Children’s author says ‘yes’ to saying no

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • April 5, 2017

Loftus wants to teac children that taking care of yourself before others isn't a bad thing.
Courtesy of Jamie Loftus
Loftus wants to teac children that taking care of yourself before others isn't a bad thing.
Courtesy of Jamie Loftus

After volunteering to help her Uncle Alex find his keys, help her mother set the table, and help five other friends and family members, Zoey finds herself at loss. She loves to help people—but she no longer has time to listen to her radio. 

She becomes distraught, she then consults with her mom about what she should do. Her mom reminds her that being helpful is great but sometimes you need to help yourself first before asking others if they need help. Zoey immediately jumps up to dance to the radio with her mom, and then help everyone with their tasks. 

Zoey is the main character in Zoey Says Yes, a children’s book written and illustrated by Emerson alumna Jamie Loftus. Loftus said she found inspiration for the character, and the piece as a whole, in her everyday life. 

“I had this phone conversation with my mom about feeling like I had over-committed myself because I was afraid to tell people that I didn’t have time or that I didn’t want to do something, and she has that same problem,” Loftus, 14’, who majored in visual and media arts said. “I think a lot of women in particular are trained to not be disagreeable. You are taught to be agreeable, and that’s important, but you’re never taught that it is ok to say ‘no’ sometimes.”

Loftus said that the conversation with her mother, combined with her spending a lot of time in the picture book section of the library she volunteers at, gave her the idea to put this concept in the form of a children’s picture book. 

She completed the project within six days at the end of March—weaving in time between her volunteer work, writing for media outlet Inverse, and animating for entertainment website CAFE

She said when crafting the characters and storyline, she tried to pick out situations and tasks that would resonate with child readers as things that were asked of them in their daily lives. 

“Actually writing it was really fast,” Loftus said. “It was just what is the best way to tell this story with getting the point across that it is ok to say ‘no’ without teaching kids bad behavior. I loved picture books when I was younger, and it was just the natural idea.” 

When she finished, she had a 35-page digital book featuring illustrations of primary-colored people against monochromatic-patterned backgrounds. The electronic book is on Loftus’s personal account; she also printed a few copies. Loftus said she takes inspiration for her illustration style from two of her favorite illustrators as a kid: Edward Gorey who illustrated some of Loftus's favorites, such as Amphigorey; and Brett Helquist, known for his work with the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series. 

She said she’s happy with how the project turned out, and she is glad she is able to begin a discourse with children about topics like this and the importance of self-care—something she thinks is necessary, but not generally taught to children at a young age. 

“The feedback I’ve gotten from women in particular has sort of confirmed what I had been thinking the whole time,” Loftus said. “‘Oh I wish I had this when I was a kid because I was never really taught to say no and that it is ok to say no to something.’ I heard that from men as well, but it has overwhelmingly been from women my age, a little bit younger and a lot older.” 

Loftus also sent the book to her mother so that she could share it with the second graders that she teaches. She had not received the copy by press time. 

Jack Ganley, another child of a second grade teacher, and a senior visual and media arts major, said that although he only attended Emerson with Loftus for one semester, he still felt compelled to share her virtual book on Facebook because he too found importance in its message. 

“The whole concept really resonated with me; it’s universal,” Ganley said. “I would love to see kids reading it and identifying with that lesson.”

He also added that anyone, regardless of age, should take a few minutes to go through it because of the art. He said he appreciated how she could weave her talents with writing and illustrating into a book that encapsulated her unique style. 

She said that she has also been in contact with publishers about potentially getting Zoey Says Yes on paper. Regardless of what happens, Loftus said that she would be open to continue creating more books that cover self-care topics for children in the future.

“It’s always nice to feel that you’ve done something that has resonated with someone,” Loftus said. “It’s been fun. Also I just like selfishly illustrating and I love kids. I’ve been trying to think about that. I’ve been asking friends what are self-care things that you didn’t learn as a kid, but you wish you had. If I were to do another one, I would want to focus it on what are self-care things you can teach kids that avoid them becoming like us, now.”