Three years ago, the time came for Jaimee Walters to tell her daughter Elise about her father. Elise had never known him, but an incident at school piqued her curiosity and she asked her mom, “Do I have a dad?”
“It was hard to explain something so big to someone so small,” said Jaimee. “When she asked, I told her you have a Kam and a Poppa, but that answer felt unfinished. So we started talking and Kam started writing a story.”
The finished product is a children’s book entitled Eowyn, Your Song Is Your Story. The book is richly illustrated and about a young whale’s journey to learn about families. It’s $25 and can be bought at booksbywalters.com.
The book was a long time coming. Jaimee and Kam Walters had wanted to write one since they got together. Both are teachers: She’s an art teacher and he teaches English, but the idea for a collaboration wasn’t concrete until they took their idea to a family counselor looking for advice on how to discuss blended families with their daughters, Elise and Hayden, both of whom are now 7 years old.
“Jaimee took the book in to ask what she thought of our idea,” said Kam, “and the counselor had a great reaction and said she would even use it in her practice, and that’s what kind of got the ball rolling.”
Kam initially wrote the story specifically for Elise, but when they decided to make it into a book, he wanted to make it bigger and more universal. He said at first, the whole concept kept going over Elise’s head, but making it into a story helped her understand, and the Walters thought it might help other kids too.
Eowyn, Your Song Is Your Story begins with the protagonist, Eowyn, realizing she only has a mom whale and that confuses her because other families have a mom and a dad. So she swims out into space and meets other animals that describe their families to her, but instead of gaining an understanding about different family arrangements, the whale is left even more confused.
“We wanted to take the negative out of the lack kids might feel,” said Kam. “You can’t take the lack away, but we wanted to promote free, radical thought and try to take away the conflict so kids can make space for co-existing ideas in their head.”
Kam said the conflict they saw was from the notion that most people’s ideas about families come from the concept of the nuclear family: dad, mom and kids. He said even stories that don’t represent the nuclear family are still determined by those tropes by being shown as the direct opposite. So they made a book that promotes the message that maybe what’s right for some isn’t right for everyone.
Children’s books like this are in high demand and, according to Kimmie Fink, a consultant at Welcoming Schools, necessary: “By showing a wide variety of diverse family structures through your choice of books, you can help your child develop pride in their own family at the same time you expose them to the diversity of the world around them. Books like these help your child understand the common theme that runs through all families: love.”
The end of the book is left open, not wrapped up with a call to action like so many other children’s books. Instead, it poses the question of what all these different family arrangements mean, and opens up a dialogue between kids and their parents, so that families can have these types of conversations together. Kam said he purposefully left the ending open, not only to promote critical thought but also to leave out his own biases.
“The ending is important because it’s pretty melancholic, it’s not about wrapping ideas up into pretty packages,” said Kam. “In my work I like to put things together that might not seem as though they do. It can shock the reader out of shallow thought and into something deeper.”
The couple has gotten a great response from friends who’ve read the story to their kids, and Kam said both of their daughters identified immediately with the characters in the book. The book is meant to be read together as a family in about 20 minutes, and the Walters wanted to offset the heavy theme with whimsical and intricate pictures.
The art is surreal and thought-provoking, each page is almost like its own little world. All of the pictures could stand alone as works of art. Children’s books are usually written and then illustrated; but in this case, Jaimee and Kam said they went through every step of the creative process together.
“She would come to me with art ideas and I would totally change the story,” Kam said.
As a surrealist artist, Jaimee strives to evoke emotion in her work. She said she thinks about and remembers emotions through pictures and she made the illustrations to be something for people to think about and feel beyond just reading the text, not only to keep kids interested, but also for adults, as well.
“It took me a really long time to figure out I could leave the idea of the traditional family behind. I felt shame, like I had done something wrong,” said Jaimee. “The book is also for parents that feel like they’ve done it the wrong way. They haven’t, because there are a million ways things can be right.”