Book seeks to assist youth with the language to express their emotions
In lieu of hello, the Masai – a mighty tribe of African warriors – are said to have greeted each with “Kasserian ingera.”
The saying translates to “how are the children?” – an exchange that reflected the value that their community placed on the well-being of its future generation.
In her literary debut, Linda Mitchell is hoping to encourage the children to speak for themselves – and motivate entire families to engage in the conversation. The book combines Linda’s work as an educator and literacy advocate with the talents of her husband, Odell Mitchell Jr., an award-winning photojournalist.
The November release of How Are You Today? A Celebration of Children’s Emotions from the longtime O’Fallon, Illinois, residents came during unprecedented emotional obstacles faced by young people due to the pandemic.
“It feels timely and relevant right now. Who knew that this year kids would be going through so much,” Linda Mitchell said.
“I know they are resilient, but boy. I’m excited to be able to put this out into the universe for these kids and families to talk about their emotions. They really need to talk about things as much as the adults do. I’m glad that I stepped out on faith and put this book out there.”
The book is available for sale on Amazon.com and will soon be stocked at Eye See Me Books in University City.
While many children’s books that deal with emotions highlight one or two, ‘How Are You Today?,’ gives readers a glimpse of feelings from “athletic” to “zany.”
With Linda’s background as a teacher – and founder of the Metro East Literacy Project – she integrated vocabulary into the book. She uses words like “boisterous” and “tense.”
“You don’t really have kids saying, ‘I feel tense,’” Linda said.
“When they see the picture of the girl getting her hair combed, they understand. I want that interactive question to start a conversation. You know, like, ‘I’m feeling tense. What makes you feel tense?’”
Listening to Linda talk about her journey as a first-time author is as inspiring as the book she and Odell combined talents to create.
Ten years ago, she completed the first version. Photos that Odell had taken of their children, Odell “Mickey” Mitchell III and Aviva Jaye, served as illustrations for the book.
“The most important pictures I’ve done in my life have been of my children,” said Odell, who was a longtime photojournalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The original version of the book was well received. They even held an exhibit at The Sheldon Concert Hall in celebration of its completion.
But Linda always wanted to revise, redesign and re-release the book.
She toyed with the idea 10 years later. Then after seeing “a parade of St. Louis Black authors,” particularly Julius B. Anthony and the Believe Project, she decided that now was the time.
“My own limiting beliefs told me that I had to put it on the back burner, and I couldn’t do it. But this year there was just a hunger in me to get this book done,” Linda said.
“I realized I don’t have time to wait until all the pieces are perfectly laid out, and I’ve got all the money in my bank account and I have all the know-how. I didn’t have any of that. The book has been a great leap of faith.”
For the updated version, the family photos were blended with multicultural stock images.
“Emotions are universal,” Linda said. “I want any kid to be able to pick up this book and relate with ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I feel nervous’ or ‘I feel mischievous.’ I wanted it to be received by children of all cultures.”
Odell said he was intentional about making sure that his wife gets the spotlight for the book, but he spoke briefly of the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on children.
“I think about our granddaughter having to stay home in Chicago and not being able to see her friends,” Odell said.
“But I really think of some of the kids in the less fortunate neighborhoods. Suppose you don’t have access to the internet or a parent who can’t stay home with you. You are not seeing your friends or getting out of the house.”
He hopes Linda’s words and his pictures will help them to express those feelings to their parents and to other friends.
“Hopefully they will get the book and say, ‘Mom, this is how I’m feeling,” Odell said. “And, ‘Look at this picture – this is how I feel.’”
Linda is looking forward to seeing her leap of faith ascend to an act of service to society.
“2020 was a test of our emotional health,” She said. “it is especially critical to ask, ‘How are the kids doing?’ and ‘How is the family doing?’ We won’t know until we talk about it – and that is how help begins.
She believes the book is going to help people have some conversations that need to happen.
“Conversations can bring healing,” Linda said. “And hopefully this book is a tool for healing.”
For more information on How Are You Today? A Celebration of Children’s Emotions, visit lindamitchellbooks.com