This is story 4 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
Maria always considered herself a bookworm growing up, so it’s no surprise that she wrote, “Blaine Loves Boxes” and became a children’s author. She loved to read and has very fond memories of being at the library as a little kid. Her dad would drop her off at the library while he got a haircut at the barbershop next door and Maria would go straight to the children’s section and get lost in all the different books. She has always been an admirer of picture books, not only as a child, but as a teacher, and now as a mother. A picture book never fails to enthrall Maria, and she thinks a part of it is because she’s a visual learner.
It has been Maria’s goal to write children’s books for as long as she can remember. Being a professional author was never really her end goal because her dream job was to be a teacher. But the desire to write her own book one day was always in the back of her mind because children’s books have a special place in her heart. So much so that her mom saved a story Maria wrote when she was 6 years old. They still have her hand written story of a pig and dog becoming friends.
Maria went on to pursue teaching, and being a preschool teacher and an early interventionist inspired her to eventually write “Blaine Loves Boxes.” She absolutely adored working at an inclusive preschool where she had the opportunity to teach children of all abilities – what some may call “typical developing” and “special needs.” The inclusive preschool made it so all kids of all abilities were learning and playing together. For about 8 years, Maria taught, did some administration work, worked with children in home therapy, and provided sessions.
She attributes her inspiration for the book to her hands-on teaching experience in the classroom. Maria explains the teaching reality – no classroom is perfect, it can be absolutely hectic at times, and no day goes perfectly smooth, but to see how the little ones are growing and learning from each other every day is the fulfillment of the job. And being in an inclusive classroom meant being able to adapt and change throughout the years to accommodate each new student group that came in. Everything about the classroom was inclusive – the kids with different abilities, the lesson plan and curriculum, and celebrating the different family cultures that they had in their program.
Maria was amazed by how much her students impacted her. Yes, her inspiration for the book was having that hands-on teaching experience, but it was the kids that brought it to life. She was completely intrigued by what little ones do naturally to help each other out. Since it was an inclusive classroom, with time, the students picked up on which friends needed more assistance or help. That would look like helping a friend get up from their spot after Circle Time, or holding a friend’s hand because they know they have a harder time with transitions. All of her students, like most young children, naturally helped each other out and tried to best support their friends that needed it or were upset. Maria quickly saw the benefits of an inclusive classroom and it got her mind thinking.
“I loved seeing what innocent minds did for one another, and I often thought, ‘If we could immerse kids in an inclusive setting as early as preschool age, what amazing effects could that do as they got older? As they became adults?’” Maria shared. “It made me realize how simple inclusion can be with the right support and mindsets.”
Her experience as a preschool teacher allowed her to still keep in touch with her first love – picture books! Every early childhood educator knows how important it is to read to their students and what an incredible tool a book could be to get a point or lesson across. One day it dawned on Maria that there weren’t as many inclusive picture books out there as there should be for young kids. She loves how the inclusive books that are out there right now represents children with special needs, like being in a wheelchair. But based on her experiences, she knew first hand that special needs doesn’t have to be labeled, defined, or be limited to medical equipment or a diagnosis.
Maria was inspired to make a book that anyone could relate to. She believes all children are unique and special just as they are, and shouldn’t be defined by labels. Right off the bat, Maria knew she didn’t want to label her main character to put them in a box, so instead, she created a character that liked to play outside the box, literally. In her book, “Blaine Loves Boxes,” Blaine is just a kid who loves boxes, anyone can relate to his character, but the reader can also see what makes him his own person. Blaine is unique in his own way and connects to the world around him through playing with boxes.
When Maria decided she was going to embark on this journey and write her own inclusive children’s book, she was definitely overwhelmed at first. Like anything new, you just don’t know where to start and you’re filled with so many questions. Maria wanted to know what she was getting herself into and what to expect in the process, so she took matters into her own hands and took to the internet to start her research. She was proactive in trying to gain knowledge from other people’s experiences, so she read articles, followed author groups on Facebook, watched tons of YouTube videos, and asked all the questions that came to mind, even if they were simple. Maria kept researching until she had all the answers to her questions.
Maria wrote “Blaine Loves Boxes,” in December of 2020 when she unfortunately lost her job to the pandemic. She connected with her illustrator in April of 2021, and from April onwards it was working on every single detail of the book until it was released in November 2021. Maria broke down the basic process: have your story, get the editing done, illustrations process, formatting process, and uploading are the big parts. But there are a ton of little steps that accompany those bigger steps. And in that process, there were many times when Maria just wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But she thanks her amazing support system that always encouraged and helped her along the way. Because of them, she stuck to her goal and made it happen.
One of the most important relationships she made was with her illustrator, Tasya. They connected over the site, Fiverr, a site a lot of self-publishers use to find freelancers. When Maria was on the hunt, it was important to her to find an illustrator whose art she could connect to, but also connect to as a person. She believes that with any successful relationship, there needs to be chemistry, especially since this would be someone she’d be working closely with to create what she envisioned. When Maria and Tasya connected, she knew that they would make a great team. She’s so glad that they worked so well together because Maria admits that the closest drawings she had for her book were stick figure story boards!
