Interview with Niki Spears, author of "The Hand Hug"
Niki Spears has been a teacher, behavioral specialist and principle who understands what it’s like to worry and be weighed down by negative thoughts. She’s now a motivational speaker, co-founder of PositiveKidsToday.com, and loving grandmother inspired to write, “The Hand Hug,” to help her granddaughter and other children learn to transform their thoughts – and their day – into smiles and good memories.
You’ve been a teacher, behavioral specialist and principal. Did you ever think you’d be a writer as well? Why or why not? Yes, I’ve enjoyed writing and storytelling ever since I was as young as kindergarten. I remember when my cousins would come for a visit, they would always ask me to tell them a story! I loved the joy these fictional stories seemed to bring to their faces and they definitely made our time together worthwhile!
You mention on your website that your new granddaughter was the inspiration for writing this children’s story, but what inspired the idea of a “hand hug”? When I was a kindergarten teacher, one of the many ways I calmed a student who was feeling a bit down was to engage them in a hand hug. I would hold their tiny little hands in mine and and when their eyes would connect with mine – I would ask - Do you feel that? That’s a Hand Hug. I would watch in awe as this simple act of love transformed their entire day.
You also mention that part of the inspiration was your own struggle to overcome negative thoughts. Would you say that some of what Baelor experiences in the book reflects some of your own experiences growing up? If so, in what ways? Yes, definitely. Through my childhood and much of my adult life I have struggled with negative thoughts and didn’t know how to transform them. As I grew older and started reading books by spiritual teachers, practicing gratitude, staying in the present moment, and developing other positive practices I learned how to leave worrisome thoughts behind and enjoy the moment.
You wrote the story, but had to find an illustrator for it. What was that process like? I first used Fiverr, but that didn’t work out for me. The main character would always look different in each illustration so I decided to venture out online and ended up finding artist in Europe. They have been wonderful, really brought my vision to life. And the most amazing thing about our collaboration is we’ve never talked by phone, only communicated through emails and that’s what makes it even more special and an inspiration to me.
What was the process like to decide what each picture would look like to reflect the story? I literally imaged what Baelor was doing, how she felt, what she was wearing, basically everything so that the reader would become a part of Baelor’s world.
This is your first book. What do you wish you’d already known about writing and publishing a children’s book that you had to learn along the way? Writing the book is the easy part – when you independently publish, editors and illustrators don’t work on your time so you must be patient.
What is your writing process like? Did you know the ending when you started or work out parts of the story as you went? I have to think of a problem that children are challenged with and place Baelor there front and center. Because I struggled with negative thinking as a child, it was easy to understand how she felt, especially doing something new, like starting a new school. The ending is always a surprise for me, I’m always inspired by the message God gives me and I LOVE the ending of this book!
Was there ever a part of the book that you got stuck on? If so, how did you get unstuck? Yes, most definitely! It didn’t take me a long time to write this story, however there were times when I questioned myself and whether people would like it or not. The way to move out of that space is to not worry so much about what others will think, just write from your heart. When you write from your heart, you’re more innovative and ideas will flow in!
As a child, what did you want to be – or thought you’d be – when you grew up? How is it similar or different from who you’ve become? As a little girl I wanted to be an Entertainer. As I shared at the beginning, I loved entertaining my relatives – seeing the joy and happiness on their faces when I would sing or tell jokes, made me smile. I always knew I would be on a stage, but never in a million years did I think I would be a motivational speaker, maybe a singer.
What advice would you give someone who wants to create their own children’s book? What are you waiting for! Start writing now!
Your website and work is aimed at supporting children in developing positive thoughts. What inspired you to start PositiveKidsToday? I first co-founded The Energy Bus for Schools Leadership Journey along with author Jon Gordon of The Energy Bus. After my granddaughter was born, my daughter (Baelor’s mother) begin to show interest in creating positive resources for young children, so I dived in to help her.
You and your daughter work together in developing PositiveKidsToday. Do you create the products together or is one of you more the creative and one more the business manager? What’s it like to work together? My daughter has a business background and I’ve always been in education but I don’t think we label ourselves as the creative one or the business one - if you’re starting a business you’d better be good or willing to learn both areas. I love working with Brandi and bouncing ideas back and forth – I know I can be challenging to work with and I let her know that. She seems to be okay with my style =)
13. What was your favorite book when you were a kid? I didn’t read much as a kid. If I can remember any books, they were Dr. Seuss books and I liked them because they were short, catchy, and simple!
Are you working on any more books or activities for kids? I have a non-fiction book coming out in the next few weeks titled, The Beauty Underneath the Struggle~ Creating Your BUS Story, and I have a second children’s book which should be ready before Christmas titled, Kindness is Contagious Too!, which teaches kids that acts of kindness can be just as contagious as the virus.
What do you most hope children and families will get from reading “The Hand Hug”? We get more of what we focus on so when we place our attention on all the wonderful things happening around us, more wonderful things will flow into our lives.
To learn more about Niki Spears and the work she’s doing in the world, visit www.NikiSpears.com or follower her on Twitter or Instagram. Discover more uplifting activities and get your copy of “The Hand Hug” at PositiveKidsToday.com or follow this inspiring company to be the first to learn about upcoming releases at Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.