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September 12, 2022

Gillan and Pihl initially met during a mental health advocacy event. Nice Shoes!, the fruit of that meeting, was published last month and is based on a story from Pihl’s childhood. We spoke with the coauthors about their inspiration, more books in the series, and why they think it’s important for children to learn these lessons young.

What inspired Nice Shoes!?

Gillan: I speak on mental health internationally, and at one event at the University of Delaware, I invited three students onstage with me to share their mental health struggles and victories. Pihl was one of those students. Pihl told this story for the first time in front of a crowd, and the audience loved it. I could not get this story out of my head, and four years later, it’s a wonderful children’s book!

Pihl: Nice Shoes! is based on a day in my life. I was having a rough day in school and thinking bad thoughts until a well-placed kind word about my footwear turned my day around. This book is based on a true story from my childhood and the lessons I learned from a difficult time in my life.  

Why did you choose a children’s book as the medium for your story?

Gillan: We both felt that the earlier students learned this lesson about kindness, the better off we would all be, so we wrote it for a young audience. We also wanted to show them that a series of unfortunate events can happen to anybody and that they are not immune to having bad days.

Pihl: I felt it was important for children to learn early that bad days happen and sometimes you can have a couple of them in a row. Children are extremely impressionable, and if they can learn empathy early, it can become second nature later. I wanted the lesson about kindness that appears toward the end of this book to be learned early as well. I want children to understand that you do not know what someone is going through, so be nice, because you can make someone’s day!  
If you could pick anyone to give your book to, who would it be and why?  

Gillan: My older brother, Mark. I lost two brothers to suicide, and Mark was the first to leave us. Maybe this book and a kind word from me could have made a difference.

Pihl: Me when I was younger! I could have used my own advice back then.

Publisher note: As noted above, Gillan lost two brothers to suicide, and Pihl had suicidal ideation, but the word “suicide” does not appear in this book. Our protagonist, Derek, is having a bad day, and the sentence “He started to worry that all of his days would be like this” is as far as we go with the negative thought pattern. Parents and educators can take it from there, and we are very pleased with the way the book turned out in this regard.  

How do you think this book is particularly relevant now?

Gillan: With everything that is going on right now, I believe this book is extremely timely for today’s youth.

Pihl: The pandemic was rough for everybody, but our youth were hit especially hard. I’m sure many people began to feel stuck in a rut and possibly began to believe that every day would be bad. This book shows them that some days will be bad, but there are better days ahead.

Can readers expect more books from you in the future?

Gillan: I am currently working on an autobiography about how I handled my losses and life in general. We’ve also talked about doing a series of books, like Nice Socks, Nice Pants, and Nice Shirts, and making it a series.

Pihl: I have some topics of interest, like adoption and other issues that hit me close to home. Stay tuned!