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The Little Squirrel Who Worried by Katie O’Donoghue

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Katie O'Donoghue

Katie O'Donoghue

The Little Squirrel Who Worried was published last year by Gill Books. The story of how it came to be is a story close to my heart… 

My own background is in Art Psychotherapy and the tale of Little Squirrel was inspired by my therapeutic work with children and ways in which to support them with their worries and anxieties. 

While working for the Children and Adolescent Mental Health service in the UK during the pandemic I witnessed a major increase in children being referred to the service for anxiety related difficulties. At the time I was also facilitating a parent group, to support parents in understanding anxiety, hearing parents’ feedback from the sessions was incredibly inspiring.   From this experience I felt compelled to create a story which incorporated these coping skills. The process of writing and illustrating The Little Squirrel also supported my own wellbeing, It was mid-October 2020 while missing my nearest and dearest at home in Ireland that I began to write and illustrate the story. As I am quite a visual person, I found writing in parallel with illustrating the story gave me both inspiration and direction. Creating the characters really was a practice of self-care and bringing the characters to life brought me a great deal of joy. All the characters are inspired by native Irish woodland animals, from the red squirrel to a red stag and the Irish wren, illustrating these gave me a sense of connection to home, particularly the forests and mountains of Co Kerry.   

The story centres on Little Squirrel who needs to gather nuts for the winter but he’s too worried to leave his cosy, warm nest. Luckily, he discovers that he has lots of friends in the forest, from Wren to Snuffly Hedgehog, Grey Rabbit to Mister Fox, Old Badger to Great Stag, who all understand and offer their support. In what has been a difficult year for many, through the story of Little Squirrel and his adventures in the forest, readers young and old come to learn coping techniques and realise that, although everyone feels worried sometimes, we don’t have to face these worries alone. 

With the story now created, it was late one Thursday evening after work and I was sending an email of my manuscript to my father, back home in Ireland. After hitting the send button, I realised I had sent the email to the wrong address! Initially I was concerned, to who and where had I sent the manuscript, but then I reassured myself as I didn’t have any plan to submit the work anywhere. After all, it was just a project for my own enjoyment, that though was soon to change… To my surprise, there in my inbox the next morning was an email: 

Hi Katie, 

I think you sent this to the wrong e-mail address.  However, I couldn’t resist reading the attachment to my 6 year old son.  He suffers from anxiety and we have read all the books and work with a therapist to address it.  I have to say, it was just a beautiful piece and a nice way of refreshing him on all the skill sets he’s learned to address his worry.  He reenacted the badger’s instructions to get cozy and breathe.  His final words as he was falling asleep tonight were “That’s a really good bedtime story” – I’ve never heard him say that ever.  When you get it published, please reach out to me so I can buy a dozen copies. 

All my best and thanks for making the world better (because the book really does), 

Brian O’Donoghue 

(in Chicago) 

The serendipitous nature of the email exchange was what spurred me to take a leap of faith and submit the book to publishers for review. I am so grateful to Brian and Henry for letting me know how much they enjoyed the book, and ultimately inspiring the confidence in myself to take the chance of trying to get the story published. To be honest if this hadn’t happened, I am not so sure that I would have had the courage to approach publishers and I’m guessing I am not the only individual to doubt their writing ability. So, if there is anyone out there with a story, please take that leap of faith, you never know what might happen and what opportunities it may bring… It was just before the Christmas period, that I received a phone call from Gill Books Director, Nicki Howard, who having read my manuscript share with me that, she absolutely loved it. 

Nicki said she was ‘so taken by this story when she first read it: I thought that it could become a lovely gentle bedtime book for young children. But it also made me think of my own mother who has been cocooning for over a year now and has needed a little coaxing to come out as lockdown comes to an end. I hope readers, young and old will take comfort in Little Squirrel’s story and maybe even send it to someone in their life who’s a little wary of coming out of their nest too’. 

The past two years as been a difficult for all, and now with restrictions lifted we might need a little support in leaving our own cozy nests…readers young and old come to learn coping techniques and to realise that, although we all feel worried sometimes, we don’t have to face those worries alone. 

(c) Katie O’Donoghue

The Little Squirrel Who Worried is available in all good bookstores across Ireland and the book is also endorsed for its therapeutic potential by the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT).

About The Little Squirrel Who Worried:

Little Squirrel hasn’t left his nest since last autumn. He needs to gather nuts for the long winter to come but he’s too worried to leave his cosy nest.

Luckily, Little Squirrel has lots of friends in the forest, from Wren to Snuffly Hedgehog, Grey Rabbit to Mister Fox, Old Badger to Great Stag. Will their encouragement and words of advice be enough to help Little Squirrel to venture out?

This has been a very difficult year for many. Through the story of Little Squirrel and his adventures in the forest, readers young and old come to learn coping techniques and to realise that, although we all feel worried sometimes, we don’t have to face those worries alone.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Katie O’Donoghue, HCPC registered, BAAT & IACAT accredited Art Psychotherapist, author and illustrator of The Little Squirrel Who Worried, received their BA in Fine Art & Design and a first class MA in Art Psychotherapy from Crawford College of Art & Design, Cork. Katie is a fully accredited Art psychotherapist, with experience working with children and adults in schools, charities and children’s mental health services .

In 2017 She was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions scholarship and is currently in the final stages of a PhD in Heritage and Psychological Wellbeing, at University College London.

When not writing, painting or practicing as a therapist, Katie enjoys exploring the outdoors with her husband, Gerald, followed by curling up on the couch with cats Buzz and Bobby, a good book in hand or baking up a storm in the kitchen.

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