THE SUN, THE MOON, THE STARS AND MAYA BY RICH OKUN
1) Please provide a short excerpt of what your children’s book is about.
Our lives are bombarded with things that take us away from the special connections we are capable of. Each of us has the ability to demonstrate love, compassion, gratitude and generosity. We can choose to live our lives by the golden rule. We can make time to appreciate the exquisite construction of our planet, and experience the joy of nature. We can look towards the star spangled heavens, appreciate the velvet silence, and draw peace from spirituality. We have the ability to find beauty in simplicity, and we can marvel at the complexity of what at first glance, appeared deceptively simple. Many of us have just forgotten how. My intention is to help connect and expand the most meaningful of relationships, that of parent and child.
In today’s busy, electronics oriented world, dominated by distractions, special effects, and noisy shoot ’em ups, simple earth based spiritual / moral issues have been all but forgotten, effectively obscured from view, buried in the smoky haze of the fiery explosion of Computer Generated Images. We conceptualize creation rather than competition as a means to engage and grow relationships. We offer alternative perspectives that are meant to evoke awe and wonder in all things and capture the imagination of the child and the child within the parent. With illustrations of Maya, my puppy muse, in complementary settings, accompany bits of wisdom relating to spiritual and moral issues. Notable quotations are the inspiration for Maya’s simple-language lyrical interpretations. Maya represents a reassuring presence, a gentle guide who leads by example. She helps encourage and pave the way for a rewarding dialogue with children, teaching them to appreciate the earth, and to follow the golden rule.
2) What inspired you to write this book?
As part of my spiritual journey, I want to contribute whatever I can through creative expression of spiritually impactful messages in words and pictures. I was inspired to this format and genre during meditation where I felt my inner voice move me to action while on a nature walk with my puppy. Although I am an unlikely children’s book author not having written or read children’s books throughout my life or even when I was a child.
I would post these on my website and social media pages and they became very popular with over 110 countries and tens of thousands of viewers monthly. I then decided to self-publish this book to use as a platform to help Parents and Children to be able to discuss these important matters instead of ignoring them. I use simple language so that all ages can understand, but they express very big ideas. I was picked up by a traditional publisher after a few months and have since published 2 additional books and about to release the fourth. I use my pets (puppy and cats as well as other animals) not in an anthropomorphic way but recognizing that all living beings have a spirit that speaks the same language. It doesn’t matter whether it is a cat, dog, or wild beast, we all are the same if we can see with spiritual eyes. I want to contribute to this and help awareness to spark a change in the way we have operated on this planet. To help the golden rule to emerge as the way of being – going forward.
3) How did you come up with the title or series of your book?
Maya is my puppy’s name and this series is a compendium of different spiritual topics such as love, compassion, paths, fear, happiness etc. Part of my spiritual practices embrace Native American philosophies that honour the directions, the sky and earth the elements and all things with spirit. The Sun, the moon, the stars and Maya seemed to fit that bill.
The second book is titled Earth, Wind, Fire and Maya along the same lines. The third book is titled Embrace every step; life is a dance, which had more themed poems in life path so it wasn’t as broad in topics. My soon to be released fourth book is all about one specific topic and uses my cat as the main character.
4) As a child, your parents didn’t read you books and you didn’t read any either. Why then have you decided to become a children’s author? Why did you pick this genre?
I want to help. I want to contribute to a positive world and use whatever life experiences and talents I have to that end. Although I have always been a seeker, I became more engaged in my spiritual journey when I turned 47, and I didn’t want children to have to wait until they were that age to discover the magic in everyday life with the right set of eyes. However, I see that todays busy, hectic, two working parent households, time and energy are extremely challenged. Everybody is so tired and there are so many things to worry about. Technology furthers this distance in the family. Everyone has their heads down, surfing the internet on their smartphones, or texting in short meaningless sound-bites, or watching reality TV. Family time is limited and nobody has dinner table discussions anymore.
Spiritual matters are important, but complex, and parents have a difficult time bringing them up in a way that could engage their children. The traditional children’s stories are longer and attentions spans are shorter. I wanted to provide a medium to be a way that parents could discuss and expand upon these issues with their children through colour, language, words and pictures, using my little puppy as a centrepiece to engage.
5) How did you use your illustrations to convey your message? How does the colour palette complement your book?
I was the youngest member of the Art Student’s League of New York, across the street from Carnegie Hall at 6 years old, but I was afraid of color and using it so everything I did was in Black and White. However, when I started this effort, I used color openly and with courage, and vividly as another source of expression and to capture the child’s eye (and the child in you) and draw attention. I found that my fears of the past were unwarranted and that I could approach color with confidence.
The use of color represents the vibrancy of life and stimulates a sense of beauty.
6) What is the most fulfilling thing about being an author?
When I know that something that I contributed to, helped someone. There are many reviews of this book, but this one touched my heart and answers your question best – an excerpt is quoted here:
“I read several of these vignettes to my son at bedtime, and instead of lulling to sleep we ended up having a full discussion about fear and how to deal with it. It allowed him to reveal that he was being bullied in school but he never felt that he could bring it up to anybody without feeling ashamed. But it seems that Maya, has some magical tricks up her sleeve and made it okay for him to tell us before something tragic happened. I am going to buy this book for every parent I know as a Christmas gift. Buy This Book!”
This is why I do it. What I am now trying to do is get some corporate support to be able to give my book away to children’s hospitals, hospices, senior centers, and other places where spiritual voids can be lifted. I would love to take Maya with me and be able to bring some smiles.
7) What do you hope children will take away with them after reading your book?
I want children and adults to gain insight to how they feel about spiritual matters. Most of us, most of the time do not have or devote time to thinking about things that are not immediately on our plates. We are constantly entertained, distracted, diverted, working, busy, marketed to and, and, and ….. The reasons we are here, the way to be, the things that are more spiritual and ethereal are not something that our society has valued. For too long, society is manipulated into believing that life is a job you hate, that you are the sum of your material objects, and many end up living a life that’s meaningless and the really big questions are replaced by “how am I going to pay my bills this week, what job will pay me the most, what will others think, etc.?”
Religion tries to answer these questions, but spirituality begs the questions. I prefer questions to answers that have a particular point of view. I want to help children to become more self-aware of things the ancients knew, but have been suppressed by our way of life. I would like to give them choices as to how to live their life, and to pursue their dreams, rather than take what they feel is good enough.
8) What are you working on now?
I just submitted the draft for my fourth book, to my publisher. It is titled, ‘Annie and me, a shared journey home.’ This is a different book than the Maya series, which was a collection of various topics. Annie was my elder cat who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February. I decided to journal her progression in my words and pictures format. My intent in doing this was to identify my own feelings and observations about the process of death, dying, grief and loss through the eyes of love and palliative care.
My mother died when I was too young of cancer – I was not able (or willing) to provide the kind of care that I know she needed. For the past 50 years I regretted this as well had unknowingly formed fears, angers and many other hurtful inner feelings surrounding this subject – We all will die, we all have loved ones that die around us at some time in our lives. I wanted to see if I could sensitize to this important event and tell this story. What happened during this sacred journey was that I started to heal, the fears and angers simply fell away from me. I feel that this body of work is my best to date. I want to offer this healing to all.