'Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door' helps children understand family diversity and gay parenting
MEA WorldWide spoke with Nadine Haruni, an attorney by day and children's author by night, about her beginnings and her new book
Some complexities in life are often inexplicable. And when there are little children involved, it is hard to find the right way to break down sensitive or difficult subjects in a way that they can comprehend them. Their little eyes perceive the world of grown-ups to be intimidating and extremely puzzling, and parents may come up shorthanded when a child-friendly explanation is hard to conjure. Well, fret not parents because children's author and Gold Mom's Choice Award Winner, Nadine Haruni has you covered. In her 'Freeda the Frog Series', Haruni uses her creative genius to make coping with various life changes and the challenges that come with it a little easier for tiny tots. The protagonist in her book is Freeda, a momma frog with three tadpoles, Frannie Frank and Jack. Allegorically, Haruni makes sensitive family situations like a parent's divorce and remarriage, moving to a new location, starting a new school, and the loss of a pet or a loved one, less complicated via the story of 'Freeda the Frog.' Haruni is the author of four books in the 'Freeda the Frog' series, each tackling common family issues, namely: 'Freeda The Frog Gets a Divorce', 'Freeda the Frog and Her New Blue Family', 'Freeda The Frog is on the Move' and 'Freeda the Frog Says Farewell to Her Fish'
Her latest addition to the series, titled 'Freeda The Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door' dwells on various types of families, in an attempt to make kids understand that families are different. The book addresses gay parenting and explains to children how some parents are not necessarily always a dad and a mom. There are children with two moms and two dads, and all that matters is love. MEA WorldWide spoke with Haruni, an attorney by day and children's author by night, about her beginnings and her new book.
'Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door' is about a tadpole named Jessica. She is new to Port Frogafly School and befriends Frannie, Frank, and Jack. After school, Jessica invites them to her house, where the confused tadpoles meet her two mommas. Most tadpoles have a mom and dad but Jessica's family is very different from theirs, and a conversation between the four little tadpoles ensues where Jessica tells them about her family. Frannie, Frank, and Jack still don't get a grasp of it and talk to their momma Freeda about it. The family invites Jessica and her two mommas over for dinner one night and share a pleasant meal, as the children mingle with each other and try to understand that there are different types of families out there, but it doesn't matter so long as there is love. 'All you need is love. Love is all you need'.
Haruni has always been passionate about writing and even took classes in college in writing and illustrating children's books. The idea for her first book struck her as she was going through a difficult time in her life, where she was struggling to explain to her own children that she and her husband were getting a divorce. "I felt that there were not a lot of books out there geared for kids that kind of discussed divorce in a non-threatening, sort of happy-ish way, if you will, about the topic," she explained. Haruni's mother, who is the inspiration for Freeda, had also gone through a divorce herself. Following the first book, Haruni was inspired by the various scenarios that she and her children went through and penned down the next three books. The second book reflects Haruni's remarriage to her husband, who is of different ethnicity and had kids of his own. The third book focuses on Haruni's move from New York City to the suburbs after marriage, and the children having to move schools. The fourth book is based on the concept of losing a loved one.
"I wanted to address topics that I mean, in general, the common thread of all the books is teaching kids sensitivity tolerance and discussing subjects beyond what we know in our own world," said Haruni. "The most recent one which is talking about gay families and that's the focus. But it's also just teaching kids the parenting and families come in many different forms and that love is all you need. That's the general theme." These are mainstream topics that most kids encounter these days, and Haruni felt like they probably feel self-conscious about these issues or uncomfortable that their families don't look like other families. "I wanted those kids to feel better about it. But I also wanted other kids who were not in these situations, especially kids that let's say maybe in some suburbs, maybe more sheltered and stuff, to be more aware and to become more tolerant and open to other kids and help kids feel that really every family looks different. And that's a beautiful thing."
Haruni's vision is brought to life by illustrator Tina Modugno, who takes credit for the 'cool and hip-looking' frog momma Freeda and her tadpoles. The book is illustrated with adorable cartoons of frogs and tadpoles, bathed in vivid and vibrant colors, which is sure to make it engaging for a child as well. Modugno has full creative license over how she decides to go about illustrating the book. Haruni typically spends 10 months on producing her final draft before it can go in for publishing, which includes regular review sessions with Madugno over the illustrations. Haruni figured that she wanted her books to be portrayed by an animal or any cute character that could easily hold a child's attention and teach kids diversity, sensitivity and tolerance. Having used her mother's name 'Frida' as the name of the protagonist of her books, she decided on Freeda being a frog, recalling fond memories of her sometimes calling her mother 'Frida the Frog' when she was in her teens.
She even let us in on a froggy secret with regard to the name. While her mother's name is spelled with an 'i', the character's name is spelled with an 'ee'. "I wanted it to have it sort it has a lot to the meaning of kids and families being free to express themselves and free to have these conversations," she explained. The story narrated in the book is put in a child's perspective, with easy explanations about different families. It also unfurls a clear discussion about diversity and gender roles. Writing her books has also taught Haruni valuable lessons both in her career as an author and in her life. "It's really important, I think, to do your homework especially and do your research as an author, especially if it's a topic that's not personally relevant to you," she said making an observation. While she wrote the first four books from her own experience, the fifth book was more social than familial.
With 'Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door', Haruni had help from her friends in the LGBTQ+ community who gave her their constructive criticisms and feedback, which enabled her to improve her drafts significantly. At some points, she revealed, she had held back from writing in blunt sentences, as she didn't want to be offensive. But she was pacified by a friend, who said that including such language would help combat negative stereotypes, especially when you put in the perspective of kids speaking to one another. It was important that kids can relate to what she was explaining to them through the book. The story also comes complete with some froggy puns, that are 'toad-ally' giggle-inducing.
Haruni loves hearing from her readers and is often active on her social platforms, Instagram, more so than Facebook and Twitter. She has had "either teachers or parents who've told me that they've used the book in their class or with the kids to open up the conversation and that they liked it, or I've had kids of all ages write to me to tell me that the books helped them, had books come up." Her books have been well-received by her readers and so far the responses from 'Freeda the Frog and the Two Mommas Next Door' have also been very promising. She finds that to be rewarding and encouraging.
For now, Haruni is enjoying her time at home with her family, working from home, like the rest of us, and waiting for this pandemic to pass. But the wheels in her mind have already started turning. She's starting to make plans for her sixth book, out of the 12-book series, that she is hoping to make out of 'Freeda the Frog'. Meanwhile, she hopes with the new book and Pride Month, that parents can celebrate love because it is the most important thing along with helping kids recognize that not all families look the same. "I feel like it's really relevant, especially with everything going on now -- teaching kids tolerance and sensitivity. So I'm hoping that parents and teachers really see the importance of my book, that address real-life stuff and having open, candid conversations with kids," she added.
Get your copy of the 'Freeda the Frog ' series here.