Categorized | FEATURED, NEWS

Paper artist releases book to let children know it’s ok to be wrong or right, happy or sad

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘Always be you’

Ioana Stoian knows that messages are crucial to children, and wants adults to let children know that feelings are okay. Hear more about her parenting style on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Hamline Midway Library. (Photo by Jan Willms)

When Hamline-Midway paper artist Ioana Stoian gave birth to her son, George, who is now two and a half, she and her husband searched for books to read to their young child.
“The board books we found were mainly counting or colors,” Stoian said. She said that any books with messages for the very young were not what they were looking for, and they often changed the words as they read them. “There were messages that you can’t do this because you’re too small, or this is bad and this is good. We had to vet the books, and I didn’t want to keep changing the words,” she noted.
So Stoian wrote a poem to her son and then realized she wanted to share the message. “I wrote the book I wanted my son to see when he was a baby. This was the message I wanted him to hear, and I don’t think I’m alone,” said Stoian. “Always Be You” was published in November.
The book celebrates a child’s emotions and feelings and lets a child know it’s okay to be wrong or right, happy or sad.

Universal character
“I wanted the character to be gender neutral,” Stoian said. “When you have a person as a character, all these questions arise. What color is the hair, the eyes, the skin?”
To make it as universal as possible, Stoian chose to make it a flower, not any particular gender or color. “Any parent or child can identify with it,” she said. The book became a collaboration between herself and the illustrator, Dawn M. Cardona.
“She is extremely talented and handcut the illustrations,” Stoian said. “She is also a mom, and we have a lot in common.” For her book, Stoian made every sheet of paper and then sent it to Cardona. “I hand-glued each individual letter down for text,” she said.
Stoian, who is British-born, said she and her husband, a native of Minnesota and also a paper artist, have a small publishing company in the UK that published “Always Be You.”
“All the words come genuinely from me to my son,” Stoian said. She was able to avoid a publisher making changes to her writing. She also was able to select her own illustrator, which was very important to her.
The book was printed and bound in Germany. “It’s very hard in America to print board books,” Stoian explained. “You need specialized machinery, and it’s very expensive. I found a really good company that printed on sustainable paper. We could have done it for a third of the cost in China, if it were all about the money. But I wanted a high quality product that would feel good in spreading this message.”

Respectful parenting
The message for a child to embrace emotions, and that it’s okay to be jealous or angry or shy, is an idea Stoian and her family promote.
“Children are taught to share, but they don’t understand the concept of sharing until they are three or four,” she said. Her book encourages the feelings of happiness or sadness a young child may experience. “Violence is never okay,” she said, “but thoughts are okay.”
Stoian exchanges and shares ideas on parenting with other parents, educators and communicators who are part of a group called Friends of RIE MN (FORM.)
‘When you first move to a new place, you look for a community where you will fit in. At first, I was part of a paper artist’s community, and we did a lot of paper making at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts,” Stoian said. “And when I had my child, I found FORM, which is based on respectful parenting. We meet once a month and discuss parenting, and it is free and open to all.”
She said the group recently had a Hamline professor come in and talk about bringing up boys in today’s world. Stoian organizes a free play gathering each month, when adults mingle and kids play. “Finding this community and learning respect is how we brought up our child,” she said.

Child isn’t an object but a person with emotions
Stoian said that society often sends the message to parents that their child is an object, rather than a person with a need to express emotions. “Children are innocent when they are born,” Stoian continued, “and throughout all of life they are trying to find out who they are. It is very rare that a person is 100 percent confident in their body and mind as to who they are.”
“Messages are crucial to children,” she said. “If we give the message that feelings are okay, it’s okay to love whoever you want, think of the world we could live in.”
Stoian said she has reached out to some different birthing centers with her book and to spread the message children need. She hopes to have discussions using the book with new parents and expectant parents.
Her aim is to get the book into as many libraries as possible. “Most of the things I do, I want to be available for everyone. I love the library system here; it’s amazing. It’s open to anybody, so if you don’t have the money to buy a book, you can get one for your child.”
Reflecting on her book, Stoian said it took exactly nine months to complete. “It was just like having a baby,” she joked. Although children’s books can reportedly be very difficult to write, she said she did not find that to be the case. “The book came purely from my heart,” she said.

Take it slow
She said she considers the paper of her book to have a slowness to it, and she compared it to the slowness of life when a child is born. “Having a newborn is a slow time, just like the beginning of life,” Stoian said. “It is such a beautiful time and goes by so fast. We need to savor it, because we can never get it back.”
Her book offers a parent the opportunity to slow down and have a conversation with his or her child, to talk about feelings and thoughts and life on this planet.
If someone is interested in purchasing “Always Be You,” Stoian encourages them to buy a copy from an independent book shop. “While it’s easy to buy from an online retailer, we need to support independent book shops so that they continue to be there,” she noted.
Stoian is hoping the book can be the focus of parental discussion groups, also. She welcomes anyone who is interested in learning more about respectful parenting to attend a gathering of FORM.
> Stoian will be leading a discussion on respectful parenting alongside Carolyn Paetzel (founder of FORM). It will be held at the Hamline Midway Library at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27.