Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What Are You Afraid of?

There are very few genres’ I haven’t, at least tiptoed around, in my writing explorations. I’ve slashed my way through the thick jungles of Vietnam. I’ve scanned the Western horizon for signs of Indian troubles. I’ve ran from shapeshifters through the ruins of Angkor Wat.

But to cozy up to an insecure, skinny hippo in the Pangani River under the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro was an entirely new experience for me. Undaunted by the challenge of talking to ‘little people’ verses my more mature crowd of readers, I stumbled ahead.

Thus was created my first children’s book: 'Waleed, the Skinny Hippo' written in English and Swahili. It’s the story of a skinny hippo who learns from a very wise fish that’s OK to be different. In fact, being different is something to embrace and welcome he is told. I’m delighted to report that the feedback on this first version of ‘Waleed, the Skinny Hippo’ has been fantastic. People love the bright colored pages, the cute and cuddly Waleed, and the moral tale of accepting oneself as you are.

As proud as I am of this first version, I did want to expand its reach as much as I could. Thus Vida and I decided to create two new versions of the first Waleed. So now I’m happy to report that besides being translated into Swahili, Waleed is now also available in both Spanish and Hmong.

Marketing, usually the bane of most writers, has always been a challenge for me. I am trying to get the story of Waleed out to various ethnic audiences in the Twin Cities. It’s been a slow and laborious process.

Despite the slow steps taken in marketing Waleed, it’s not too soon to think about a second book in the ‘Waleed’ children’s book series. I’ve decided that this next book will discuss the ‘concept of fear’ and how to handle it.

The idea of being afraid came from clichés thrown at me and other kids growing up. Unfortunately it was from a generation that thought tough love meant little affection and manning up to one’s fears. I’ve always thought that denying one’s fears or trying to ignore them was the wrong approach.

Based on that wrong approach and trying to correct it, I wanted to write a moral tale about facing one’s fears but not necessarily conquering them. I honestly don’t know if that is possible, especially for a little kid. The story, as it’s been roughed out thus far, is pretty straightforward.

Waleed is told about a magical river on the other side of the jungle. He is encouraged to go there and play with other hippos. But to get there Waleed must pass through this deep, dark, and perceived dangerous jungle. All of his friends leave him and enter the jungle. Waleed is all alone. He doesn’t know what to do. Finally he gathers up his courage and he too enters the dark jungle.

There are all kinds of scary sights and sounds in the jungle. Just about the time that Waleed decides to turn around and run away, he meets a wise elephant who talks to him about facing his fears and dealing with them.

I felt it was important to steer away from the clichés and pat phrases I had been bombarded with when I was growing up. While that older generation might have felt they were only trying to help, I think a lot of that advice fell far short of being helpful. The older generational ideas of masculinity and bravado proved to be obstacles to truly dealing with one's fears.

Waleed learns that fear can be managed and might not go away entirely. He learns that it is perfectly OK to be fearful of sights and sounds and things that might not bother other hippos. Like dealing with his weight, Waleed learns that he is unique as a little skinny hippo and he must handle his fear as he feels best suits him.

For human and hippo alike, that’s probably pretty good advice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to it

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