YVONNE Duggan’s house is all about gratitude these days, as the mum-of-three basks in the success of her new children’s book series.
The Rosscarbery woman was inspired to write the Be Grateful series after she struggled to find books she could read to her children at night. Yvonne has an impairment called Stargardt Disease, a rare genetic condition that leads to loss of vision. The busy illustrations that often accompany most children’s books don’t make storytime easy.
“I can’t read a lot of kids’ books because the writing will be too italic or it will be on top of a coloured background, or it will be too small, and I’ll literally have to hold the book up in front of me and the kids will be like, ‘Mammy, we can’t even see the book’,” Yvonne says with a laugh.
Because of this, she can’t go shopping for books online like many other people. “I really need to see the inside of a book to know if I’ll be able to read it,” Yvonne says.
So, when the pandemic struck and she wanted to find a book on gratitude for her children, she couldn’t find anything.
“I try to practice gratitude a lot and I’ve kind of stopped and started with it over the years.
“At the start of the pandemic, I just kept focusing on it and I really found it made a massive difference,” Yvonne says.
“My eldest children were aged three and four at the time and I wanted to find them a book on it. I was looking everywhere and I just couldn’t find one.
“On Amazon, you can only see the front and back cover of a book so I had no idea which ones I’d be able to read and they were all very American.
“I was getting really frustrated and was thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ And then one day I was at home upstairs and was just like, ‘I’ll write one myself’.”
As ideas flooded to her, Yvonne rushed downstairs - whilst feeding her youngest - to make a plan. The book would be simple, engaging, and it would encourage parents to sit down with their children.
“I just kept writing and writing. I didn’t want it to be a story that you just read to your kids and put back up on the shelf. I wanted something that would get them engaged,” Yvonne says.
And so, not only did Yvonne plan to create an easy-to-read book on gratitude, but also an accompanying activity book, which was inspired by her own experience as a parent.
“As a mum, you always have this mama guilt. You feel like you’re not spending enough time with them. My daughter would ask me to colour a picture with her and I’d be like, ‘Two minutes I need to put on a wash’. Then I’d put on the wash and think ‘OK, now the youngest needs a feed’. Then I’d feed her and be like, ‘OK, now let me put on the dishwasher quickly’, and I’d feel so guilty afterward,” Yvonne says.
“One day I just said to myself, ‘Would you sit down and colour the picture with her, it’s only going to take two seconds’. And when I sat down she started telling me all of these things that she wouldn’t ordinarily tell me because we weren’t distracted, we were just having a chat and colouring.”
Inside the colouring book, parents can also find a code to print off PDFs of the activities. This idea was, again, based on the experience of most parents.
“My son would get a colouring book and just draw a line through it, and then not understand why we couldn’t get rid of the line,” Yvonne says, laughing.
“So at least with the PDFs you can start again and they’re all in black and white so that they print off the exact same way as they look in the book.”
The series is aimed toward children aged eight and under, but Yvonne hopes that some activities in the workbook will challenge children enough so that their parents will sit down and guide them.
“They’re all really simple activities, but some are harder, with the idea being that parents will sit down and help them,” Yvonne says.
“All it takes is five minutes - which is all kids want of you anyway. They just want you to sit down for that moment before they move on to something else.”
As for the book itself, Yvonne created it so that it can be read cover to cover or at a rate of one page a day.
The theme running throughout is, of course, how to be grateful for what you have.
“It’s about gratitude - about going through the different things that are in a child’s life. It teaches kids how to be grateful for people, places and things,” Yvonne explains.
“For example, it goes through things like pets, and for those who don’t have pets it asks what your imaginary pet would be and if you are grateful for your imaginary pet.
“It also goes through toys and reminds children not to take all the toys they have for granted.”
To launch the book, Yvonne set about finding an illustrator and printer and started her own business, called Mind Your Mind With Ease. On top of all of that, she was also working full time, taking a course in her Local Enterprise Office, raising her children, and dealing with the pandemic. Without the latter, however, she doesn’t know if the books would have launched last September at all.
“The pandemic really reconnected us with appreciating all of the small things that we have,” Yvonne says.
“It taught us that you don’t always have to be looking or reaching out for other things.
"We can always wish for and want more but to be grateful for what we have now is so important.”
The book touches on that, featuring some of the unsung heroes of the pandemic, such as the local shopkeeper or baker.
“It looks at being grateful for the people in our lives; our neighbours, our shop assistants,” Yvonne says.
“And I hope that it will inspire parents too, to maybe say an extra thank-you the next time they see someone or send off a text.”
The books also have a link to a website that features videos, explaining what gratitude means. For Yvonne, it’s about one simple thing.
“It’s all about what makes you happy. Every night before the kids go to bed we all name three things that we’re grateful for and that made us happy that day. That small thing alleviates my mama guilt so much. None of us go to bed agitated.
“Gratitude gets me into the right mind of thinking, and when you get into that positive state of mind, all of these opportunities start coming to you. I often questioned myself when I was writing the book, asking myself who I thought I was, but the desire to do it was so strong. I’m proof that what you see in your mind, with the right way of thinking, you can have in your hand.
“This whole thing started out of frustration and now it’s helping so many people. And this is just the start of it.”