Imagine you’re a school-aged kid again, going about your school-aged life. There are friend groups to navigate. There are bullies to manage or avoid. There’s home life to worry over. Maybe your dad is sick or your mom just lost her job. Anxiety creeps in. Maybe you start to act up in class, or maybe your grades slip.
Enter the school counselor. She’s friendly and eager and caring. And she’s working hard to help you feel better. Now imagine you’re a Spanish speaker. Are there resources for you and your caring counselor? Turns out, there aren’t many.
This s the world Gabi Garcia wants to change. She’s been that school counselor, and as a Latinx author, she has seen how hard it is to follow the traditional publishing path. So over the past four years, she’s published four books to help teachers, counselors and parents support those school-aged kids – books with editions in both English and Spanish – through Kindle Direct Publishing. A yoga practitioner and mindfulness enthusiast, Garcia is also mother to 6-year-old Liliana. She sat down with us recently to talk about her work.
AFM: What drew you to counseling?
Garcia: I was a bilingual teacher in Houston, and I saw a huge need for services for Spanish-speaking students that was not being met – and probably continues not to be met, because there are not enough bilingual counselors. I did my first counseling job here in Austin at Oak Springs Elementary. I was a school counselor there for four years. And after that, I got a job with AISD as a special education counselor.
AFM: What prompted you to write?
Garcia: Trying to find resources in Spanish is so hard. So about 10 years ago, I created a mockup. I just illustrated it myself with stick figures. And I started using that with the students. But I put it away. I had my daughter. Life got in the way.
And then a few years ago, I thought, “I really want to put this book out into the world.” So I got all my ducks in a row and figured out how to do that. That was the book called Listening to My Body. It helps kids understand the connection between what they’re feeling and what their bodies’ reactions are – their heart rate and muscles and temperature. I wanted kids to have a vocabulary for that in the same way they have a vocabulary for their emotions. That’s what got me started.
I really enjoy the writing process. My second book came fairly quickly. It’s called Listening With My Heart. I saw in the schools that we spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to be friends to other people, but not about how to be kind to themselves. I was working with kids who were fairly young and had really negative self-talk. It happens early.
AFM: What has been your experience with self-publishing?
Garcia: It’s definitely a learning curve. I’ve had to learn things that took me out of my comfort zone. I realized early on when I was looking into doing traditionally-published submissions, just what a process it is. It’s a full-time job, trying to get somebody to say your book is worthy. But self-publishing has allowed me to do something I wouldn’t be able to do traditionally. One of the things I wanted to do is have characters and faces that kids are going to see themselves in. I’m mindful of trying to represent kids who are not always represented.
Something I do for all my books is a free reader activity guide. This is the educator in me, that wants the teacher or the counselor to have ready-made lessons that go with the book. I put a lot of time and energy into those. I create posters and a good packet of material that I think will be useful, because I know how hard that is.
It is hard for my brain to switch from all those roles, because I write it, so there’s that creative piece. Then I work with an editor. I find the illustrator, because every book I envision differently. Once that’s complete, it’s the marketing. I’m connecting with other people, mostly online. I have an Instagram page. I have a Facebook page. I have a newsletter. I advertise.
I do see it as an extension of my counseling work, and I want to provide something that’s of value, that’s of service, that’s going to be helpful to people. That’s a really big motivator for me.
AFM: Tell us about your latest book, “Mateo Finds His Wow.”
Garcia: It’s about a little boy at home on a Saturday morning, and it’s raining. So, he’s bored and grumpy, and he can’t find anything to do, so he makes a list of things he can’t do. And I’m thinking, how many of those Mateo moments have I had? It’s just so easy to get stuck focusing on what’s not going right or what we don’t have. So as he sits and sulks, his window fogs up, and he goes to clean it off and starts doodling. And that’s able to shift him a little bit, shift his perspective. At the end, the last thing he writes in his notebook is, “Thank you, rain.” He’s able to appreciate it.
AFM: Do you ever hear from readers about your books?
Garcia: I was working in the schools when my first two books came out, so I got to use them. And my colleagues used them as well. I heard from a lot of educators and parents that they found them to be useful. Facebook has connected me with people from all over the world. I’ve gotten messages from China, from Israel, from Brazil. In the last 10 years, the world of mindfulness here in the States has really exploded. Now the same thing is happening everywhere else. It has been incredibly gratifying to hear from people who found any of my books useful. That’s the reason I write.
AFM: Do you have any advice for other people who think, “Hey, I might write a book?”
Garcia: I think everybody has a book in them. So, my words of advice would be to do it. Just get it out, get it on paper. It probably won’t be very good initially, but it’s just so helpful to get that first draft out, and then you have something to work with. Even now, when I’m working on a new manuscript, the hard part is putting it down on paper. I think everybody who wants to write a book should.
Sherida Mock, editor of Austin Family Magazine.