Marianne Celano, PhD, ABPP, Marietta Collins, PhD, and Ann Hazzard, PhD, ABPP, worked together for over two decades as Emory University School of Medicine faculty members serving children and families in Atlanta. All three psychologists have been involved in community advocacy efforts focused on children’s behavioral health and social justice. Dr. Celano and Dr. Hazzard have developed and utilized therapeutic stories in individual and group therapy with children and teens. All three authors valued story-time with their children, who taught them important lessons about what children need from adults. This is their first picture book for children.
When violent and unjust situations are nearly innumerable, three women look to the future and to the young children who will inherit it. Something Happened in Our Town asks and addresses the hard questions that many children have about traumatic events like police shootings. We spoke with these three psychologists to discover more about how this revolutionary and unfortunately relevant book came to be.
It is our honor to present Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard!
What books have you written? We have collaborated in writing articles for psychology journals, but this is our first book! Marianne wrote a book (Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Systemic Practice) that will be published by Momentum Press in the summer of 2018.
What is fun or unexpected about the writing process? It was fun to name the characters, imagine their dialogue, and develop the plot. We didn’t initially realize how each decision, even those about seemingly minor issues such as setting and background activities, would require careful thought. For example, we considered what the two families should be doing during their conversations about racial injustice. We debated what game the kids in Ms. Garcia’s class should play outside. With each decision, we tried to keep in mind the story’s central message, as well as our desire to present diverse, realistic, and non-stereotypical characters. As there are three of us, it took time and compromise for us to reach a consensus about some of these decisions.
What do you do when you’re not writing books? All of us are psychologists who met while working at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Marianne is a couple and family psychologist who specializes in working with children. Ann has recently retired and is enjoying volunteer work with children and travel to exotic locales such as Australia and the Galapagos Islands. Marietta retired from Emory and is now the Director of the Behavioral Medicine Division within the Department of Family Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine.
What was surprising/different than you expected about getting a book published? Working with an illustrator was a new experience for us. We were excited to see Jennifer’s sketches and final pictures, especially since we loved her use of color to create moods and add depth to other Magination Press stories that she had illustrated. We learned that illustration is a collaborative process, with adjustments on both the author and illustrator sides. We’re pleased with the final product, and grateful to Jennifer for collaborating with us.
What children’s book was your favorite?
– Marianne: I loved A Wrinkle in Time for its science fiction world-building and portrayal of siblings.
– Marietta: I enjoyed books by African American authors such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Reading about people who looked like me allowed me to dream and fantasize about what my life might be like as an African American woman when I grew up.
– Ann: I loved Stuart Little – I admired Stuart’s adventurous spirit and the author’s creativity in imagining how household objects might be used as furniture and possessions for a mouse.
Any advice for new authors? Often the hardest part of writing is getting started. If you have a dream or even a few thoughts about the story you would like to develop, just begin typing. Once you begin the process, it flows much easier! Developing the characters is fun and can really help to shape the storyline.
What is the topic of your newest book about? This book is about racial injustice. Emma, who is White, and Josh, who is Black, each question their parents about an incident in their community in which a police officer shot an unarmed Black man. These questions lead to conversations with the parents and older siblings about racial bias, and what children can do to confront acts of racial injustice. Later, Emma and Josh apply what they have learned from their families to a situation in which classmates exclude a new student who is from a different country.
Who is the book’s audience? The primary audience is children ages 4 to 8, their parents, and their teachers. However, older children may enjoy the book as well.
What inspired you to write this book? We are saddened and frustrated by the longstanding pattern of racial injustice in the U.S., exemplified recently by racial profiling and disproportionate police violence against African-Americans. We wondered how police shootings of unarmed Black men were understood and experienced by young children. We believe parents and teachers should talk to children about the bias that feeds racial injustice, and teach attitudes and behaviors that promote racial harmony and equality. We also wanted our book to be useful for both White and Black parents.
What made you want to publish with Magination? MP has published a variety of books that we have used in our clinical practices and with our own children. MP books have tackled complex issues such as abuse and neglect, family conflict, anxiety, and loss. We thought MP would be a good match for our book.
What’s another Magination Press book that you like, and why? A Child’s First Book About Play Therapy has been very helpful in introducing the therapy process to children – it’s an “oldie but goodie.” We also like the workbooks by Dawn Huebner (e.g. What to Do When You Worry Too Much or What to Do When Your Temper Flares) because they use engaging metaphors and humor to encourage children to use cognitive-behavioral techniques to manage difficult emotions. Other favorites include King Calm by Susan Sweet and Brenda Miles, A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret Holmes, and Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf by Jeanie Franz Ransom.