Amanda Bernardo’s journey toward writing children’s books started when she noticed that many of them were lacking something. It happened when she was volunteering some of her time reading to children. The books all started to seem the same to her.
“The books that we were reading just seemed to have no purpose,” says Bernardo. “There was no moral to the story. There was nothing that you could talk to the children about.”
She wanted something that accomplished what Dr. Seuss was able to for her parents’ generation. But what she saw dominating store shelves didn’t create discussions or teach deeper lessons.
In 2014, Bernado decided to remedy the problem herself. She partnered with illustrator Samantha Clusiau-Lawlor to create Little Voice Books. Since then they’ve released two books that are very much in line with Bernardo’s original vision: Little Voice and, this month, The Lighthouse. Both books are about weighty topics. Little Voice encourages self-care and trust in the face of failure or uncertainty, while The Lighthouse tackles issues of sadness, mental health, and human connection.
The duo’s commitment to creating children’s books that matter, that can positively change lives, is apparent in everything they do. These are books that are created from the ground up to be meaningful to as many children as possible, with diverse casts, clear language, and open-ended stories. They’re also beautifully illustrated by Clusiau-Lawlor, which helps to make them attractive to even the youngest audiences.
Bernardo’s writing stands out for its honest, personal nature. She writes from a place of struggle, but in a way that makes it accessible and helpful to all ages. Little Voice came out of a poem she wrote to inspire herself, and she wants her books to be tools for younger generations.
“I basically wanted to tell my six-year-old self that it’s okay when a hard time comes,” she says, “it’s okay to fail or to be scared or whatever the case may be, as long as I believe in myself.”
She’s not talking down to children, nor is she dressing up the issues with glitz and glamour. She’s trying to identify with her readers and help them. For The Lighthouse, she set out purposefully to tell a story that broke down stigma and barriers around mental health, drawing on her own experience with anxiety. Drawing on but also battling through as she agonized over the sensitive topic.
“I was really struggling,” she said. “I find myself to be more of a personal writer, and every time I have to share that with other people, I become anxious and perfectionistic.”
The final product is one that speaks about the commonality of the experience of sadness and anxiety, and of the importance of open conversation about mental health. The book’s rhyming metre deliver its message while the stories told in the images tell relatable stories acting out that message.
Bernardo commitment to helping goes further than her writing. She and Clusiau-Lawlor created Little Voice Books as a social enterprise, and every book they sell contributes to causes associated with the theme of the book. Little Voice contributed to the Alzheimer Society of Canada while sales of The Lighthouse contribute to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Purchasing Little Voice books is something that can be accomplished through their website, and The Lighthouse will join Little Voice on select Chapters’ store shelves on October 14. Bernardo and Clusiau-Lawlor will be attending launch events at several Chapters outlets around Ottawa from the 14 through the 15, signing books and meeting fans young and old. For more, visit their blog.
The author and illustrator will be signing books at Chapters Gloucester on October 14 from 12-3pm and at Chapters Kanata on October 15 from 12-3pm. The books are also available online.