Interview with Allysun Atwater about I Am Thinking My Life
By Rashmi Bismark
RB: Hi Allysun! Congratulations on your gorgeous debut picture book, I Am Thinking My Life, illustrated by Stevie Lewis and published by Bala Kids, an imprint of Shambhala Publications. As a mindfulness + yoga facilitator and mom, there is so much I absolutely love about this story. It’s empowering and life-affirming. It so beautifully depicts the power of intention, thought, mindfulness, and action through the heart of a child. Tell us some of your inspirations behind creating a story like this.
AA: Sometimes I just get the tiniest spark of an idea - usually just an idea for the title of a story. Then I start writing and a story takes shape almost fully formed. When this happens, I often don’t know what I’m creating or really where it comes from. It just arrives, and suddenly it seems like it’s been there all along. This was the case with I Am Thinking My Life. However, I can think of a couple of concrete moments of inspiration for the book, retrospectively. One is that my daughters attended a play-based school called Bing Nursery School on Stanford’s campus, when I was in law school. The thing I loved most about Bing was that it was this beautiful indoor and outdoor wonderland for children with a cornucopia of elaborate opportunities for activities. Bing gave children the agency to choose how they could spend much of their time each day. I appreciated how empowering that was in an age when children are so scheduled and helicoptered. It had such a strong impact on both of my daughters who have always been very introspective and creative. Once I Am Thinking My Life was born, I fell in love with the idea that it featured a character who had that power to choose how she would actively engage herself, and also to marvel at the joy of having that freedom to think and dream.
The other inspiration is my observations of all of the life-building and creative energy that goes on around us. People are constantly “thinking their lives” in really unique and compelling ways, and I feel more positive in my own mindset just from experiencing and witnessing other people’s thoughts manifesting as all kinds of amazing creations.
RB: Stevie Lewis’ art is stunning! Through your beautiful words, we learn about the power of being with and envisioning one’s life. Through Stevie’s artwork, we also learn so much about the main character’s personality, her family, and her dreams for herself. What influenced some of the artistic choices? Were you able to have input on how the art was telling the story as well?
AA: I agree. Stevie’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. I feel fortunate to have been able to contribute many of the ideas for the artwork. I actually wrote extensive art notes detailing the plot and narrative structure of the illustrations. Stevie based the majority of the book’s illustrations on them. Of course, she added her own interpretation to the illustrations. The characters’ appearances are all her creation, and I was delighted to see that the main character and her mother had locs, because we definitely need to see that representation in picture books.
What I was hoping for was just to see our main character in the excitement and, sometimes frenzy, of discovery regarding the power of her thoughts. There is some experimentation, and some amazing introspection happening. I wanted to see the character experiencing that realization not only for herself, but for the way it positively affects her family and friends, and the way it impacts her future.
I also wanted to work in the realization that no matter how positive our thoughts are, there will be storms, whether those are moods or events that create a negative experience. Sometimes we have to ride those negative emotions out, and experience them for what they are. But the goal should be to get back to a place of positivity when that becomes possible, even if it takes some time and effort to access that inner light and those inner resources again.
RB: I love that reminder that even through the storms, we can search within and uncover illumination. Can you share with our readers, what are some ways you nourish yourself in stormy times?
AA: That’s such an insightful question. I went through quite a few stormy times before I wrote this book. From having to reroute my career due to illness, to losing my baby brother – my only sibling, the summer before I wrote my first draft of this book, I had what felt like some monsoons happening in my life. But storms are a part of life, and they have their own humbling beauty. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family and amazing friends. Spending time with them is definitely one of the main ways I nourish myself in stormy times. Also, I love story. And, fortunately for me, story is everywhere— in poetry, in picture books, in songs, in paintings, in television shows and in movies. I love to get absorbed in a transporting story, whatever the medium. I love a gorgeous sunset too. I try to watch the sunset every evening that isn’t too overcast. Nature can really put life’s metaphorical storms into perspective, and soothe and help heal us. I also try to meditate often. And, of course, there is writing, which is an amazing, cathartic outlet for those of us who want to unleash its power.
RB: The book closes with a heartfelt letter from you and a wish for dreams, hopes, and continued belief in ourselves. What are some of your dreams and hopes as you now enter the field of children’s literature? What thoughts are you currently thinking for your life?
AA: This is another lovely question. I absolutely hope to continue writing books and, hopefully, reach the readers that need my words and stories the most. I think every writer would love to write an award-winning bestseller and experience phenomenal success, and I won’t claim that I’m any different. I love to dream big!
I think the most important thing, though, is to answer the call of creativity and share my creations with the world. I’m a bit of a recluse, and I have a tendency to want to hide my talents away, but writing this first book has forced me to set some of those tendencies aside and bring myself out into the open. And it has come with some beautiful rewards. Readers that have read I Am Thinking My Life have started reaching out to me in meaningful ways, telling me how much this book has meant to them, and sending me pictures of their darling children with the book, and I can’t even begin to describe how much that means to me.
Also, to go to a Barnes & Noble, a library, or an independent bookstore and see my book on the shelf is probably always going to be a pinch me moment for me – especially in light of the reverence I’ve always had for bookstores and libraries. So that is already a beautiful dream realized. Now, “I am thinking my life” as a (someday) seasoned author, and hoping for more opportunities to continue to engage in this inspirational work.
RB: Thank you, Allysun, for joining us on the KidLit in Color Blog! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AA: Thank you so much for inviting me, Rashmi! This has been an amazing honor. I wish you and the rest of the Kidlit in Color authors all the best!
Allysun Atwater is the author of I Am Thinking My Life, illustrated by Stevie Lewis and published by Bala Kids. She is an educator, and non-practicing attorney. Allysun grew up in Odessa, Texas where she was a quintessential 80s latchkey kid and an avid reader with an insatiable love of the library. Allysun is a graduate of Southern Methodist University (SMU) with a bachelor’s degree in English, Stanford Law School with a juris doctorate, and Stanford University with a master’s degree in education. Allysun lives in the Houston area with her husband, twin daughters, her mother, her nephew and two spirited Shih Tzus.