Merel Bakker (32) is a writer and mindfulness coach. She holds a Masters degree in International & European Law and has multiple degrees to teach mindfulness. Born and raised in the Netherlands, she has found her home in Switzerland where she happily lives with her husband.
Supported by the Love and Wisdom of her friends and teachers and surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Switzerland, her life journey led to the creation of Maks & Mila. It is Merel’s deepest wish that her books contribute to a world where children feel Happy and Strong and they know how to take care of themselves, others and the world as a whole!
Bianca Schulze: Maks & Mila On a Special Journey is your first book in an upcoming series of illustrated books which use the power of reflection and repetition to help children develop Joy, Compassion, Gratitude, Generosity and Self- Confidence in their lives. How does it feel to have your first book published and ready to be shared with the world?
Merel Bakker: It’s a dream coming true! Already when I was a little girl, it was my biggest wish to become a writer. I always loved reading because it allowed me to dream and explore the world in such a wonderful way. And now I want to give back to the next generation of children and allow them to dream big too. Maks and Mila are two characters I hope will inspire them to do so and teach them lifeskills along the way.
To now have been able to publish my first book, that creates an opportunity for parents and their children to build inner strength and joy, is just wonderful. It is my way of contributing to a world where I hope that children will feel happy and strong so that they can take good care of themselves, others and the world as a whole.
I am also really proud that a big part of the book sales can be reinvested and donated to children who are less fortunate in this world through Room to Read and Books With No Bounds.
BS: It seems as though this story was the perfect fit for you due to your job as a mindfulness coach. Perhaps you could share a little bit about what is involved in being a mindfulness coach and how you came to be both coach and writer?
MB: As a mindfulness coach I focus on giving children the opportunity to feel, share and accept what they experience. I also focus on consciously developing beneficial qualities like joy, gratitude, compassion, kindness and self-confidence that will help them to deal with challenges that they encounter.
Writing a children’s book was the perfect way for me to give children the opportunity to develop these qualities on a daily basis in a fun and playful way. If we want to build something we need to put effort in it and repeat it over and over. I am therefore also very happy that starting from this year, schools in San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and even in Norway will start using the books of Maks & Mila in the class to give children the continuous experience of sharing joy and kindness with each other.
BS: Did the storyline of Maks & Mila On a Special Journey come easy to you? When, where, or what was the moment that the idea for this particular book popped into your mind?
MB: That is such a nice question. It was a process and the outcome of experience and of my own journey. I always felt that life is a journey in itself, and I feel strongly that each experience can help us to grow and also gives us an opportunity to deal better with similar experiences in the future.
When writing for children, I think it’s important that you can reach that place in them where they feel free to express their thoughts, dreams and emotions in a safe and constructive environment. It is also really important that you make it fun and stimulating.
With that in mind I came up with Maks & Mila and their SECRET SUITCASE. They literally take children on a journey with them. I also have to give big credit to the illustrator who has done such a beautiful job in making Maks & Mila so adorable.
BS: What do you hope readers will specifically take away from a story-time session with you book?
MB: The experience of how good it feels to consciously think of things that make you happy and how good it feels to be kind to yourself and others. We will all encounter adversities in our lives but we also always have the power to deal with these in a good way. Teaching children how they can build inner strength by focusing on the positive and by sharing kindness will help children to do so. (See for a recent review of the book.) But this book is also not just for kids, but for their parents and teachers too. If we all read this book and use the SECRET SUITCASE app, it will bring a daily dose of joy and happiness to thousands and thousands of people around the world.
BS: The book features a special award-winning font, which makes it easier to read for children with dyslexia. What is it about the font that makes this possible?
MB: Children with dyslexia want to read but their brains perceive letters in a different way than people without dyslexia. This font is designed in such a way that it is easier for children to distinguish between the different letters because they are all positioned and designed just a little different than the other ones. In this way the brains of a dyslexic person will find it easier to recognize a specific letter. I cannot thank the designer of this font enough; he really opened the way for children with dyslexia to start enjoy reading. All my books in the series will continue to help children with dyslexia, as they are often overlooked and really shouldn’t be.
BS: The Maks & Mila book series comes with its very own iPhone/iPad SECRET SUITCASE app. How does the app add to the reading and learning experience?
MB: To develop something we need practice and since every child likes to play games, I thought that making a game would be the perfect way to add to the reading experience. Social media comes naturally to children, so making this free app for the Maks & Mila book series seemed a natural progression. Also, many children nowadays play games on the iPad or iPhone of their mom and dad, while being at home, sitting in the car and even at schools. The SECRET SUITCASE app makes it fun to send kind wishes to friends and family members while at the same time giving children the opportunity to fill their SECRET SUITCASE with happy thoughts. By making it a game, children will have an even bigger opportunity to practice this.
BS: What does your typical working day look like? And do you have a favorite place to write?
MB: I like my rituals and I do have a strong morning ritual: right after waking up I always start with a meditation and right after I take my notebook to write in five things I am grateful for that morning, my intention for the day and I make a to do list (and I always have a good cappuccino by my side doing so). After that I either do a one hour work out or I start with responding to my emails. That normally takes a couple of hours. To clear my mind after the emails, I usually go for another short walk after which I am ready to focus on my writing. I can write everywhere, the most important thing for me is to have that focused and clear mind.
BS: What would you say are the three most important things you have taken away from your writing, thus far?
MB: The opportunity to meet and share experiences with other people. The kindness and support that I have experienced from so many people around me and the smiles on children’s faces when they read the book.
BS: What should we expect to see from you next?
MB: The next books in the series are on their way and I am also in the process of developing sustainable toys that enhance children’s ability to share kindness and to build their self-confidence. If you ask me about further dreams, then I would like to see a daily Maks & Mila show on national television so that even more children will be able to develop joy and self-confidence. I also dream of being able to contribute even more to the lives of children in less developed areas.
BS: As a parting note, is there anything you would like to share with your readers?
MB: That I wish that everyone may be healthy, happy and strong!
Add this book to your collection: Maks & Mila On a Special Journey
For more information, visit the official Maks & Mila website.
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