TV chef, author and presenter Nadiya Hussain on her new children’s book Today I’m Strong
Have you always loved storytelling and did you always want to write a children’s book?
Writing is one of my very first loves – it’s the way I express myself and it’s something I’ve always loved doing. When I was about seven I wrote a poem that won a national competition and that was it, I got really into reading and writing in a big way and I’ve been doing it ever since; reading, writing, lots of poetry. I express myself in writing quite a lot although I never had a diary as a child, it was always make believe and stories.
I’ve written recipe books with stories and I love writing for children, so it’s been exciting to work on my first picture book.
Today I’m Strong has such an important theme of developing resilience. What sparked the idea?
Today I’m Strong is a natural follow on from my previous book My Monster and Me (although of course you can read them individually). The first one was about anxiety and this is about the next stage which is finding your inner strength. I wanted to make sure young readers are taken on a journey where they are able not only cope with their fears, but find strength in dealing with them. The emphasis on ‘today’ is because resilience isn’t something you practise once and then you’re done: you’re going to have good days and bad days, that’s part of the process.
Going back to school at the start of this academic year has been very different to previous years for many children. How do you hope Today I’m Strong will help the children that have transitioned to a new year?
In a young child’s life being at home for six months when they are used to going to nursery or school every day has been hugely disruptive. Books are a great tool to enable parents to navigate tricky issues with their children: I used to use books to chat about worries when my children were young. It’s important for children to know that everyone feels uncertainty and I hope that by reading Today I’m Strong they feel comfort and realise this.
We love the story and the illustrations. How did you come to work with Ella Bailey?
My publisher suggested Ella as the illustrator and I’m so glad they did, I LOVE her illustrations – she really got the message of the book.
Why is it important to talk about your mental health?
A Books are a great way for even little children to understand and discuss mental health with their parents. It is very difficult for young children to explain their feelings when they don’t have the words for them – that’s why picture books are important, to help them develop the language. I know from experience that in order to work through tricky feelings you must acknowledge them and so by me opening up, I hope others will too.
A huge problem with having a mental health illness is the lack of communication. If I break my finger, I go to the hospital. If I have a cold, I go to the pharmacy. If I’m broken inside, what do I do?
To help the healing process I wanted to be honest and speak truthfully to let people know that I am suffering too.
What other top books around mental health would you recommend to young people?
The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright is a fantastic book which focuses on letting go of your fears and living in the moment.
Another lovely title around worries is Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival which follow’s Ruby who finds a worry that won’t stop growing and is a great book on tackling anxiety for children.
For older readers You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed which is a great book to help children realise their potential and grow in confidence and resilience.
Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain & Ella Bailey is published by Hachette Children’s Group and is out now. Hardback, £12.99.
Read next: Naidiya Hussain on My Monster and Me