Interview with children’s book author Melanie Broughton

After seeing one of her own children experience bullying at school, mum of three, Melanie Broughton decided to share a story she wrote for her family with the world.

The resulting children’s book, Daisy Finds Her Smile is a beautifully written poem and picture book designed for families to enjoy together and help children learn about the importance of kindness and friendship. It tells the story of their family pet, Daisy the duck and how she was treated unkindly by others for being different until she made friends.

A heart-warming and entertaining tale that subtly doubles up as an educational aid to start conversations with children about bullying and mental health, Daisy Finds Her Smile would make the perfect addition to any family or school bookshelf.

We spoke to Melanie about her background, the new book and what she hopes it will spark within children and families alike.

What is your career background? 

I am a single mum to three grown up children. I have had a varied career background. I started off working as a photographer’s assistant and then set up my own photography business, mainly taking children’s portraits but also making greetings cards and wrapping paper.

This was the ideal work as I could do this from home when the children were growing up. Now I also work as an Equine Touch a VHT practitioner, which is a gentle hands on therapy to encourage healing and relaxation in horses and people.  

What is Daisy Finds Her Smile about?

Daisy Finds Her Smile is the true story of a duck I owned in 2008. I had chickens at the time and went to the local livestock market to buy some more and that is where I saw Daisy, sitting in a small cage on her own looking forlorn. I just had to bring her home.

I fenced off part of the chicken run to start with so she could get used to her surroundings. I noticed she had some sort of disability as when she flapped her wings or walked too fast she would fall over. After a couple of weeks I let her out into the chicken run. All was fine to start with and there was plenty of quacking and clucking when I went to feed them all. However, after a few days there was no more quacking.

Daisy was hiding in the bushes as the chickens had been mean to her. It was heart-breaking. So, I went back to the livestock market and bought two more ducks, Digby and Drake. Daisy’s confidence grew almost immediately, and she became the ‘hostess’ to show Digby and Drake around.

From then on her life turned around. The ducks had a ‘swimming pool’, which was the lid of a 45 gallon drum and they used to take it in turns to go swimming. When one of them was in it splashing around, the other two would run around it quacking and flapping in sheer excitement. It was a joy to see them all so happy.

Why did you decide to turn Daisy’s story into a children’s book?

I wrote the first two verses of Daisy’s story back in 2008, as a bit of fun for my children. I always said that I would make it into a book one day as the story highlights the impact of bullying. However, when one of my children was bullied at school it made me more determined to finish it. It still took another ten years to complete the book as other things kept getting in the way.

Another contributing factor for me wanting to write the book was, as my own children were growing up, I saw the different challenges some of their friends were facing. This included difficulties with speech and hearing, Asperger’s and food allergies.

Numerous people face challenges that on the whole others are unaware of. I hoped that by highlighting hidden disabilities through Daisy’s story, they would be presented to children in a gentle way that could help open up discussions with children about them.

What do you hope that children, families and even teachers will get from reading Daisy Finds Her Smile?   

I really hope that Daisy’s story will help children, families and teachers open up discussions about the impact of bullying in addition to realising that not all disabilities are visible. I hope that children will feel drawn into the story and will feel captivated by the beautiful illustrations and can really feel what Daisy is going through and the hurt she feels when the chickens are mean to her.

Reading the book would create a good opportunity to ask the children how they think Daisy might be feeling as she is hiding and if any of them have ever seen someone on their own, perhaps in the playground, looking sad and suggest that wouldn’t it be kind to go over and ask them to play?

Why is it important to talk to children about mental health and bullying?

Perhaps some children don’t really understand what it feels like to be bullied and think it’s just a bit of fun. The impact of bullying however is immense and can totally change a person’s life and character. It may get to the stage when they dread going to school so it can really affect their mental health. Children need to understand that it’s not ‘cool’ or fun and that above all, it is unacceptable.

Do you have any tips for families and teachers looking to have open discussions around these subjects?

Having read Daisy’s story it would be a good opportunity to ask children what they think bullying is. Bullying can be teasing, name calling, hitting, pushing, not including someone and making fun of others. Perhaps some children don’t realise that some of these are considered bullying.

With regard to hidden disabilities, Daisy’s story is a good example. To look at her, she seemed fine, and it was only when she walked too fast or flapped her wings that she fell over. This was when Digby and Drake helped her up. This is an opportunity to emphasise kindness and tolerance to the children and explain that each of us is different

You mention ‘special smiling powers’ in the book, could you explain what they are?

I think children like the idea of having special powers and being able to perform magic so I thought a wonderful power to have would be ‘SSP’, (Special Smiling Powers). The book mentions that when you smile at someone you will see them smiling back at you. So, what better way to encourage children to smile than for them to think they have special powers and can perform magic? A smile really is just like magic as we all know how infectious smiling is. 

I’d love the idea of Special Smiling Powers to spread to children around the country and for them to see how powerful and magical that ‘power’ is. Us adults have had our faces covered with masks for so long now that a smile is seldom seen, but it means so much to receive one and you really can’t help but smile back. Just imagine how cheerful everyone would be if the children of the country went round practising their SSP. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

What has the response to Daisy Finds Her Smile been like so far?

The response has been wonderful, with such positive feedback. The illustrations have been a huge success. I have never met the artist Sarah Alicia Smith. She is a delightful young mum who lives in Yorkshire. We spent many hours on the telephone talking through various ideas for illustrations for each verse and nothing was too much trouble for her.

I think she has captured the characters brilliantly and her illustrations really make the book come to life. I am very proud of her and hope to work with her again.

What do you hope conversations with children around friendship, bullying and mental health will look like in the future?

I really hope that conversations will encourage children to be more compassionate and accepting of each other’s differences. It would be beneficial to highlight the advantages of other children’s strengths and help them understand that we all have something different about us and that’s what makes each of us so special.

Some children are academic, others sporty or artistic. All of these strengths are worthy of praise in their own right and should be celebrated, encouraging children to be proud of who they are.

There is a lot of emphasis on academic strength and exam results in schools, which perhaps limits some children in their belief in themselves.

We can’t all be the same, thankfully. That is what makes each and every child so unique and valuable to the future of humanity. Above all, the current pressure for everyone to conform tends to gloss over the joy of our differences.

For the perfect children’s story and aid to help those difficult conversations happen, Daisy Finds Her Smile is available on Amazon.