BookLife Talks with Allegra Birdseye-Hannula
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'How to Talk to Porcupines'
In this BookLife Reviews Editor’s Pick, debut author Birdseye-Hannula “teaches those who work closely with troubled youth to help their young charges in a productive way.” We spoke with her about her work, what she hopes readers take away from the book, and the plethora of resources she’s made available to youth workers.
Did you always intend to work with, as you say, “porcupines?”
No, I didn’t. I don’t think anyone intends to work with prickly youths; rather, it just happens. Like porcupines, young people employ warning systems to alert others to potential threats or back away when challenged. These warning systems serve as means of self-preservation to ward off perceived conflict or meet an unmet need. And this can happen at any given moment. It’s our job as youth workers, educators, parents, coaches, and anyone who works with young people to recognize the underlying need and adjust our approach to appropriately address the needs of the prickly youth.
Why did you decide to write How to Talk to Porcupines?
I have been delivering a How to Talk to Porcupines workshop for years. After one virtual training, I couldn’t stop talking about the event and the energy I received from the folks participating in the workshop. My spouse looked at me just before bedtime and suggested I convert the workshop into a book. I huffed at the idea, but by morning I’d written the outline for the book in my head, and the decision took root.
My youth work journey has informed my communication style and helped me build out my communication tool kit. This book is inspired by lessons learned from working with prickly personalities over the years. Through it, I share my learning and evidence-based practices in hopes that the lessons help other youth workers to effectively engage with prickly personalities.
When working with kids, what’s the one mistake you see repeated over and over again?
I see youth workers mistake the prickly behavior for intentional defiance when in fact the behavior is another communication tool that youth use to inform others that they feel threatened or challenged. I encourage youth workers to look beyond the behavior to identify the underlying need. By doing so, you can de-escalate or resolve prickly situations more quickly and efficiently. Prickly personalities and behavior usually appear as means to tell us something—it’s our job to discover and hear the message.
If you could pick anyone to give this book to, who would it be and why?
Librarians. I’m a big fan of the public library and firmly believe everyone should have access to books, regardless of economic limitations. My goal is to see this book in every public library so that youth workers have access to the resource at every stage in their careers.
What’s next for you?
I am so excited by the initial response and extraordinary feedback I’ve received about the book already. In the coming months, I’ll be focused on providing engaging content, delivering workshops, participating in author events, and collaborating with youth-focused organizations to continue offering impactful tools to de-escalate and redirect prickly situations. I’ll be posting behind-the-scenes insights about the book, tips and tricks for engaging with prickly personalities, and new Spikey Stories on my How to Talk to Porcupines social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn) and in my newsletter.
I’ve participated in really great conferences with governments, nonprofits, and school districts and look forward to participating in more of these events to empower youth workers. I’m even working on a brand-new six-month Porcupine Academy for folks interested in a deeper dive into strategies for engaging prickly personalities.
Finally, I’m planning some exciting collaborations with local bookstores, libraries, and youth-focused organizations. You can sign up for my newsletter at howtotalktoporcupines.com to stay in the know.