My Thoughts Have Wings: Author Guest Post by Maggie Smith

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It's a time to shed the stigma, to acknowledge the struggles, and to celebrate the brave steps taken every day towards better mental health. Whether you're navigating your own mental health journey or supporting someone who is, books are a wonderful tool for finding the ways to express how you're feeling and fostering empathy.

Maggie Smith, poet and author of My Thoughts Have Wings sat down to talk about anxiety, especially in our youngest readers, and how to soothe anxious thoughts at bedtime and all the time. 

If you're interested in more books for your readers about mental health, head over to our round up blog post for titles for every age group.

My first book for children, My Thoughts Have Wings, illustrated by Leanne Hatch, has an origin story that’s very close to my heart. Early in the pandemic, my son and daughter were grappling with what children all over the world were grappling with: separation from friends and family; an interrupted school year; the abrupt halt of life as they knew it. But they were also coping with their parents’ divorce and their father’s move nearly 500 miles away. Tucks-ins with my youngest were especially difficult through that time.

One night, sad and anxious, my son said, “I’m trying to think good thoughts, but the bad thoughts keep pushing them out of the way.” Frankly, I understood. I wasn’t sleeping well either. I, too, was lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling or tossing and turning. The bad thoughts were loud; they kept shouting down the good ones.

It was important to me to listen to his worries and to validate them; no one stops worrying from being told, “Don’t worry,” or “Don’t think about that.” But while I listened and commiserated with him about life’s challenges, I also wanted him to fill up with good thoughts before bed. I wanted to turn the volume up on the good thoughts and let them have their say.

This became our bedtime ritual: cuddling in his bed together in the dark, naming happy memories and things to look forward to. We delighted in bringing those moments to life with as much sensory detail as possible. Instead of being upset at bedtime, not wanting me to leave his room, my son was more at peace—and I was more at peace, too.

Given the tumult of the pandemic, I knew that other children must be sad and anxious, and I wanted to share our bedtime ritual with other families. Rhett and I call My Thoughts Have Wings “our book”—and it is, because we created it from a shared experience. In the months after the text was finalized, I reviewed a few passes of artwork—first Leanne’s initial pencil sketches, and then more complete renderings in color. I will never forget sitting in my office chair with Rhett in my lap, clicking through the first PDF with rough sketches in place. At one point, he turned around, wide-eyed and smiling, and said: “It’s me!”

It is him. In fact, it’s us! The dog doesn’t look exactly like our dog (a Boston terrier rescue, Phoebe), the child’s stuffed bunny is different from Rhett’s favorite stuffie (a plush frog wearing a mushroom cap as a hat), and we don’t look exactly like ourselves, but it’s us.

When readers turn the pages of My Thoughts Have Wings, they’ll find some of his happy thoughts: playing with friends, fishing in the creek behind my parents’ house, eating homemade banana bread warm from the oven. But the book is also an invitation for caregivers and children to think of and share their own happy thoughts, and to connect in hopeful, positive ways at the end of the day—or anytime.

About the Author

Maggie Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books of poetry and prose, including You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Good Bones, Goldenrod, Lamp of the Body, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change. Her newest book is My Thoughts Have Wings, a picture book for children, illustrated by Leanne Hatch. Smith’s poems and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME, The Nation, The Atlantic, and The Best American Poetry. She lives with her two children in Columbus, Ohio.

About the Book

Praise for My Thoughts Have Wings!

"The cozy ideas will comfort nervous young readers and make a strong conversation starter for less-than-sure caretakers. ‘Everyone worries,’ and barring a late-night banana bread craving, the soothing suggestions will surely bring somnolence on soft feathers. Fortitude against fluttering fears."
  — Kirkus Reviews
"Offering a portrait of a family addressing a child’s fears, this mindfulness-oriented work explores accessible techniques whose practice offers pleasure, too."
  — Publishers Weekly
"The text is clear against the page, the vocabulary is simple, and the concept is one that children will not only understand, but will probably use in their own lives. Hatch’s child-friendly, sweet illustrations really show how a child experiences the world. This is a generous tale that is also an excellent tool to give to children and psychologists."
  — School Library Journal
"This one is for the anxious kiddos, and Smith enhances the relatability of the story by focusing on a young child’s first-person experience of a mind that just won’t turn off. Straightforward language allows the thoughts-as-birds metaphor to shine with its meditative sagacity. Hatch’s hand-painted digital illustrations have a remarkable luminosity."
  — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
"A picture book that confronts anxiety with thoughtfulness, and is a balm for the chaotic soul. Buy it for the child whose busy brain makes it difficult to fall asleep, and keep it for the calming effect it'll have on you, too."
  — Bestselling author Isaac Fitzgerald, Today Show Spring Pick