I am excited to have Marybeth Wishart, author of Parker the Purple Penguin, with us today. I recently reviewed this powerful children’s story here. Today we have the privilege to “lift the curtain” and get a glimpse of the background and faith that inspired this story, so many years in the making.
Can you please share a little about how the story of Parker the Purple Penguin came to be?
Over thirty years ago, as I was driving my two young children to school in the mornings they would often ask me to “tell them a story”. I would make up stories, as many parents do, and one of the stories was about a purple penguin who looked different than all the other penguins. I was a special education teacher in a very diverse school district during those years. Much of my job was preparing teachers and students for the “inclusion” of special education and general education students. So, accepting of differences and embracing kids with many different backgrounds and needs was forefront on my mind. I wanted to instill those lessons in my own children and telling stories was a great way to do that.
In addition, I have always loved children’s books of all kinds. Teaching reading and reading stories to my classes, my own children and grandchildren have always been on the top of the list of things I love. And I especially enjoy books that teach empathy and kindness towards others.
As I read this story, I hear two parallel messages – one to the Parkers of the world and one to his “friends.” What was the heart of the message you wanted to communicate through this story?
As I look back at the story now, I see many messages, including acceptance of differences, empathy toward others, unity, anti-bullying, acceptance of who God made you to be, and bravery in difficult circumstances. Each of these themes are rich messages for our children and for each of us.
Foremost, I want children, (and adults), to cherish the fact that God made a very diverse world for a purpose. In His word, the lesson of loving our neighbor, whoever they are, is very clear. We all have commonalities that we share. We each need to examine ourselves and see where we may fall short in this command. And then, with God’s help, do better! Also, children’s awareness of those around them who aren’t being treated kindly or fairly is an important lesson to learn at an early age that will translate into “seeking justice, loving mercy and walking more humbly with our God” as they grow older. And, to know that God made them specifically (beautifully and wonderfully) to be who they are and to see themselves through their maker’s eyes, as one who is well loved and has purpose.
I understand that you have come to see the timing for the release of Parker the Purple Penguin as part of God’s greater plan in your life. Can you share a little about that?
Having written this original story over thirty year ago, I kept thinking that I had “missed the mark” and should have pursued publishing the story when I thought it was most relevant and would have been better received. I now realize that God’s timing is perfect and my timing would have been premature. God continues to show me that when some seeds are planted they may take a very long time and the right conditions to produce and flourish. Even though I would occasionally look at the story and think I should do something with it, the time was not right. My life was busy with teaching, parenting, caring for relatives, church activities, grand parenting and then moving to another state. When I moved, God placed specific people in my path that showed me that now is the time.
I met another children’s author in my neighborhood, and I shared the story with her and she encouraged me. When I finally went forward with it, God showed me that this year the topic and themes of this “30 year old story” are more relevant now than ever. And during this season of “quarantine” I had more time to learn all that goes into children’s book publication. After the book was finished God gave me the opportunity to launch my book with a well known local author and inspirational speaker, Chris Singleton. This was above and beyond what I ever imagined would ever happen with my story. When it is His timing, paths are cleared, affirmations abound, and doors are opened. His plans are much bigger and better than ours since “He is able to do immeasurable more than we ask or imagine”. I am learning to “trust the process” of God’s work in my life.
Do you have any plans for any more children’s book in the future?
I have been able to take some time this year to write more children’s stories and participate in on-line workshops to improve my writing skills. One of my favorites is a story about a little girl who is so full of words each day that she wants to use them all up until she remembers who is always listening. I am also working on a Christmas mystery and a story about two sisters who are very different from one another, but learn to embrace their similarities. Of course, Parker has become more popular than expected so I may see if another Parker adventure develops! Again, I am continuing to learn to trust God with the process and wait on His timing to show me when and how to pursue the next steps. It is both exciting and reassuring to know God’s got this too.
Thank you for taking the time for this virtual interview, Marybeth! May God continue to inspire and guide you as you create new inroads into the hearts and minds of the “least of these.”
(Release date for Parker the Purple Penguin is December 8th, 2020. Reserve your copy here (NOT an affiliate link)