Author & Activist Marie Unanue Writes Books To Help Children Become Advocates For Kindness

By Marie Unanue

The story of Phatty and Payaso came to me while watching our overweight cat plop his big belly down at the front door of our apartment to wait for his cat friend Payaso to arrive from next door. As soon as the weather would change, summer to fall or winter to spring, Phatty would know that his friend would soon be returning. Night after night, Phatty sat in the same spot, at the door, waiting for Payaso.

Phatty never lost hope that his friend wasn’t coming back. He never lost faith that his exotic friend Payaso, might have made other cat friends, forgotten him, or maybe even became too cool for Phatty.  No, in the feline world, well at least in my cat’s feline world, his friend Payaso would never let him down and would always return as promised, every spring and fall, just as he had done all those years before. It was not only Phatty’s faith that his friend would return that inspired this story but the phenomenon that Payaso seemed to feel the same way.

Imagine a friendship between a very overweight, run of the mill house cat and an exotic, purebred cat that lived around the country in several different glamorous locations existing year after year. No matter how much time had passed between visits, despite how different they were, they were inseparable. This friendship was a story that needed to be told.

I always wondered what they communicated to each other. How did they explain the time between visits? Did they share what went on in their lives, as old friends do? But in the end, no time apart mattered. In fact, no difference between them mattered. Race didn’t matter, size didn’t matter, money didn’t matter, popularity didn’t matter, they just cherished each other.

All that mattered to Payaso was that Phatty was a kind and loyal friend, and vice versa. It was, I realized in many ways, so much like what children and adults long for in a friendship. Loyalty. Faith. Companionship. Kindness. Compassion. There was never a competition between them and no matter how different their backgrounds were, Phatty being an adopted alley cat and Payaso an exotic purebred, nothing changed their love.

Once I started writing about this bond, this feline ‘odd couple’, they came to life on paper. They were my muse, watching what they did together daily, how they played, the rivalry between Clyde and Payaso, how they watched the birds and the funny interactions would have me laughing out loud. Once the idea was down on paper, I added character traits to each of them.

These Character traits not only fit their personality, but they were also the traits CharacterLab.org researched and discovered were missing in today’s youth. Grit, social intelligence, zest and several others became the strengths and weaknesses of not only Payaso and Phatty but of all the characters in the book. It became my mission to make sure each of the characters had a strength and a weakness that all children would be able to relate to and learn from.

Phatty came to life on paper just how he did in real life; kind and sweet, and easily frightened. He is also shy and weighs almost 30 pounds making him very insecure. Payaso’s character came to life just as quick since Payaso’s family hails from Cuba and has several homes here in the US, the story of Payaso the world traveler was born. Watching Payaso I could see he was confident, well-groomed and always looking out for Phatty. In the book, having his character come across as the leader of the group took shape. Payaso reads dozens of books, in fact, he even has his own Kindle.

He’s smart, and he knows it. Having the Hispanic character be the most read, extremely intelligent and most sophisticated character felt important not only to me but to the story. However, like all of the characters, he too has his strengths and weaknesses that he needs to overcome.  Payaso’s intelligence is what he relies on to make friends. And while his character loves to share his knowledge, sometimes useless random facts, he tends to come off as a know-it-all but in the funniest way.

By the end of the story, readers are identifying and relating to different characters, and it’s so exciting to see what role the children relate to. While Phatty & Payaso are the main characters on the cover, it’s honestly a story about a group of fun animals that all comes full circle. By the end of the story, all of the characters recognize they are much stronger than they ever realized.

Writing a story for children was not easy. I don’t have kids, and when people ask me how and why I wrote a story for children, I tell them the same thing. I had a story to tell, a story about friendship and love. And even though I don’t have kids, I was one, and I understand what it is like to not fit in. How hard it is to be different. I know that being a child comes with a ton of pressure.

I want kids to read this story and realize that everyone is different, everyone has a weakness, everyone has fears, and no matter what you may see on the outside, someone may feel very different than what they let the world see. I also want kids to recognize that as bad as you think you have it, someone else may have it worse, and maybe that child doing the most bullying is the one that is most insecure.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I have a story with all walks of life. I have a bully with a bad temper, a boy with special needs, a ‘know it all’ Latino, an overweight tabby and an introvert that couldn’t make a friend even if he was looking in the mirror. I know that any child reading this book will not only find themselves laughing and cheering but also understanding the importance of not only kindness but forgiveness too.

Kindness is a choice. It’s that plain and simple. The warm welcome you give the new kid at school, to including everyone on the playground to always accepting others as they are makes a difference. Kids can change the world and if they learn young enough that kindness always wins, not only will they be kind to other kids, they won’t think twice about stopping another child who isn’t being kind.

In fact, bullying will only end when all children understand they all have to choose kindness. In my heart, I know that if one child treats another child better because they have read this story, then all of my hard will have been more than worth it.

 

 

 

 

Marie Unanue has always been an avid reader and an activist for children who are bullied. As a kindness advocate, she hopes to inspire children across the world to remember to always treat each other with kindness and compassion. She is the former anchor of “Travels with Marie,” a weekly travel review program. Marie resides with her husband Andy and their animals in NYC and Mantoloking, NJ. Visit her at www.letsallbekind.com which launches this May. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

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