Maybe Mary had a little lamb, but author Michelle Wilson has Olive Ewe, a sweetly disaster-prone little muttonchop who is the star of Wilson’s new children’s book, Olive. Olive worries whether her friends and family will love her in spite of her flaws…but rest assured, both Wilson’s book and its title character are lovable indeed. We sat down with Michelle Wilson to talk about writing, family, and her most “Olive” moments.
What was your favorite children’s book growing up?
My favorite book then and now is The Wizard of Oz. I read the entire series in elementary school. I love the idea that there is more to life than we can see, that we can learn to love all kinds of people, and that we are braver than we realize. People young and old are simply amazing. Sometimes we don’t realize it, and other times we simply forget. That’s the real magic, I think, when we see the potential in ourselves and others. That’s where the real joy is.
You’ve published before, but Olive is your first children’s book. What did you find the most challenging—and rewarding—about writing for children?
Writing for kids is much different than writing for adults. When I write for adults, I can use 50,000 words to convey an idea. When I write for kids, I get about 600 words. The challenge for me was to take a big idea—in this case, loving someone unconditionally—and convey it in a few concise words while still keeping the story entertaining. It’s much harder than it sounds. The most rewarding thing about writing Olive is knowing the reassurance it can offer to kids who worry about being loved. It’s scary when you think someone might not love you because of something you’ve done or who you are. Even adults have this fear sometimes. I love that Olive can be a way for a teacher or parent to express to the ones they love that they do, indeed, love all of them.
How do you relate to Olive Ewe? How has being a parent informed the character and predicament of Olive Ewe?
My husband and I adopted our youngest daughter in 2010, when she was six years old. My daughter, like Olive, was well-intentioned, but often clumsy and a little mischievous—and sometimes, she made poor choices. I was tucking her into bed one night, a year or so after she’d been with us, and she expressed a concern: she was afraid that if I knew all the bad thoughts she’d had and choices she’d made that I wouldn’t love her anymore. I told her I didn’t just love the “good” parts of her, but I loved all of her. Every piece. She looked hopeful but skeptical. That night I penned the first version of Olive as a way to help her really understand the idea of unconditional love. No one is mistake-free. And sometimes we can take our mistakes and mishaps as proof we aren’t good enough or worthy of love. I want my children to always know that no matter what they think, feel, or do, I was always love all of them. Olive gives me a fun way to express that.
Tell me about your most “Olive” day ever.
I have Olive days all the time! Days when I get up in the morning with a solid plan and end up feeling like the entire day turned into one giant dumpster fire. There was the day I wore my shirt not only backwards, but also inside out, to the store. Then there was the day when I parked my car in the middle school parking lot only to realize I had blocked the bus leading the school spirit parade and had to do a 7-point turn to get my car out of the way—all while 200 middle schoolers and staff stared. I’ve had lots of Olive days.
What do you hope readers take away from Olive?
There are a couple takeaways. In the back of this book, there are three pages with key lessons that can help kids maneuver through life. I hope they can use Olive to learn how to recognize their feelings and deal with them in a healthy way. They can also discuss how to fix the mistakes they make and how to forgive others who might have hurt them.
The other takeaway is what I’ve mentioned before, that our kids are loved unconditionally. Recently I met a mom who asked me to sign her book. She explained that her autistic son struggled with feelings and often worried she didn’t love all of him. It was heartbreaking for her to see him worry. With tears in her eyes, she told me she was going to read Olive to him every night to help him understand her love for him. Olive is more than a cute book or a fun story; it’s another way people can say, “I love all of you” in a language even young children can understand. This, to me, is powerful and so needed.