Posted on 12 Jan 2020 in ESTEAM Champions / 83 Views
Nanci Nott interviews Western Australian author, Nadia L. King, about her newest book, Claire Malone Changes the World. Together, they explore the concept of fiction as a catalyst for social change and individual empowerment.

Peel Bright Minds exists to create opportunities for local people to engage with ESTEAM – Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics. If the passion I regularly witness at PBM events is anything to go by, Peel Bright Minds are certainly succeeding in inspiring a curious community.

Do you know what else has immeasurable potential for inspiring curiosity, across every discipline, including (but not limited to) ESTEAM?

Reading. And I don’t just mean books – although, to me, nothing beats a good book. I’m talking about any activity that involves your eyes looking at words, and your brain de-coding letters.

Even people who claim they ‘don’t read’ are constantly reading. Are you reading these words, right now? Do you read your friends’ social media updates? In the last twenty four hours, have you read any subtitles, warning labels, street signs, instruction manuals, emails, lists, or clickbait articles beginning with the words, you’ll never believe what (insert interchangeable exaggeration here)?

Even self-described non-readers are constantly reading, both online and in the non-reader’s immediate environment. Now that audiobooks and podcasts are so accessible, we can even read with our ears. Everything we read, stimulates our brain, triggers trains of thought, and tells us something we might not have known, otherwise. Moreover, what we read can have a huge impact on our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours.

Have you ever read a book and (for five wonderful minutes) believed that you, too, could have a clutter-free home, or a six figure income? Okay, so maybe you never finished Kondo-ing your life, but you wanted to, right?

Whether your taste tends more towards online top ten lists, or verbose philosophical treatises, your thoughts are fed by whatever wordage satiates your brain-hunger. Obviously, some words are more nourishing than others, but all text types serve a purpose – even gossip magazines. Schadenfreude counts as a purpose, right?

What we choose to read can influence our attitudes, opinions, ideas, and actions. Basically, our entire personality is at stake. The geekified-bookworm-genius is a stereotype for a reason. Feeding our brains with knowledge does make us smarter. It’s simple cause and effect. But intelligence isn’t the only attribute influenced by the narratives we surround ourselves with.

Empathy, compassion, perseverance, social awareness, curiosity, motivation, and gullibility (or lack thereof) are just a handful of innumerable traits, impacted by the written media we consume. I’m not suggesting we should only read serious books, or peer reviewed journals. I’m saying we should be conscious of what we are feeding our minds, in order to use that awareness to develop discernment and intentionality in our literary tastes.

It stands to reason that one of the best things we can do for the next generation, is provide them with nourishing food-for-thought. If we want our children to become the climate-change-solving, human-rights-protecting, rainforest-regrowing innovators our world desperately needs, we need to help them grow positive reading habits, from an early age.

Children who nourish their minds, grow up to become adults who nourish their minds. Learning is one of life’s purest pleasures, but if we train children to consume literary lollipops, at the expense of figurative fruit, they will become adults who… well, you get the point.

If adults are so easily influenced by what we read (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo), how much more susceptible are children to the power of subtle suggestion? And how much of our children’s personality-shaping brain-diets (consumed during those precious years of ultra-brain-plasticity) will impact their future habits, hobbies, thought patterns, and behaviours?

Picture books, believe it or not, are one of the most valuable tools we have at our disposal, for creating lasting social change. This is partially due to the immediate – and long term – effects of forming positive reading habits; but it’s also a result of the vast array of high quality, thoughtprovoking, behaviour-influencing children’s fiction available today.

One such book, by Nadia L. King, is called Claire Malone Changes the World. This book is fun, imaginative, beautifully written, and infused with child-centric empowerment. Claire Malone is a young girl who uses her thirst for knowledge, and her love of writing, to change the world in a positive way.

In the real world, most of us probably wouldn’t encourage a cat to run for mayor, but that’s besides the point. Claire Malone Changes the World is a great example of how picture books can encourage kids to see themselves as empowered change-makers, who think and behave with care and integrity.

Claire Malone teaches kids that words can tell us more than just the top ten celebrity facts you won’t believe; how long to microwave a pizza slice; or how to numb our starving minds with empty entertainment. Words can – and should – inspire us to think, feel, and act with purpose.

For kids, that purpose is to play, explore, and feel the kind of happiness only found in early childhood. Reading should inspire children to create, imagine, ask questions, and test boundaries. It is through these important endeavours that children gain intelligence, empathy, awareness, compassion, and a craving for sweet, delicious brain-food.

I caught up with the author of Claire Malone Changes the World, Nadia L. King, to hear about the inspiration behind her writing, and ask for her opinion on empowerment through picture books.

NN: What inspired you to write, Claire Malone Changes the World?

NLK: I wrote Claire Malone Changes the World on holiday in New Zealand, and I find the beauty of the NZ landscape to be so inspiring. I got to thinking about children today and how they always seem to be on their devices. I wondered if there could be a positive message from being online. I’ve always been interested in ‘people power’, so by combining all of this, Claire Malone came into being.

NN: Would you agree that empowering picture books, like yours, have the potential to shape young children’s perspectives, and can inspire them to take positive action in their own lives?

NLK: I hope that books like Claire Malone Changes the World can help influence children to take positive action. I think positive real-life role models can be hugely influential in kids’ lives. Take someone like Greta Thunberg, and you can see how children can make a positive impact on the people around them, and even further afield.

NN: What do you love most about your character, Claire Malone?

NLK: I love Claire Malone’s resilience and perseverance. I also enjoy the strong relationship she has with her cat, Marmalade, and I really like the idea that she values him so much she tries to convince the government to let him run for mayor.

NN: How did you feel the first time you saw your story paired with Alisa Knatko’s illustrations?

NLK: I was blown away by Alisa’s illustrations. When I first saw them, I was immediately impressed by the sense of vibrancy, energy and joy in her illustrations. Alisa has done a wonderful job, and I really value the sense of collaboration we had with this project.

NN: What’s your next step? Will you be writing more picture books? Returning to YA fiction? Or trying something new?

NLK: I have written a few more picture book manuscripts, I’m currently writing the first draft of a YA manuscript, and I have lots of ideas for junior fiction, too.

NN: If Claire Malone was here with us, right now, what advice do you think she would give her fellow-children?

NLK: If Claire Malone was here right now, I think she would tell kids to relax, and not to worry about the whole world. I think she would tell them to focus on the one thing they would like changed in their own homes or neighbourhoods. But first of all, she would ask them if they would like to go outside and play.

People who grow up with a love of reading are more likely to read widely as adults. In turn, they will provide the early exposure (and positive association) proven to instil a love of reading in their own children; thereby perpetuating a non-vicious cycle of bookish wonder. If a child seeks out words to uplift, engage, and inspire them, chances are they will retain that mindset throughout their life – especially when meaningful fiction forms the base of their literary food pyramid.

Words teach us about real-world concepts in an easily digestible format. Fiction reminds us that we are protagonists in our own stories, and that we too, are capable of creating change, helping others, solving problems, and working towards a better next chapter. Most importantly, as Nadia L. King points out, fiction reminds us to play.

As humans, we will always be drawn towards – and learn most effectively from – the things we do purely for the sake of our own enjoyment. We benefit most from the things we find fun.

By cultivating intentionality in our interests, and those of our children, we (like Peel Bright Minds) can inspire a curious community, with habits that have the potential to last for generations.

By Nanci Nott