The Children’s Book Review Interview in partnership with Leo Zarko, author of Anxious Annie
Author Leo Zarko has always been somewhat of a dreamer with a vivid imagination. He had a rough childhood and obtained bad grades in school, which led to a blue-collar lifestyle that was quite stressful. Overall, Leo persevered and found his talents, then pursued them with a passion. His interest in art, music, and anything mechanical created positive outlets in his life.
When his children were young, Leo discovered a creative niche telling bedtime stories. As his kids grew, so did the characters. Several years ago, Leo followed a new dream of putting all those bedtime stories into print. He has written many children’s books that reflect positive morals and ethics, and encourage young readers to be considerate and kind. Leo’s desire is to see kids dream big and succeed in life. His recent children’s books can be found on Amazon.
The Children’s Book Review: What prompted you to start writing books for children, and why picture books in particular?
As a young child, I struggled with reading but I was an art lover so if I would match the words with the pictures, it actually helped me to understand the story better.
In Anxious Annie, you do a great job of getting inside the head of an energetic kid. Were you a handful yourself as a child and, if so, did this influence the way you drew Annie’s character?
At the time, I was a trouble maker in school trying to hide behind a learning disability. The more trouble I caused the less the teacher called on me. It seemed like a perfect solution but in the end, it was costing me my education. Annie is a playful, young girl but some of her actions may be just a diversion to distract others from recognizing her anxiety.
What prompted you to write a story about coping with anxiety and why do you think this is important for children?
I have lived with anxiety for over 30 years and the stigma behind it was always something that kept me from letting others know. Once I opened myself up to others, I found quite a bit of relief knowing that I did not have to hide my emotions. It’s important for children to do the same. What’s inside needs to be expressed and that’s perfectly okay.
A central message in Anxious Annie is the importance of family and friends. Are there particular friends or family members who have especially influenced you as a writer?
When you are a child and you feel somewhat secluded, you start looking for a talent that makes you unique. I always had a vivid imagination but I never put it to use. Obviously, I couldn’t keep that to myself. All talents should be shared least they go to waste. So I figured, its time to put pen to paper.
Your Instagram page lists you as a “Music Lover.” If there were to be an Anxious Annie cartoon, what would the theme song be?
The theme song for the cartoon would be, “You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King.
Are there particular children’s authors you feel have inspired your writing style?
To be honest, no but that is not to say I don’t enjoy children’s books. When you derive a story, you want it to be uniquely your own. Outside influences must be filtered out.
What was your favorite picture book as a child, and why did you love it?
Curious George. Who doesn’t love a trouble maker who learns valuable lessons.
I love that Annie’s parents are not judgmental about her fears and her energy. Do you have a particular philosophy of parenting that you feel underpins the book?
As a parent, I learned so much from my mistakes. The ideal of disciplining without listening is something you just don’t want to do. Children should be heard and their emotions taken into account. When it comes to anxiety, tough love is probably not what you want to do. The more you can nurture, the more your child has the freedom to express.
Anxiety is one of those childhood issues that can be either very trivial or very serious. Do you have any advice for people who are worried about a loved one’s struggles with childhood anxiety?
My advice would be to let them work through it without overly recognizing it in them. Sometimes giving help to someone who has anxiety actually make the anxiety worse because now the cat’s out of the bag. It’s really hard to explain. I want you to know I have anxiety but I don’t want all the questions because I don’t know how to answer them. It’s an indescribable feeling so quiet support may be the best thing you can do – just be there.
Will there be more books about Annie and her adventures?
I am not sure there will be another Annie but I definitely want to create more books that address subjects such as OCD, learning disabilities, social awkwardness and I suppose the list can go on. After writing Annie, I am really enthused to bring some of these subjects to the forefront. I am gravitating towards that direction. When you love kids, you only want the best for them.
For more information, visit Instagram: @leo.zarko.
Written by Leo Zarko
Illustrated by Laura Reyes
Ages 4-8 | 35 Pages
Publisher: Leo Zarko | ISBN: 979-8571791502
Publisher’s Synopsis: Annie and Cameron are best friends. While Annie is all wiggles, Cameron stays calm and cool. When Annie’s world gets a little overwhelming she can count on Cameron to help slow things down. She in turn lifts his confidence and raises his spirit.
Full of wisdom and heart, Anxious Annie is a book that will help your children talk about their anxieties and overcome their fears.
“Anxious Annie is an enjoyable story with an important lesson, perfect for shared reading at home or school.” —The Children’s Book Review
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This interview—Intreview with Leo Zarko About Anxious Annie—was conducted between Leo Zarko and Dr. Jen Harrison. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Anxiety, Author Interview, Leo Zarkko, Mental Health, Picture Book, and Travel.