queried agents. But, after receiving nothing but form rejections or crickets from them, I queried publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. The manuscript must have hit Clavis’ inbox
at the exact right time for them to have responded so quickly.
Do you have a passage of the book or illustration that is your favorite?
To me, this line sums up not just my inspiration for the story, but also Sally Ann’s overall state of being: “I tried,” she says, “I really did, not to be the squirmy kid.
But my body prefers motion. Sorry for the big commotion.” She feels bad about causing so much chaos in the classroom, but, honestly, could not help herself.
You made an interesting choice to separate the "fidgets" from Sally Ann. What was your goal here?
I’ve been meditating for about five years, and one of the key points I’ve learned is that our thoughts are just thoughts, and our feelings are just feelings. Neither one of those are who we are. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but I wanted to find a way to get this idea across to children. “Fidgets” became a vehicle for demonstrating to children that thoughts aren’t who they are and that they don’t define them. My hope is that children like Sally Ann will recognize that certain thoughts and actions – ones that don’t align with the expectations of others – don’t make them “bad.” “Fidgets” may be a part of them,
but they are not who the children are. In addition, by introducing the principal who also has Fidgets, I wanted to show children that they’re not alone. Others sometimes can’t help themselves from acting a certain way – even grownups.
How do you think teachers, counselors, or parents could use Sally Ann McFidgetbottom to have deeper conversations with kids?
I would love to see Sally Ann McFidgetbottom used as a practical tool by teachers, counselors and parents. In a classroom setting, for example, teachers could settle down an excited class by having students follow the simple breathing exercise…“take three deep breaths and three deep sighs.” Teachers could also incorporate the idea of Fidgets as a gentle way to reel in students who may have lost their focus on a particular task. At bedtime, parents could lead students in a guided meditation (without calling it that), by describing the process of the Fidgets going to be.
Why do kids need "Sally Ann McFidgetbottom" on their bookshelves?
Anytime kids want a fun story, they can count on Sally Ann McFidgetbottom to deliver plenty of laughs. Classroom chaos. An escaped rat. Food flying. This book includes a lot of wacky, physical humor to entertain children. As out of the control as the story gets, it finally settles down to a quiet peaceful ending – just like Sally Ann. For kids who sometimes feel like Sally Ann, Sally Ann McFidgetbottom would make the perfect addition to their bookshelves.
Where can we find you to keep up with your work?
Thank you Howard for taking the time to talk with me about Sally Ann! This book is an excellent addition to any bookshelf, and I can definitely see many kindergarten teachers (and older teachers!) using it to help kids grasp these concepts of "fidgets" as well as why sometimes it feels just SO hard to behave!