Checking in with Jo Rooks
Meet this weeks guest, Jo Rooks. Children’s book author, illustrator and graphic designer, Jo has written and illustrated 6 children’s books. Her book ‘A Box of Butterflies’ won a Teachers Choice Award when it was released and ‘Hector’s Favourite Place’ was a lockdown favourite among many parents trying to persuade children back outside again after lockdowns!
What does well-being mean to you?
I think it means being kind to yourself and taking time out to slow down. In this very driven world we are always on the go with the checklist of things that have to be done. I’m as guilty as anyone of feeling that I’m on this treadmill of life and it can be hard to step down sometimes to allow yourself a well needed break and celebrate what you have achieved whether it's something big or small.
I am also actively trying to teach this to my kids. Help them put the screens away, allow themselves to slow down, just be and notice the smaller things in life.
What habits have improved your life?
We got a dog pre-lockdown and she walking her every day has been brilliant as I find a walk in nature is really helpful to reset your mind. I also love to swim. I can often overthink things but there’s something relaxing about being underwater that helps me quieten my mind and stop any racing thoughts. This year we had a garden studio built and I’ve made a real effort to improve my wellbeing habits when at work. I have practiced yoga for a number of years and now I finally have a quiet space to pull out my mat and practice any time of the day if I need a break from my work. Also, after practicing yoga I have started a practice of chanting. I’ve only recently tried it but found it really works to settle your mind and bring about a sense of peace. You can find chants on Spotify and you just sing in a certain rhythm with the singing controlling your breathing. I’ve found ones by Deva Premal have been really useful to me.
What one thing makes you the happiest?
Skiing! I don’t get to go often and know it’s very expensive so not accessible to everyone but there’s something about being on a mountain in the sunshine and snow that makes me really happy. I’m not even a great skier but that is when I’m the happiest!
What helps you to feel healthy?
Definitely eating well. I do find a real difference in how I feel based on what I eat. I looked into low G.I foods recently and find I’m more relaxed and grounded when I eat lower G.I foods. I’m like everyone else though and will often eat whatever I want, but do notice certain foods make me feel much better.
How did you get into what you do now?
I’ve always been quite creative and loved drawing. I was a bit weird as a teenager - I look back on pictures of me when I was 13 and everyone else is wearing band t-shirts and I’m there in a t-shirt with a Klimt or Monet artwork on it!
After school I studied Graphic Design and Illustration at University but realised how hard it was to get work as an illustrator. Because of this I decided instead to be a graphic design and landed a great job at BMG in the art department designing record covers, which was great fun. When I then had kids a few years later I started reading children’s books to them and thought they were just so cool. From there I started having ideas for stories, though was very naive at the time thinking I could just send something off and get it published but it’s not as easy as that!
What project are you most excited about right now?
I’m illustrating a book that comes out on 22nd July this year called ‘Big Words for Little Hearts’ for an American author called Susan Fuller. It’s a Yoga book for children with both Yoga and breathing techniques in it. I’ve really loved doing the illustrations for it and can’t wait for it to come out.
What are you proudest of in your career?
This would probably be my first book, Box of Butterflies. It’s quite an unusual book - it doesn’t have a linear narrative and is more toward poetry. At the time of writing, believe it or not there weren’t many books out there about feelings and mental health for children. It was a real struggle to get published as it got rejected a lot to the point that I thought it would never happen but I kept pursuing it and eventually managed to find a publisher for it. I'm very proud of it and I also worked with a a friend's theatre company Magical Quests to make it into a play which we performed to Merton primary school children. It's lovely to see the book flourish and help children understand their feelings a little bit more.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Sleep on it. Everything always feels better and more positive in the morning. At the end of the day you always feel tired and sometimes think youcan’t do it but I try to get a good night's sleep in the knowledge I’ll look at a problem in a different way in the morning.
What’s your relationship with reading?
I actually listen to a lot of audio books and podcasts as I can draw and listen at the same time. Sitting down to read is something I keep meaning to make more time for but I need to find a way to build this into my daytime routine. But I love to read a book in bed at night.
What role do you see books playing in childrens mental health and well-being?
I think reading is a hugely positive factor in a child's routine. There’s something about the bonding opportunity that reading offers between parents and children. The slowing down, listening to a voice telling a story is something that I think is great for mental health. I also think it’s key to be showing children a wide range of books and illustration styles to keep their interest in reading. There’s really something magic about taking kids to a library, watching them pick out their own book and then sit down and enjoy reading it through.
Can you recommend any books we should check out?
Some of my favourites are:
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
The 5 Minute Gratitude Journal by Sophia Godkin
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I’m also very into my listening to thrillers on audiobook. I’d recommend:
Trust Me by T.M. Logan
One Small Mistake by Dandy Smith
The Widow by K.L. Slater
How about any podcasts?
At the moment I really enjoy listening to:
Oprah's Super Soul podcast
Deeply Human on BBC Sounds
Uncanny also on BBC Sounds - it's amazing storytelling at its creepiest!
Just One Thing with Michael Mosley
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The Check-In is put together by the team at Mindfuel. Mindfuel produce fun, engaging well-being programmes for KS1 & KS2, providing teachers with everything they need to confidently teach well-being skills for positive mental health.