Kindness Rocks - Story Snug

Sheryl Webster talks about Kindness Rocks illustrated by Robert Garcia

We’re delighted to welcome author Sheryl Webster to Story Snug to tell us about her new picture book, Kindness Rocks. Illustrated by Robert Garcia this heartwarming story of a rockstar lion, Jonny Heart, is published today.

The Story: Jonny Heart loves singing and making others happy. He’s signed by an agent, Fat Cat, and becomes famous for singing all over the world. But as his fame grows and his audiences gets bigger Jonny becomes lonely and unhappy. When Jonny loses his voice Fat Cat turns his back on him and Jonny feels like a nobody. But when Jonny meets Busky Soul, a bear, and Mary the monkey, he realises that singing is not the only way that he can be kind and make others happy.

Kindness Rocks - Story Snug

This beautifully illustrated story intertwines themes of self confidence, homelessness and caring for others. It has a wonderful cast of caring animal characters and a fabulous villain!

Kindness Rocks is a great story to stimulate discussions about how we can all be kind and think of others, especially those less fortunate.

Thank you for visiting Story Snug, Sheryl and congratulations on the publication of Kindness Rocks. We always love to know how our guests became authors. What was your first book and how did it come to be published?

I’m excited to be a guest on Story Snug, and thank you for these great questions, Catherine.
My writing career began during a career break from teaching, which I took to spend time with our young children. One day, I had called out to two of them, as they ran ahead while we were out for a walk. They found it hilarious to use the howling of the wind to pretend that they couldn’t hear me – and to switch my words for something much more fun. So, ‘Come here by me’ became ‘Climb a tree,’ and such like. The experience inspired me to write ‘The Windy Walk’ which became ‘What Small Rabbit Heard’ and was published with OUP in September 2010.

We love What Small Rabbit Heard. It’s one of the first books we reviewed on Story Snug!

What Small Rabbit Heard - Story Snug

We love Jonny Heart and the way that his priorities change in relation to the events in the story. How and where did you get the inspiration for Kindness Rocks?

Thank you, Catherine, Jonny’s a really special character to me, and I hope he will prove to be a good role model for children.

For a long time, I wanted to write a story that introduces homelessness to young children. Parents and carers often struggle to explain social issues such as homelessness to young children (I did!) and even as a writer, I found it difficult to find a character and storyline that would enable me to do this in a gentle way. This story had to have a balance: being realistic in showing children that yes, sometimes bad things can happen to people, but also to have positivity, by empowering children to know that, through acts of kindness, we can make a difference.

The journey of ‘Kindness Rocks’ began in 2020 when I saw a photograph of a real-life rockstar, working hard to make sure that the in-need community were provided with food, despite restrictions caused by the pandemic. The philanthropy of this person, and the kindness depicted in this picture, was like a lightbulb moment – and I had found my inspiration.

What are the main themes of the story? Is there a message you want to convey to readers?

The main themes are community, empathy and kindness. I want readers to know the impact that their words and actions can have on others, and to use this knowledge to be inspired to spread kindness. If Jonny Heart and his friends can encourage children to smile at someone, say something kind, or do something nice for others – then this book will have had the impact that I wanted.

The overall message I want readers to take away is: Be kind – as even the smallest gestures can have a profound impact.

How different is the final version of your story to the first draft?

Ha ha…now there’s a question. The actual content of the story did not change too much; however, the story went through 25 drafts in terms of tweaking, along with three different titles, before arriving at the final version you see today. When I say this was a passion project – it truly was. And I feel incredibly lucky that both my editor, Jiahui Zhu, and the illustrator, Robert Garcia – shared this passion. We called ourselves The Three Musketeers …and I feel very privileged to have worked with such talented people on this.

We love Robert Garcia’s vibrant illustrations, especially his portrayal of the various animal characters. Was there a lot of collaboration between you before the book was published?

Robert is SO incredibly talented!

When I first wrote the story, I made a Pinterest board with my vision for Jonny Heart and his look. So, for example, I really wanted Jonny to have blue eyes, like the person who had inspired me for this character – and also to make the character stand out as a little bit unique (as lions with blue eyes are rare). I had also made some very brief illustration notes about Busky the bear, and Tommy the tiger. As Tommy has a physical disability, this detail obviously needed to be relayed to the illustrator, as it was a vital part of the character’s physical appearance.

These ideas were passed onto Robert, but as I say, they were only very brief. So, when I saw the initial character sketches, I was absolutely blown away by them. It was like Robert had literally read my mind. He nailed each and every character, adding his own very unique touches to them – immersed in that absolutely gorgeous, atmospheric backdrop that he created.

We didn’t directly communicate at all until after the illustrations were complete. I think it’s important to let illustrators put their own take and interpretations on characters from the manuscript alone– other than if there are any specific details that need to be relayed, due to them having a direct impact on the story. However, I’m glad to say that Robert and I are now in touch – and we very much hope to be working together again very soon.

We love the illustration of the ‘He shared. . . he cared. . . and he made the animals happy. ‘ spread.

Kindness Rocks - Story Snug

I agree, that’s one of my favourite illustrations too. It’s such a turning point for Jonny and a real sign of hope.

Do you have a favourite illustration?

