Julia Barnes - Differences Bring Beauty to This World
Julia grew up on Long Island, New York. Her mother is Swedish and her father is American. Julia is lucky to be able to spend summers with her Swedish family in Sweden. As a child, she always loved reading and writing stories. After receiving a Master’s in Elementary Education and a Bachelor’s in Psychology, Julia set forth to educate young children. She has a strong passion for teaching mindfulness and meditation and is a certified Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher. After teaching for many years, and working with young children, Julia saw the impact low self-esteem has on children. This inspired her to write stories that send a positive message to all children. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Ugly Puppy.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Ugly Puppy is about.
The Ugly Puppy is about a sweet confident and spunky puppy named Bamboo. Bamboo is different from all of the puppies in her litter as well as the other farm animals around her. She was born with a rainbow-colored nose. On her journey to find a kind friend who accepts her for her differences, she confronts many obstacles, until she meets a special character who reminds her that her differences are her greatest beauty.
This story takes on an empowering spin of the classic fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling” and offers hope and reassurance to children who struggle with feeling they don’t fit in.
What inspired you to write an ugly duckling retelling featuring a puppy?
I wanted to create a story that took on an empowering, confident, and upbeat angle rather than a victimized and saddened standpoint. In the Ugly Duckling the duckling felt discouraged and poorly about herself due to the animals shunning her for being different.
My main character, Bamboo portrays a self-assured and confident puppy even when the other animals are cruel to her. Self-acceptance is the theme of this book. My hope is that children reading this tale will celebrate their diversity and differences. Maybe even view their differences as beautiful just like an arch of a rainbow.
Who inspired your main character?
My dog named Blue is a spitting image of the main character Bamboo in the book. Blue is spunky, very playful and very confident in herself, just like Bamboo. Both Bamboo and Blue have a quirky persona. I wanted to draw on this when I developed my character Bamboo.
Why did I use rainbows and dandelion clocks?
Rainbows represent a sign of hope like the beauty after the storm. They also represent inclusivity and diversity and an all-embracing image of love and friendship. Dandelion clocks have a strong association with hope, optimism, and wishes. I wanted children reading this book to possibly connect with some of these hidden messages within the book.
Tell us more about the ugly puppy. What makes her so special?
Bamboo has a playful, joyous, and undisturbed personality that will make readers smile from ear to ear. You can’t help but feel empowered and hopeful when you see her go about her journey being confident and self-assured as the other animals try to bully and exclude her. Plus she has a rainbow-colored nose that has magical powers (you have to read to see), how special is that!
Self-Acceptance is a big theme in this story. Why did you find it important to write about?
After working with children for many years, I see a common thread in how many children feel about themselves. Many children and adults reject the personality traits and parts of themselves they don’t like and try to conceal their differences. Conformity may make these individuals feel isolated and as if they're not being true to themselves. Due to this, children may feel detached and lonely and may even feel like they don’t align with who they truly are. I feel self-acceptance and self-celebration is key. We should celebrate differences and diversity. If we were all the same this world would be a boring place! I also feel like we should talk about our differences and diversity more as a society.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Writing is my passion! I write poetry every day. However, I also love meditation and mindfulness and am a certified mindfulness and meditation teacher. I am always trying to expand my knowledge of mental health. I love to learn new meditation techniques and tips on how to bring mindfulness into everyday life. I am actually in charge of a mindfulness club for the third graders at the school I work at!
Please tell us more about the illustrations and how they came to be.
I searched and searched for a talented illustrator to go along with my vision of how I wanted my book to flow and my character to be displayed. I vetted over 30 illustrators until I stumbled upon Eliza Fortney's profile. I absolutely loved her whimsical, cutesy and bright-colored illustrations. After sending Eliza a thoroughly detailed illustrator brief and proposal she kindly accepted my offer. Following character designs, storyboards, and the layout we built some momentum and the drawings came to life and matched the text perfectly. We worked with each other through email and video calls for the whole year of 2022 to make this vision a reality. I’m so pleased with how the illustrations came out!
What did you have the most fun with when writing this story?
My absolute favorite part was seeing the characters come alive with the illustrations. I also enjoyed the writing process. Anyone who says writing a children's book is easy doesn't know all the details you need to remember from academic vocabulary, to work count, to story elements, etc. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the ENTIRE process. Even the most challenging moments ( and there were plenty of those) were enjoyable and I know they made me a stronger writer and book creator.
Most challenging part?
The most challenging part was self-publishing for the first time and relying only on myself. I bought a book on how to self-publish a children’s book by Eevi Jones and it was such a tremendous help with so much helpful information. Nonetheless, I had to rely on myself and my research abilities, creativity, problem-solving skills and dedication to pull this off.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to write?
I would say the most challenging character was Swan. I wanted Swan to be an ode to the original Swan in the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen but I wanted her to have her own personality in my book. She reminds me of the positive and optimistic wise part of all of our brains that reminds us of our true inner beauty.
You have a Master's in Elementary Education and a Bachelor's in Psychology. How has this influenced your writing?
After going to college, I started working with children in schools and had the opportunity to teach the writing process. I saw their creative little minds light up when they put pencil to paper. Along with my personal love of creative writing, I also found comfort, flow and creativity blossoming within me whenever I start a new sentence.
Why is healthy self-esteem so important in children?
Healthy self-esteem is imperative for young children so they can grow, blossom and believe in themselves. In a world where people can be cruel, it is so important to have your own personal solid internal foundation. A healthy self-concept is so important.
When starting on a new book, what are some of the processes you go through?
I start by first thinking of my target audience and then brainstorming a concept or theme for my book that also teaches values and morals. I then start to draft my plot and begin character development. After a million drafts the perfect story is formed! I also like to bring in some humor as well. Because who doesn't love to see children laugh.
Who did you dedicate your book to?
I dedicated my book to my brother who always reminded me that being different is indeed beautiful!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can find me on Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/julia_barnes_author/
My website: https://www.lavenderwillowpublishing.com/
The Fussy Librarian: https://www.thefussylibrarian.com/free-and-bargain-ebooks/