Maria could’ve went down many paths, but chose to go down the self-publishing route. She made this decision during her researching phase. She knew that her end goal was to just get the book done. Maria wanted to make sure that she was writing a book that she was passionate about and wanted her story printed and in her hands. It was operation “Just. Get. It. Done.” Maria always knew that the monetary benefits weren’t at the top of her list, and that really factored into her choosing to self-publish. She wanted full creative authority over her book and saw it as her “baby.” Maria liked how she got to make every final decision because it was really important to her to learn all the ins and outs of self-publishing.
“When self-publishing you are doing a lot of the decision making on everything,” Maria shared. “What size book are you looking for? What style of illustrations are you looking for? Do you want set pages to be illustrated as single or double spread? When self-publishing you are making all the final decisions. When looking into it, I wanted to be part of the whole process. If I was going to write a children’s book for its story to be heard and for my grandkids to have one day – I wanted a say in it all.”
Maria knew early on that making monetary gains weren’t at the top of her “why” list, which led her down the self-publishing route. But she knows that not all creatives take the same publishing path. For her, the mindset she had going into the process was really important. She wanted full authority of her book, and understood the reality that there are tons and tons of authors out there in the world. That means that there are lots of children’s books circulating out there and lots of stories to be shared. Maria did enough research to know that if you are not working with a big name publisher, the likelihood of your work getting into anything like the New York Bestsellers list is really difficult. But her mindset was focused on getting the book done and making it completely hers in every aspect. At the end of the day she is very content with her decision and has no regrets.
Maria believes what sets “Blaine Loves Boxes” aside from other children’s books is the fact that it focuses on some similarities that all children have with one another but simultaneously seeing what makes the main character so unique. Readers find themselves connecting to Blaine and his quirks, but then you’re able to realize that Blaine is not so different. It was really important for Maria to embed her own life experiences on how she sees the world. She loves to people watch, sitting in nature, and just listening and observing the interactions around her. So a lot of those simple details can be found in the book because Maria has a huge attention to detail.
Now “Blaine Loves Boxes” can be found in certain big name stores like Target and Barnes & Nobles, as well as other local stores. Years before her writing process, Maria always envisioned herself walking into a local bookstore and seeing her book on the shelf. This is a dream that intensified as she began her official writing process for the book. Even if she saw just 1 copy of her book at 1 local store, she would be ecstatic. Maria describes seeing her book in stores as one of the best feelings ever, especially since she gets to share this moment with her daughters.
“Living out something you’ve always dreamed of doing, whether big or small, is one of the best feelings,” Maria said still on a high. “And then to be able to share it with my daughters who I want to teach can do whatever they set their mind to?! It leaves my heart so humbled.”
Her daughters have seen the whole process. They saw mommy writing, they saw mommy editing, they saw mommy communicating with people over the computer, and now they get to see mommy’s book in stores. Seeing her children’s reactions when they see mom’s picture on the back of the book is one of the best feelings. Maria loves that she is leading by example, showing her daughters that they can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.
Maria is doing the website, marketing, and social media all on her own. She knows that there are different ways to gain more followers and get more eyes on her content, but realistically, she knows she can’t do it all on her own. So instead, Maria chooses to use the social media to promote “Blaine Loves Boxes” to the best of her ability and just have fun! Maria likes that she can post what she wants, how she wants, when she wants. She focuses on content that she would like to see on other people’s pages and topics that she would personally enjoy. Maria goes with the flow because she knows the most important thing to her was getting the book done, getting the story out, and sharing the message of inclusion.
The support Maria has received, big or small, means the world to her. When she gets tagged in a post of her targeted age, 3 years old, enjoying her book, she is so grateful because she knows that her book is teaching kids that they are special in their own way, their voice matters, and caring for others that may be different than you is a skill you should hold on to. Maria hopes to one day publish another children’s book. For now, they are tucked away in her Notes section of her phone and laptop, as she is very busy with being a full-time stay at home mom. But getting another book out there is likely, given that Maria would love to say that she has published more than one book.
Maria’s advice for anyone writing a story for young children – especially very young children – is to know your audience. Researching your target age is very important to make sure that the story you are writing is developmentally appropriate. You can have an amazing story with big ideas, but if you don’t make it a key point to make sure it makes sense for your targeted age, they won’t fully grasp the story and understand it. But most importantly, her advice to other authors is to just have fun with it and not be afraid. Maria believes that there is always space for more books that teach kids about different cultures, diversity, and all abilities. Even if your book can reach just one person to imprint on their lives, it is worth doing because “inclusive books help raise inclusive minds.”
Maria considers herself an everyday person. She is a bi-racial American-born woman, mom, and now self-published author. She wants people to know that she had a goal and saw it through. Maria encourages anyone that has a specific goal to go for it! She tries to take her own advice that she always tells her kids – never say you can’t. If you want something hard enough and work for it, you will eventually get there. Maria is grateful that she followed through with her dream of becoming a children’s author because she knows that “Blaine Loves Boxes” is helping to shape the young minds that read it to be more empathetic and understanding of those around them.
“Inclusion is important to learn at a young age because kids learn people are all different,” Maria said. “It fosters things like understanding, acceptance and kindness – something the world needs more of.”