Be Yourself, with Silliness and Self-love by Aidan Cassie
I love myself, just as I am.
Well, okay, maybe not everything about myself…
I mean, I wish I weren’t such a talented procrastinator (yup, just got sidetracked “researching” TED talks on procrastination), I’m not too fond being diabetic (I’m slightly “bionic,” but not in the cool, Six Million Dollar Man kinda way), and I really don’t take enough risks anymore (when did I start preferring milky tea to rock climbing?).
When feeling “flawed,” self-acceptance can be tough. Especially for kids. For a child, loving yourself exactly as you are may even seem at odds with their main work of growing and changing. But we can embrace a growth-mindset, and still love our imperfect selves. Self-love is the foundation that gives us the confidence to try, fail, learn and improve.
I see the thread of self-love weaving through my first three books. And I have to think it is no coincidence. Clearly each story has something new to teach me about it.
Asked about the inspiration for Sterling, Best Dog Ever, I’ve often pointed to my childhood wiener dog. She didn’t seem to identify as a dog at all, and lay down if you put a leash on her. But that was only where the story itself began. Parenting a praise-seeking, preschool-sized perfectionist no-doubt sparked the sentiment behind it. Sterling is a misguided dachshund so ridiculously willing to please that he almost loses his sense of self. While kids are most likely to connect to Sterling for his silly antics at the start, they’ll find at the story’s heart an insecure little oddball who’s loved, unconditionally, just as he is.
In Little Juniper Makes It Big (2019), a young raccoon invents oodles of clever contraptions to try to overcome her smallness problems. Instead of changing her height, or her home, she finds a joyous change in perspective when she meets an even smaller friend.
Juniper fails, humorously and repeatedly, but she persists and believes in herself from the start. She’s not trying to please others as Sterling does; she stumbles over accepting herself despite her physical limitations.
Juniper’s story was rooted in my childhood indignation that adults really didn’t design the world with kids in mind. It was a problem I outgrew, but I do continue to feel a similar frustration with my body’s inabilities. Embracing the good and bad of diabetes is a pretty freeing attitude; I had no idea when I started that I was creating an inspirational little raccoon that would show me something about my own need for better self-acceptance.
I can’t say too much about my third book just yet, as it’s not out until 2020, but rest assured the roly-poly main character has an unusual friend, and some grand challenges. Her character was inspired by my own experience of living in France for a year, though I never really learned the language. I had to rediscover my own growth-mindset there, and though it felt like an impossible task, “I can’t do it” is only one word short of “I can’t do it yet.” It’s a powerful approach that can nurture self-love, and let you shine.
I suppose I make books about the things I struggle with, not the things I know about.
I have many varied tales in the works, and all very different, but I’m sure I’ll keep working with themes of insecurity and growth nestled in stories of humor and self-love. And not just for me, but for that preschooler I once had who’s going to be a teen this year. She’s entering a stressful world of social media pressure, narrow ideas of beauty, and cyber-popularity angst.
I want her and her peers to know their differences aren’t flaws. I want their hearts full of stories where delightfully weird protagonists can celebrate their unique greatness. Characters that risk failing. That see their beauty. That accept themselves.
Though supporting a teen may feel wildly far away while reading to our little ones today, I’m certain now is exactly the right time to make sure they know they are amazing, just as they are.
Aidan Cassie is the picture book author and illustrator of Sterling, Best Dog Ever. She attended the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Edinburgh College of Art, where she studied animation and earned a Media Arts degree. She lives on a small artist-covered island in the Salish Sea of British Columbia.