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Monday, 18 May 2015

Author Interview - Feeling happy with Nicky Johnston

As the flurries of anxieties created by recent NAPLAN testings settle, I am reminded that even the youngest of minds can be beset with worries, which may manifest themselves so firmly within a child’s physchie that they become dangerously debilitating.

I’ve seen it in kids around me, in my own nephew and most alarmingly, my own daughter (although not from NAPLAN – she loved that experience).

The need to reach out to and persuade young people to fight their worries and to cultivate strong healthy convictions about who they are and what they are capable of spurred the urge to write a book to show them how. This is still a work in progress for me, however, fortunately, for the welfare of children everywhere, Australian author illustrator, Nicky Johnston has already penned a few useful books addressing these exact issues.

Her first attempt to battle ‘worry thoughts’ in children appeared in 2008 with her self-illustrated picture book, Go Away MrWorrythoughts. Bayden should be an intelligent and courageous young boy yet anxiety in the shape of one Mr Worrythoughts plagues him. This ugly beast threatens to sap every ounce of Bayden’s energy and zest for life until thankfully one day, Bayden realises that the power to overcome Mr Worrythoughts dwells within him.

Johnston’s picture book Happythoughts are Everywhere, followed in 2009. Bayden returns, still suffering from the odd bout of worry. However, being a little older and wiser means he is slowly able to accept that counting ones blessings is akin to finding happy thoughts everywhere, and with them to occupy his life, there is positively no room for worry and fear.

Each of these stories is backed up with some very clever and useful tips on how to banish worrying thoughts and replace them with happy ones; simple, straightforward strategies to help children take control of their mental well-being.

Johnston’s latest picture book, Actually, I Can, hit the shelves in 2013. Two new characters appear Connor and Amelia. Connor is shy and concerned and wishes he shared a confidence more like his friend, Amelia. Amelia’s sense of daring and adventure take them both on a journey of discovery and revelation.

Amid a swelling sea of books attempting to address and improve the mental health and self-esteem of our young people, NickyJohnston handles the notion that simply changing your attitude can change everything with clear insight and sensitivity.

I asked Nicky what her motivation was to write these books and a little about herself. Here’s what she had to say…

Q. Who is Nicky Johnston? Describe your writerly / illustrator self.

I always have more ideas than time. I am a busy mum to four boys and I absolutely love my job as a writer and illustrator.

I would love to say that I am an organised, routine writer/illustrator, with a tidy desk and a daily planned schedule. But I am more like a mad scientist. I have numerous journals and sketch pads that capture ideas or images and sometimes I can get so swept up in a project that I work all night without realising it. I have a tight ‘mum taxi’ schedule so my writing and artwork tend to be slotted in where available. I do love my weekends when I can sneak into my studio for a while before anyone finds me!

My favourite part of my writerly/illustrator self is when I visit schools or workshops. I just LOVE teaching children, inspiring and motivating them. I love watching their eyes sparkle as they realise they too can become a mad scientist like me.


Q. What were the main motivators for writing your picture books about coping with anxieties and worries?

My very first book ‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!’ was borne from the huge need for a children’s book about worrying. My eldest son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at just 5 years of age and back then, there were very few children’s books available for me to read with him. So I decided to write and illustrate one.

I always knew there were many children with anxiety, little worriers just like my son, but I had no idea that these books would raise such awareness and become in such demand over the coming years.

Mental health issues in children are now becoming a big focus for parents and educators and it is wonderful to be able to provide some valuable resources. I was recently a speaker alongside Dr Michael Carr-Gregg (renowned child/teen psychologist) who told the audience that my books are a main resource that psychology professionals reach for when dealing with children with anxiety.

Q. How do you use your books in your roles as an educator and author? And why do you think it’s important to do so?

As an author of children’s books tackling anxiety, and a mother dealing with a child with an anxiety disorder, my books have lead me to be involved in a variety of speaking opportunities, talking to professionals, educators, parents and even working with children in schools. By talking about my books and their inspiration (my son’s journey) it is not only raising awareness of mental health issues in children, but also providing information, support and the understanding that anxiety in children is treatable and manageable and that early intervention (like anything) is always the best action.


‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts’ has been adapted into a theatrical production and is currently in its fourth year of touring primary schools in Victoria. It is a brilliant production and is a wonderful way for educators to address resilience and emotional well-being in children.


Q. What’s next for Nicky?

I am currently working on a children’s book that I have written and illustrated for an organisation due for release later this year. I also have another children’s book I am hoping to work on, again with a focus on anxiety and resilience.

I am also working with Frankston Arts Centre, as we are trying to take the theatrical production of ‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!’ on a national tour, and perhaps even adapting my most recent book ‘Actually, I Can’ into a production also.

I never really know what is just around the corner, and I love that most opportunities pop out of left field when I least expect them.



Me too, Nicky. Thanks for visiting.

Please note, this interview was conducted earlier last year. For the very latest on Nicky's beautiful artwork and stories, please visit her, here.