I am beyond thrilled to feature my friend and critique partner Bethany Walker today! We are going to discuss her upcoming release, Lena and The Dragon, an important picture book that addresses children’s trauma and resilience.
Bethany, Thank you so much for joining us today! Can you tell us a little bit about Lena and the Dragon?
Lena & the Dragon is a picture book that focuses on trauma and resiliency. Lena is a typical, happy-go-lucky kid until one day a terrible thing happens to her. The next day when she wakes up there’s a tiny dragon asleep on her chest– and no one else can see him. The dragon follows her around, wreaking havoc and growing bigger and bigger the longer she bottles up the terrible thing and all the emotions she’s having because of it. Finally, Lena can’t take it anymore and decides to talk to people she trusts about the dragon and the terrible thing.
What inspired you to write this story?
I grew up in a household that unfortunately had its fair share of abuse. I myself was abused at a young age. I didn’t understand what happened or how to talk to anyone about it, and didn’t tell anyone about it until I was in my twenties. As I got deeper into my work with children and families as a therapist and deeper into processing my own personal trauma, I recognized the importance of being able to talk about these things as a child and getting help early on. A lot of the shame and confusion and blame that I had as a child I saw in the children I was working with. One day after a particularly difficult session with a child who had experienced something traumatic, I sat down and in kind of a cathartic unloading wrote the first draft of Lena.
Title: Lena and The Dragon
Author: Bethany Walker
Illustrator: Rodrigo Cordeiro
Published: February 28, 2023
Format: Picture Book
Tackling the concept of trauma in a picture book is a big ask, but you manage it in such a kid-friendly way. Did your experience as a licensed clinical social worker impact the way you approached the topic?
Absolutely! I knew this book would be able to be a tool that counselors, teachers, and parents could use but I also wanted it to be a book that kids genuinely enjoy without being preachy. I didn’t want to re-trigger anything for children, and I wanted children with all sorts of trauma to be able to relate to the book so I intentionally kept it very vague when approaching the “terrible thing”.
I also was intentional in including some evidence based ways for kids to emotionally regulate and process trauma. I don’t go in depth in the book, it’s most alluded to or shown in illustrations. However, I do have an educator’s guide and therapy guide that can be used in conjunction with the book to help teach those skills to kids. Once she’s learned to tame her dragon, the book is careful to point out that he never actually goes away, and sometimes he even grows bigger again. I wanted to make sure to give a realistic portrayal of this, as we all know that the hard stuff doesn’t just magically disappear from our lives and sometimes we find ourselves having to deal with it again down the road.
Knowing the statistics of traumatic experiences in children (that it happens to children in all demographics but is especially higher in minority groups) I also was intentional in making sure that was represented. When Lena finally decides to speak up about the terrible thing that happened to her, her mother takes her to a group full of other kids who have experienced traumatic things. Rodrigo and I knew we wanted this scene to reflect a wide variety of children so that they would hopefully see a bit of themselves in the book.
You self-published Lena and the Dragon through your own imprint. What was that process like?
Honestly, it was a bit of beast! I definitely have new found respect for self-publishing authors.
This was the first story I wrote that I knew I wanted to pursue publication and not just for my own enjoyment. Originally I pitched my manuscript (in some of it’s earlier forms) directly to some presses that I knew published this type of book as well as some agents. After this initial too-quick-jump, I stepped back and started to do some research into the publishing world and the kidlit circle. I used Jennifer Rees through Reedsy to get an in depth editorial edit of my manuscript, joined a critique group, and took Darcy Pattinson’s Self Publishing course through Storyteller Academy.
Around this time I realized the immense cost of self-publishing a picture book, especially if you want to pay your illustrator well. I used Behance to find some illustrators I loved, and stumbled upon Rodrigo Cordeiro. His style was exactly what I envisioned for the book and I reached out in vain hopes he might work with me. Thankfully, he was his wonderful enthusiastic self and agreed to come on the project. We ran a Kickstarter to raise the initial funds to pay for his illustrative work and a first run print.
If children only walk away from Lena and The Dragon with one thing, what do you want them to learn from this book?
My daughter Lillian was my beta reader with this story from the beginning, when it was just words on paper, all the way through to when we got the first printed copy of the book. I love seeing her approach to the book and what she soaks in (she even pointed out some things we ended up tweaking!). The thing she said as we read the book for probably the 50th time was “I hope she knows it’s okay and that she can tell someone!”
I think that’s the thing I hope kids grasp. Really, I just hope they enjoy the book! But if they walk away with something I hope it’s a feeling like they’re a little less alone and it’s a little less scary to tell someone when something bad happens to them. I know for myself, reading stories as a kid or a teen where I related to an experience really helped me cope and I hope this does the same for someone else.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything you’d like to share?
After realizing the incredible amount of work that goes into self-publishing, I’m taking a bow on that for now. I have a few manuscripts I’m polishing up including some YA and MG manuscripts with trauma focus as well. I’ve joined the Rebecca Dykes Writers, an incredible community of women who are writing about trauma and violence against women so I’m hoping to spend a lot of 2023 pushing further into this community and these writing projects.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?
Thank you not just for reading this interview but for seeking out great, diverse books for your kids to read! And Devyn, thanks for all you do to help make Kidlit more inclusive, bookshelves more diverse, and for having me on the blog!
Bethany Walker is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and author. She writes in a variety of genres including flash fiction, picture books, and novels. Her debut independently published picture book “Lena & the Dragon, was awarded the 2023 SCBWI Spark Honor Award. Bethany currently resides in Longview, TX with her husband, daughter, and pets. In her free time, she binges horror movies, tries new recipes (sometimes successfully), and collects an absurd amount of books. Find out more about Bethany and her work at www.bethanywalkerauthor.com