I also love the scene in which Jonny and his friends are making the Heart and Soul Shelter. It gives such a sense of friendship, and working together for the good of the community. It’s also the scene that portrays Jonny’s realisation that he can make his own choices – he doesn’t have to choose between singing and being with his friends. He can do both.

Kindness Rocks - Story Snug

Do you have any advice for aspiring #kidlit writers? 

  • Read a lot….write a lot….and clarify your goals (who do you want to write for, and why?).
  • Join a community of children’s authors and/or a crit group. Connecting with other authors is a great support system, and a way to gain and give constructive advice in order to improve as a writer. (I love my crit group!).
  • Finally, be patient, manage your expectations, and stay determined.

Thank you!

Do you have a favourite location or environment to write in?

I like to write in creative spaces such as local cafes – always by a window, and always with coffee nearby.

I have never been able to write in a cafe. I need complete quiet and no distractions!

Which authors have influenced your writing? Authors that you may have read as a child as well as current authors.

Enchanted Wood (The Magic Faraway Tree) - Story Snug

As a child I loved Enid Blyton – especially The Faraway Tree. I loved the variety of the characters and the exciting places that the children got to visit.

Current authors – I have so many favorites. I love Phil Hickes, Aveline Jones series, which is atmospheric, spine-tinging, and has left me never being able to look at a scarecrow in the same way again.

In terms of humor, Kes Gray is definitely a favorite. I remember my youngest daughter and I reading the ‘Daisy and the trouble with…’ series, and us both howling at some of the situations she got into.

Picture book authors…too many to choose from. Sorry… 🙂

We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Which recent children’s books have you particularly enjoyed?

Ben Davis’s The Soup Movement’ is a real feel-good book and so well written. It’s a story of kindness, hope and making a difference, and I especially love how it’s loosely based on a true story too.

Also, Paddy Donnelly’s ‘Dodos Are Not Extinct’ is really good fun. Amazing illustrations, full of humour, and loads of great facts at the back for young readers. And, as someone who was fascinated by dinosaurs, woolly mammoths and so on, as a child – I loved the idea of these creatures still being around and in disguise.

Dodos are not extinct - Cover - Story Snug

Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re currently working on?

I am excited to be working on a sequel to ‘Kindness Rocks,’ entitled ‘Kindness Rocks Again.’- which has the existing characters from the first book, who have now settled into their respective roles at the Heart and Soul shelter, and which also introduces a special new character.

A sequel will, I hope, re-ignite the spark of kindness in children, encouraging them once more to embrace empathy, to spread kindness and to do what they can to help those in need.

Jonny Heart is certainly a great book for role modelling kindness. I look forward to reading Kindness Rocks Again 🙂

Thank you so much for answering our questions Sheryl and all the best to you and Jonny!

About Sheryl Webster

Sheryl is a children’s author from Liverpool, where she lives, not far from the River Mersey, with her husband and four children. 
She writes books that are dynamic, witty and heart-warming, and that will empower, inspire and make a difference – by informing and creating awareness of important issues. 

Before becoming a children’s author, Sheryl gained a degree in Psychology and English, then taught in elementary/primary schools for several years.
 During a career break to have her first child, her first picture book was published. She now has over 30+ titles published and translated worldwide. 

A big highlight for her was having her picture book, ‘Kindness Rocks,’ featured on a billboard in Times Square, NYC. 
​Now that her small brood of children are not so small, Sheryl writes full time, and is enjoying writing more than ever!
 She finds inspiration for her stories in lots of things, but especially through music, which she feels is the universal language of us all.
 Just like a good book, music can be a source of inspiration and expression! 

Sheryl’s website / X / Instagram

Thank you to Sheryl and Yeehoo Press for sending a review copy of Kindness Rocks.

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14 responses to “Sheryl Webster talks about Kindness Rocks illustrated by Robert Garcia”

  1. atcraftycottage avatar

    The book, “Kindness Rocks” looks like a book my daughter would love. It’s such a sweet, uplifting story.

    1. Catherine avatar

      Jonny Heart is a great role model for showing children how to be kind 🙂

  2. stickymudandbellylaughs avatar

    What a lovely picture book from Sheryl. I love how it encourages little ones to show empathy and be kind to others. 🙂

    1. Catherine avatar

      The book demonstrates empathy on a wonderful child friendly way and is woven into a great story too 🙂

  3. sheryl webster avatar

    Thank you, Joanne! 🙂

  4. Sheryl Webster avatar

    Thank you so much, Donna. 🙂

  5. Natasha Mairs - Serenity You avatar
    Natasha Mairs - Serenity You

    I am loving the sound of this book so much! The illustrations are really fab too! #MMBC

    1. Catherine avatar

      It’s a really clever way to introduce the concept of kindness and homelessness to children.

  6. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner avatar

    Kindness rocks! What a great story! I love the art as well. Congratulations Sheryl and Robert!

    1. Catherine avatar

      It’s an amazingly inspirational story and we can’t wait to read the next one 🙂

  7. Joanne avatar

    Kindness Rocks looks and sounds like such a wonderful book.

    1. Catherine avatar

      It is! It does a great job of introducing themes of homelessness and food banks in a child friendly way 🙂

  8. Jennifer Moore avatar

    A great interview. ‘Kindness Rocks’ looks and sounds wonderful!

    1. Catherine avatar

      It’s a fabulous book, Jenny and we’re delighted to hear there’ll be a sequel 🙂