Madeleine MacRae - A Sweet Story for Every Child Who Has Ever Felt Different
Madeleine MacRae is an author and an entrepreneur and, most importantly, she is a solo mom to her sweet son Noah. Noah was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in early 2022 and is the inspiration for this story. The story reflects Noah's journey from feeling strange and lonely, to appreciating the gifts of being different. As our Author of the Day, she tells us about her book, The Unusual Penguin.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Unusual Penguin is about.
This is a story of self-discovery that follows the journey of a misfit penguin who feels out of place in his Antarctic home. He's terrible at all things the other penguins love and he's so clumsy and strange that he starts to get left out and pushed aside. As self-doubt and sadness creep in, his once joyful and eager spirit seems to be dampened and dimmed. It isn't until he catches a glimpse of an eagle flying overhead that things start to change. In one magnificent moment of realization, he knows who he is and, just as importantly, who he isn't.
This is a celebration of the joy and the freedom that a person can find when they discover who they truly are, embrace all of it and stop trying to live up to external expectations.
As you follow the poetry from page to page, get ready to take flight in this inspirational story that encourages you to embrace who you are and to love and respect your roots no matter where they may have been planted.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I always grew up, feeling different from other people, and, one day, I was chatting with friends, and was discussing all of the different analogies that people use, specifically the ugly duckling. I always felt that the story didn't jive with my experience because I didn't transform from an unattractive creature to a beautiful one. I just grew into myself and when I discovered who I was, it was very liberating. I was chatting about this with my friends when my son was only about three years old and they said that if I felt that way, it was likely he would as well and encouraged me to turn it into a story. Over the five years that it took me to go from an idea to a fully developed, rhyming story, we discovered that he is on the autism spectrum. I went through the journey of him struggling immensely in school so, those elements are woven into this story. It is our combined experience that has produced this lovely book.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I am an incredible public speaker, I can remember song lyrics after only hearing them once or twice, and I have an uncanny knack for making gnarly business issues look simple and easy to solve.
The story captures the pain of being misjudged. Why did you feel this important to write about?
I know how it feels to be someone who doesn't feel like they fit in, and I want children to know that, even when they feel different and strange and unusual, they have the potential to find themselves and find their joy without having to give up their tribe.
Why did you pick a penguin as the object of your story?
The first analogy that I had was feeling like an eagle who grew up among chickens but chickens didn't feel very beloved. It didn't do justice to the incredible people that I grew up with and whom I have to thank for helping shape me into the person I am today. Penguins are incredible creatures in so many different ways. Their desire to huddle close together, to work and play in a community, and to stay close to the ground felt like the perfect juxtaposition to the eagle who wants to spread its wings and fly.
The book is beautifully illustrated. Tell us more about this.
I am a terrible artist and have no skill whatsoever but I love the medium of watercolors so I connected with an illustrator in a Facebook group, and I asked for someone who could draw realistic, but humanized animals (particularly arctic) and was open to doing their work in watercolor. I interviewed a few, and Anna stood out as my top choice and the easiest to work with. We spent quite a bit of time collaborating to find the perfect expressions for each scene, and the result is what you see!!
What did you have the most fun with when writing this story?
I think my favorite moment in writing the story was when I thought they had successfully completed my first draft. I proudly read it to my son, and it originally ended with the eagle simply flying away.
He looked at me and said, with a look of sadness and disappointment and shock on his face, "but what about his mom? Doesn't he love his mom?"
I had accidentally written a sweet story with a traumatic ending, and I knew that I had to go back to the drawing board.
The first draft was half prose and half poetry, and I couldn't figure out how to fix the storyline without turning the entire thing into a long and beautiful poem so, I did. It took me almost 2 more years to do it.
You have a son with ASD. How has this influenced your writing?
I really wanted him to see himself in the story, to feel seen and understood. His autism has made me a more patient and compassionate person, and those qualities certainly found their way into the poetry as I wrote it. And, the time it took me to write the book, have it illustrated, and bring it from concept to completion was nearly 5 years so the patience I have learned through my son played itself out in this process as well.
What surprised you most about readers' reactions to this book?
The very first review that I received nailed my intent perfectly. I was completely awestruck with how clearly my message resonated, and how well it was understood without requiring any explanation from me, truly heartwarming. I'm so grateful.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope that each person who hears or reads this story recognizes that they have something very special within themselves, something unique, and entirely their own. I hope that those who are atypical walk away feeling seen and loved and empowered to fly high and shine brightly.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
First I find the central theme of the book, then I usually — not always — consider the title and research it to see if it’s already taken or if I’ve found something fresh, and then I start to play with the storyline until I find the moment where I’d like to begin
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I write in spurts, typically on Saturday mornings when my son is playing with his cousins in his room and the house is calm and still. I don't have particular habits although, when I have an inspiration in the middle of the night, I always get up and jot it down.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on a personal development book for adults. The first draft is complete and I hope to be able to launch it by the end of summer.
I'm toying with another children's story called The Uncertain Butterfly. Hopefully, this one won't take me 5 years.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
www.mmmacrae.com Or on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/macraemadeleine/
The Unusual Penguin, is a sweet smart picture book for every child and adult who has felt different or strange; the story captures the pain of being misjudged, the sorrow of being atypical and the transcendent joy to be found when you discover who you truly are and learn to value yourself accordingly.