KATHY SZAJ | JUDY BARTKOWIAK | JIM WESTCOTT | Writer’s Corner
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In The Beginning…
April 2014: We celebrate a year in the life of The JNP Creative Writing Team! How we have developed over this year from four individuals, nervous, excited and perhaps a little bit precious as writers (I’m speaking for myself here) into becoming a very close team who are completely involved and committed to the Self-Esteem project. Every week I marvel at how four very different creative people, united in our desire to boost self-esteem in children, meet and create fabulous storylines. How has this happened?
A year ago, having written a number of children’s books under the name JudyBee, and many Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) books including Self-Esteem Workbook, I was drawn to a LinkedIn job as a member of the JNP writing team. The synergy between my NLP Kids coaching and writing was irresistible. But, I wondered, how on earth does one write as a team? I had no idea, but the challenge intrigued me. Would my ideas be good enough? What if I didn’t agree with the other writers on the team? Would there be creative fallout? Despite my reservations, I wanted to know more. I was drawn to the mission of inspiring self-esteem in children through stories. Also, how could I coach children to step out of their comfort zones if I wasn’t willing to step out of mine?
Over time, we have got to know each other and our friends Jane and Jake. Together we create great stories and learn for them. I have learned to share my ideas, trust that if I only have a mini idea the team will take it and expand it. And by the way, as a Brit, I am learning a lot of delightful American words and expressions!
Knowing that we will work together on many more stories over the years gives me a great deal of pleasure and pride. I know that your children will love the stories and characters, and you will enjoy them too.
So happy first birthday, JNP Creative Team, and here’s to many more!
BOOK 1: TRUTH — Jane & Jake’s Adventures to Awesome Truth
This was a fascinating story to write for a number of reasons. In the story, Jake denies that he is friends with “good ol’ Plain Jane”. Jake lies, and he does that more than once. Their friendship is still very new, so Jane believes Jake when he tells her that they are not friends. She is, understandably, hurt. Jane’s belief is that “real friends don’t lie,” and I share Jane’s belief. However, in the story Jane learns to forgive Jake’s lie and understand that it was a mistake that he regretted. Jane learns that Jake lied because he lacked confidence.
We had some very interesting discussions in our creative meetings about whether it was OK to lie and how lying can evolve from low self-esteem. I still feel that lying is wrong, but I understand now how it might occur so will be more forgiving in future.
In my previous life as a Market Research Consultant I handled a lot of data because although I mostly managed Qualitative Research, we also had to understand the findings of Quantitative Surveys often representing findings from a number of different countries. As you probably know statistics can be analyzed in different ways according to which combinations of age groups or buyer groups you include. In order for your findings to be deemed to be “the truth” they have to be based on large samples, where differences cannot be argued away but proven to truly exist. Therefore, when I read so called “truths” or “facts” in the newspaper, I am the first person to check the sample size, the question that was actually asked, and of whom precisely. Considering this story in the light of this Market Research background, I have a different view of the “truth”; I know how flimsy truth can be. However, in the story the point is not so much whether it was or was not the truth, but whether Jane believed Jake’s denial to be true.
BOOK 2: KINDNESS — Jane & Jake’s Adventures to Awesome Kindness
I have four children and over 26 years of parenting experience. I have made a point of raising children who are honest, considerate, clever, generous and kind; yet thinking back, I don’t think I have actually used those words enough. I have simply taken those qualities for granted, despite the fact that I believe them to be really important. I hope that as parents we have modeled kindness for our children, but I don’t think we have actually labelled acts as “kind.” This leads me to think that if we value kindness, we should call it out more often, and make sure children realize when they are being kind.
In this story we feature Mikeyangelo, who of course, is like Michelangelo the painter and sculptor, so famous for his brilliant works of art. When he was a child (1745+), little was known about so called “learning difficulties” such as autism and Aspergers. However, scholars believe that evidence suggests that Michelangelo was a loner, unable to show emotion, and a workaholic. We may wonder whether, had he had been born in our time, he would have been labeled “learning disabled.” He found conversation difficult and wouldn’t work with anyone who might take over or challenge him. And, he was obsessed by money and nudity. He wanted to control everything in his life and could do this best alone. He was also known to have a short temper and a tendency towards paranoia. Our Mikeyangelo is an affable character of course, but it is interesting to think that Michelangelo himself was someone who might have been considered a failure at school.
BOOK 3: HARMONY — Jane & Jake’s Adventures to Awesome Harmony
It is funny how when you spend half a day every week with children’s writers, talking about new adventures that Jane and Jake will have under the sea in Awesome, your mind becomes tuned into anything that might “fit.” Yesterday on Facebook, some friends were chatting about a new restaurant that had opened recently on the Thames not too far from London. The restaurant is called “The Giggling Squid.” Immediately I thought, “What a great new character for Awesome!”
We already know that Jake is a joker, and he likes to tell jokes to his friend Jane. I wonder if the Giggling Squid might enjoy the jokes too. I’m not sure yet which story he (or she) might fit into, but I’m sure there will be one.
This is a part time job for me as a writer because I also write NLP books and my own children’s series, “Queens of Africa,” but The JNP Project is a full time job in terms of where I put my attention. It’s a bit like being a mother isn’t it? Jane and Jake’s adventures feel like my children, always there in the background whatever I’m doing, and often of course, the focus of my attention.
BOOK 4: FORGIVENESS — Jane & Jake’s Adventures to Awesome Forgiveness
This book has been quite a journey for all of us I think. Starting with the very intense discussions between us, about forgiveness and what we personally had to forgive, and leading through our own thoughts about how to pass on the process of forgiveness to children. We wondered what children might have to forgive, and decided that it was a step by step process and that each step needed to be complete, and in place in your mind, before embarking on the next one.
We often talk in metaphors, and that’s very useful for children’s writing. We talked for a while about Jane and Jake entering a maze, but realized that although there can be different types of mazes this wasn’t a true reflection of the journey of forgiveness. We then thought about the labyrinth and this seemed to be a better fit. But we wanted our labyrinth to be the sort of adventure the children would have in Awesome, so our labyrinth soon morphed into a nautilus.
Personally having generated the steps of forgiveness based in part on my NLP work with kids, I love the way Jane and Jake go through the learning and then begin to apply it. I hope children learn a new resource from the story and enjoy the characters we have introduced.