Maria Leonard Olsen is the author of the children's picture book Healing for Hallie. She also has written the picture book Mommy, Why's Your Skin So Brown?. A lawyer and journalist, she co-hosts the Inside Out radio show on WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Healing for Hallie?
A: I had just gone through a painful time in my life, including a divorce, and was reflecting on how things could have been easier in my life, from the time I was a small child, if I had not kept my feelings bottled up inside.
My father and grandfather (who lived with us) were reticent military types around whom stiff upper lip mentality was expected. And my mother was not one to discuss feelings. Perhaps it is a generational thing.
I would like to ease some of the pain I see around me. One of those ways is to encourage my children and other children (as well as my friends) to share their feelings as a means of healing. I believe sharing one's grief and troubles halves them, and sharing one's joys multiplies them.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I learned the hard way that holding my feelings inside about difficult things that happened in my life was akin to holding a beach ball under water: It can be done, but it takes a tremendous amount of mental and emotional energy, and the pain tends to pop up in various ways.
Unexpressed anger, I am told by professionals, can manifest itself in depression, for example, as it did for me years ago.
Q: Who do you see as the book's ideal readership?
A: Perhaps I tried to write a story to my younger self. I wish someone had given me the message of this book when I was 6 years old and my parents were splitting up. I recall feeling so scared and alone with my feelings.
I believe all children could benefit from reading this book and, perhaps, even adults who take the message to heart. It may be a helpful gift to children who are experiencing the trauma of a terminally ill relative or when someone in the family has passed, as a vehicle to encourage them to express their feelings.
Q: At what point did you see the illustrations, and what do you think they bring to the book?
A: My friend, Maggie Salter, showed me her daughter's art when I was away with her on one of her wonderful spiritual retreats.
Meghan ("M.R.") Morrison's art spoke to me, so we began discussing what types of illustrations she could produce for the book I had written. She sent me a sample of what she had in mind after reading the text I had written, and then other illustrations as she finished one for each page.
Her beautiful, evocative watercolors lent the contemplative feel I was seeking for this book on cultivating emotional well-being. She really captured the essence of the book and enhanced it tremendously.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My first non-fiction book was released Nov. 28, entitled, Not the Cleaver Family--The New Normal in Modern American Families. The book is about how much American families have changed in this generation.
My parents were forbidden by law from marrying in 1961 because they are of two different races (Interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states, including Maryland and Virginia, until 1967). My children were incredulous when I first told them that.
The book is based on hundreds of interviews I did with families across the country. It is designed to raise our collective consciousness about what the typical contemporary American family has become, and help educators and others expand the universal desire for inclusion, acceptance, and understanding.
In addition, I have a wonderful new agent, Diane Nine (who is excellent, as she represented you), with whom I am working on my next book about women's empowerment. Stay tuned!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Readers can stay up to date on my writing, events, and WPFW FM radio show on diversity and inclusion by checking out my website.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Maria Leonard Olsen, please click here.