Author focuses on worth of inter-generational relationships

Spinnaker

A silver tin man charm hangs delicately off a thin silver chain – for some it might be a piece of jewelry, but for Norma Folsom, it embodied her life motto: never rust up.

Folsom, 80, and her necklace served as the main inspirations for visiting UNF assistant professor Gigi Morales David’s children’s picture book “Just Mollie and Me.”

Folsom has traveled all across the world, worked with the Peace Corps and taught mentally handicapped children in a small school in Guatemala.

Her free-spirited attitude and passion for helping others captured David’s attention and was a reason she included that aspect in the book, she said.

The 2007 book tells the story of a young girl and her elderly neighbor, Mollie.  They form a special friendship as they garden, bake, walk and help out in their community.

“I wanted Mollie the character to come across that way – just somebody who took joy in giving and helping others,” said David.

David based the young girl character off of a friend’s son, who became friends and gardened with his neighbor, she said. The little girl in the book wasn’t given a name because David wanted children reading the book to imagine they could be Mollie’s friend or could find an older friend like Mollie, she said.

Twin Lakes Academy recently chose “Just Mollie and Me” as its book of the month for September, David said.

The picture book is associated with the United Way of Northeast Florida Life: Act 2, which collaborated with David in creating children’s books featuring senior citizens in a positive light and as the main characters, she said.

United Way conducted research that found a numerous amount of books portraying the elderly in a negative and stereotypical manner, David said.

David said United Way came up with an idea that involved Duval County middle and high school students interviewing real-life senior citizens who lived in Jacksonville during a period of three meetings.

“[They] were hoping this would form an inter-generational relationship between middle and high school students and the senior citizens, which it did, and it was very positive,” David said.

The bonding experience helped dispel any stereotypes the students and senior citizens had about each other, David said.

“The senior citizens were just as anxious about meeting the high school students as the high school students were about meeting them,” she said. “When you really spend time with people, you realize that there’s a lot more dimensions to them, and they’re generally nice people.”

The students wrote essays about their experiences and interviews.

From those essays, the stories from Norma Folsom and others served as the inspiration for the children’s books, David said.

“In the essays, I kind of gathered what the senior’s life messages were,” she said. “Like what did they really want the children to know about life, important messages, and from that, I created a story that would capture those messages.”

“Just Mollie and Me” is the third book in David’s series. Her other books, “Peter and the Silent Siren” and “The Little Red Envelopes,” also focus on senior citizens as the main character and the inter-generational relationship with children, David said.

“It’s not a grandparent-grandchild relationship,” she said. “There were plenty of books that were positive about grandparent relationships, but this was beyond that.”

Through these books, David also hopes to encourage children to make a difference. David said she always tries to empower children to believe that they have something special to offer the world.

“I think the message of doing good things for your community relates to everybody,” she said. “[The books] send the message that when you do something positive, it inspires other people to do positive things as well.”

Since the book’s release, David has visited elementary schools across Northeast Florida to talk about the stories, intergenerational friendships and writing, she said.

Currently, David has worked on two manuscripts and is working on a picture book inspired by an owl in her back yard, she said.

“My hope is that all of my picture books celebrate the beauty in diversity, whether focused on people or nature, and that people stop to look, wonder and appreciate these differences,” David said.

E-mail Laura Franco at [email protected]