Martha Underwood had always dreamed of writing a children’s book. But as a senior technology executive who leads large software teams, Martha is busy. Really busy.
But Martha has finally made room for her passion for writing to pen a new children’s book series just in time for Christmas.
Parkers’ Elf and Paiyton’s Elf, which feature Black children and Black elves, were inspired by Martha’s sons’ love of Christmas and the challenges they’ve faced dealing with the heaviness of current events. The books help children explore diversity, self-esteem, and emotions all through the magic of Christmas.
The children in the stories are excited about Christmas but worry that their struggles with managing their emotions might ruin their holiday. Fortunately, with the help of a magical elf, the children learn how to communicate their feelings. Parents and teachers will appreciate how the stories guide children through different scenarios to help them conquer fear, deal with disappointment, and manage frustration.
Martha’s series also includes the books Ethan’s Elf and Emma’s Elf.
We had a chat with Martha about her new book series, the importance of diversity in children’s books, and more.
What inspired you to write these books?
My boys. Parker is the middle name of my youngest so the book is named after him. He was concerned that Christmas was cancelled due to Covid. I assured him it wasn’t and to get his mind off of it we began drawing and writing stories. A few of the scenes weaved into the book are actual scenarios we worked through at one time or another.
Why do you think it’s important for children to see themselves reflected in books, on television and other types of media?
It contributes to their self-esteem. Our kids are forming and exploring their identities and seeing children that look like them work through issues with their parents that they may experience communicates that they aren’t alone in some of their emotional challenges. If they don’t see themselves in basic coming-of-age stories and scenarios they begin to think there are outliers, which can negatively impact their emotional development.
With your demanding career, how did you make time to work on your books?
Whew! How did I?!? Well, Kole – my baby boy- and I would draw and write about an hour before his bedtime, that was our designated creative time. It was during those sessions the story started to take shape. Once we finalized the story, I hired an illustrator and worked with a friend who understood the self-publishing business to do all the heavy lifting for me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write and publish children’s books but they’re not sure where to start?
First, get it all on paper. The next thing I’d say is to try to storyboard it. What scenes do you imagine on each page? Write it out in as much detail as possible. Next, find someone who has published and ask for their assistance because there are a lot of things to work through like copyrighting, getting ISBN numbers, and finding an illustrator to capture your vision — which I’d say was the most challenging. I’m always happy to consult as well!
What’s next? Tell us about the other books in the works.
The next book that will be released is Black Boy Ballad. It’s my love letter to my oldest son. We also plan on releasing books with all four characters in the same story to address topics of race, coming of age, self-esteem and more.
To learn more about purchase Martha’s books, visit PlayfulProse.com.