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One little book, many amazing words

Questions for Joanne Ruelos Diaz


Louise (Armadillo editor) had a wonderful opportunity to ask Joanne Ruelos Diaz (author of The Little Book of Words That Matter) some questions about this inspiring book ~ read on to find out more...

We loved The Little Book of Words That Matter and hope that you have seen the review in the Autumn edition, contributed by one of our review team. We have decided to keep this book at home and try to use it every day, to remind us of these important words. Thank you for thinking of writing it, for young readers everywhere. It is incredibly special. Thank you so much for your kind words! My answers below in blue with **

There are 100 words in this book, which could seem to some as not too many, but what was the bigger challenge: finding the words or deciding how best to describe and define them?

** Deciding which words to include and then figuring out how to define and make them accessible for young kids were equally challenging. Deciding on the words to include was a team effort. My editor, an educational consultant, and I put a lot of thought into it. We spent a couple of months finalizing the list.


While I was writing the book, I did a lot of research to understand the words myself and to help me explain each word in a way that kids would understand. I also thought about scenarios that kids could relate to, so we could show them in the illustrations. Sometimes I would take several days to write two pages.


Finally, I considered what we could do to invite children to use the words themselves. These included things like:

·       Affirmations

·       Ways to connect with others

·       Movements / physical activities / breathing

·       Invitations to observe or notice things in their daily lives


How did you decide on the categories that you have divided the words into and why did you feel this approach, rather than say an alphabetical approach, was the best?

** This is a great question! We decided to group the words into four sections: Feelings Matter, We Matter, Differences Matter, and Changemakers Matter.


The idea of this book is to help children understand (and to help parents and grown-ups explain) some complex words, such as activism, ally, empathy, and equity. To do that, we start with what children already know – themselves! We wanted to start the book with more familiar concepts, such as emotions. We show that we all feel different emotions at times – that’s something we have in common. Then we move on to words that describe our differences, and finally explain words that deal with fairness and what we can do when things aren’t fair. We can be an ally. We can be patient with one another. We can work as a team.


Was it a conscious decision to make the categories inconspicuous? That is how they feel, giving the book a relaxed feel. What are your thoughts on this?

** We actually do have pages at the back of the book addressed to adults! Here’s a little of the guidance we offer parents, teachers, and educators in the back of the book:


There’s no right or wrong way to use this book. You can use these words as a starting point for new conversations with your child, or you can use them to reinforce or clarify ideas in conversations you’re already having. In whatever way you use this book, we hope that your child finds a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.


And yes, you’re right. We did want to offer a relaxed approach. The idea is for kids to feel excited to use these words in their everyday lives.


How did you decide on the associations included with some of the words. For example, the association of anger with thunder and practise with doing something?

**Different examples resonate with different kids. I wanted to offer a range of ways for children to connect to the words and their explanations.


Sometimes I chose imagery, like thunder for anger. Other times, I chose to talk about a more literal experiences children might be familiar with. As you mentioned, the page for “practice” shows ideas like practicing a magic trick, playing the drums, scoring a goal, and doing a cartwheel.


You wrote the content and worked with an illustrator. How did the partnership work for you, particularly as the pictures are annotated?

**This always surprises people, but it’s common for an author and illustrator to never meet or even talk to each other! When I write the book, I include notes and ideas for the illustrator. Then my editor and the art director meet to go over them. The art director then discusses the ideas with the illustrator, Annelies. We all work together as a team – from three different countries!


How do you make sure phrases such as “start paying attention to the sky” sound like suggestions to readers, not instructions, so they become something the reader wants to / would like to do?

**My hope is that the overall tone of the book is inviting and engages kids’ curiosity.


In my experience, kids are eager to answer questions about their observations, thoughts, and opinions. As you mentioned, I write that anger can be loud like thunder and can flash through us quickly like lightning. Later, I encourage kids to “Start paying attention to the sky.” I ask them to simply notice what the sky looks like in the morning and then in the evening. Does the sky change throughout the day?


Hopefully, they’re compelled to find out for themselves.


Do you anticipate children sharing with adults who can guide them through the activities and help with explanations?

**Yes! I would love for kids and their parents, grandparents, or teachers to read this book together and more importantly, to then put the book down and have interesting conversations.


Some of the words are given an explanation with suggestions and ideas for the reader to follow up with. For example (for readers of the Blog) the word Progress has an explanation. Others, for example Gender, are presented with questions for the reader to consider. Did you plan it to be this way to give readers a balanced approach to their understanding of the words?

**Yes! How I presented the meaning of each word depended on the specific word and how familiar children typically already are with the concept.


There are 100 words in the book. Are there any which resonate strongly with you?

**There are many that resonate with me.


We felt strongly that we needed to include words that might seem “negative” but that are very normal and necessary feelings and experiences. I’m so glad that we feature words such as “overwhelmed” “angry” and “failure.” I also like the inclusion of “rest” and “listen.” These are just as important to making the world a better place as concepts like “activism” and “conservation.”


The activities, including mindfulness and yoga, can be built into everyday lives. Are they activities you practice, do you have any advice for readers who would like to try them?

**I love exploring the connection between our minds and our bodies.


In the first section of the book I include a lot about embodiment – or more simply, how emotions and thoughts feel or show up in our bodies. When children – and adults! – feel big feelings, I encourage experimenting with something very simple: Pausing and breathing.

Taking a slow deep breath when I’m feeling excited, anxious, joyful, or disappointed – really helps me feel more capable (another word in the book!) to take the next step.


What do you hope that your readers will take away from this book?

**I hope that readers walk away with a better understanding and appreciation of themselves and a better understanding and appreciation of others. And with that, I hope they’re inspired to make their communities and therefore the world happier and safer for all.


This could be the start of a bigger project, there are (I am sure) more words that could be chosen and advocated in a similar way, more ways to encourage mindfulness. Do you have future projects in these areas in mind?

**Yes! I’m always thinking about ways to encourage mental, physical, and emotional health for children and families.


Thank you very much for taking the time to answer all these questions!

**Thank you for inviting me! I appreciate your thoughtful questions.

Our thanks go to Sophie Griffiths at Magic Cat Publishing for making this interview possible. Copies of The Little Books of Words that Matter can be found in all good bookshops.


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