Monday Motivation: Esther Marshall, Author of Sophie Says I Can, I WillBy Jodie Duddy
Monday Motivation is back and this week we’re here with Esther Marshall, author of children’s book Sophie Says I Can, I Will and founder of abuse survivor charity, sTandTall. Dissatisfied by the lack of diversity in children’s books while reading to her son, she set about writing her own. We met up with her to discuss the inspiration behind Sophie Says I Can, I Will and why it’s important to have a diverse representation in children’s books:
How do you like to start your day?
Well, at the moment the mornings aren’t my own as I have a 14-month-old son who likes to wake up anywhere from 5:30-6:30am. Recently, more on the earlier side. So I start my day when he wakes me up. However, I always make sure I get 20 minutes to myself in the morning where I can walk, be it on my commute or just around where I live and I listen to an uplifting podcast. Podcasts have become my lifeline and they have become so important to my mornings to ensure I start my day off well.
What book inspired you recently?
I try and read every night before I go to bed but at the moment with two jobs and a baby, by the time I get 10 pages in I’m falling asleep. However, I’m currently reading The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry. It’s inspired me take a long hard look at myself and work out not just who I want to be as a mum, but who I want to be for myself and who I want to be for friends and family as well. It’s quite a lot of deep thinking each night but I think it’s definitely worth trying to be as conscious of it as I can. We’re all a work in progress, right?!
What was the inspiration behind Sophie Says I Can, I Will?
Whilst off on maternity leave I started reading books to my baby son. I soon realised that the majority of children’s books had a male lead character, even the animals were all male! I started looking for a book for younger children that showed a female character who knew her worth and a book that could teach all young children about how women can achieve just as much, if not more.
The more and more I looked around the more it frustrated me. I want my son to grow up knowing that equality can be achieved. I want him to pick up a book with a female lead and not think twice about it as he will know that this is the norm.
During night feeds I found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media which I knew was not the best thing to be doing while sleep-deprived and with hormones all over the place. I decided that looking at other people’s Instagram-perfect lives wasn’t the best use of this unique, special time, so instead I came off social media during the night feeds and started to write the book I had been looking for.
Why do you think the story matters?
Personally I think the story is vital. Behavioural science suggests that by the time a child is 4 they have already got a strong sense of what is right or wrong, so getting through to children at this early age is crucial in order for them to learn that girls can grow up to be just as successful as boys.
It also showcases a diverse set of characters which allows children to absorb a story that is more representative of society than a lot of other children’s literature out there. If children from diverse backgrounds don’t see themselves in the books how can we expect them to feel like they can achieve their dreams?
With so many messages and so much content available to children via social media and the internet, I wanted to take things back to basics and start with a story.
How do you like to measure success?
I have always been notoriously hard on myself in this aspect. Before I had my son I measured success by constantly overachieving. So, if I pushed myself to do 10 things in one day, the next day I’d be disappointed if I didn’t do 11. However, since I’ve had to balance a fulltime job, running sTandTall, launching Sophie Says and raising a child, my measure of success is now about the more emotional factors like the smile on my son’s face when I walk through the door or the feeling I get when a child tells me they want to be like Sophie in the book.
How do you cope with failure?
To be absolutely honest, not great. For about the first hour once I realise I’ve failed, I feel like I’ve let myself down. However, after that initial hour of being in a funk subsides I try to sit down and write all the steps that led to that failure. Then next to each of those steps I find something positive that has come out of each of them.
This helps me realise that, although the end result was a failure, I have had so many positives or lessons learned along the journey. That really helps to shift my mindset from the negative to the positive… or at least constructive!
What motivates you?
Feeling that I have a real opportunity to inspire and help instil self-belief in the next generation be that with my son or through the children that read my book. Since the launch of Sophie Says I’ve been so moved by parents who have sent me messages saying how much they wish they had this when they were growing up. And at our recent launch event when children were excited to tell me what they wanted to be when they grew up after hearing all of Sophie’s ideas.
You have had so many achievements in your career, what is your most prized?
I would have to say the process of writing a book in the middle of the night whilst feeding my son and being totally sleep deprived and publishing it in such a short space of time. I think writing the book would have felt like a win in itself but the fact I’ve managed to get it out into other people’s homes and hopefully inspire other children than my own really feels like a big achievement.