Two UMSL counseling alumnae launch book series to help children work through emotional challenges – UMSL Daily

Clementine Gets UNSTUCK! is a new children’s book written by two UMSL alumni. (Cover art courtesy of Jen Monika McCurdy and Christine Corrigan Mendez)

With a new children’s book series, two local counselors aim to empower and engage kids facing difficult emotional challenges.

In July, licensed professional counselors Jen Monika McCurdy and Christine Corrigan Mendez released “Clementine Gets UNSTUCK!,” the first publication in the “Kids Can Club” series. They have also created an accompanying digital program, KidsCanClub.com, that builds off the lessons in the books with free activities, games, wellness exercises and more. Their overall goal is to promote empowerment, engagement and agency among children, while giving them emotional wellness exercises and tools that they can carry through life.

Mendez and McCurdy, who met at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where they both received their master’s degrees in counseling, hope to engage and empower young readers through the project. Before moving into the counseling field, both had backgrounds in marketing, and they had often talked about collaborating on a project. With all of the additional mental health challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, they felt the time was ripe now.

“It’s really hard to be a kid right now,” McCurdy said. “It’s hard to be a parent right now and it’s hard to be a teacher right now. If there’s something that we can do on that spectrum to support those teachers and families, that was one of our goals.”

The first book in the new series, “Clementine Gets UNSTUCK!,” was released on July 27. The book follows Clementine, a neurodivergent third grader whose “zipping,” “zinging” and “tangling” thoughts leave her feeling “stuck.” She finds a solution to her problems while at school, and decides to start the “Kids Can Club” to help her classmates and others work through issues of their own.

Jen Monika McCurdy and Christine Corrigan Mendez

Authors Jen Monika McCurdy and Christine Corrigan Mendez met while pursuing their master’s degrees in counseling at UMSL. (Photo courtesy of Jen Monika McCurdy and Christine Corrigan Mendez)

Unlike many other children’s wellness books, McCurdy and Mendez specifically chose not to format their book as a workbook. Instead, they chose to work with illustrator Dana Regan and convey the emotional challenges portrayed in the book as part of the main character’s story, weaving the wellness tools that are offered as a solution into the plot. By doing so, they hope to present these ideas in a way that is more exciting and engaging for young readers.

“We wanted to write in a way that was interesting and would grab the attention of kids,” Mendez said. “We want children to engage with the story, engage with the exercise, engage with the characters and say, ‘I can see myself in this.'”

“I believe kids learn by story,” McCurdy added. “I think when we’re working with children, one of the best ways to teach them is to sit down and read the stories together – we’re going to read this story, have it demonstrated and then what can we do to act upon that? It’s just taking it a little bit of a step further into more of an action approach.”

Similarly, McCurdy and Mendez specifically chose not to use diagnostic labels to describe the challenges facing each child in the books. Rather than saying that Clementine has ADHD, for instance, they use words like “zipping,” “zinging” and “tangling” to describe her thoughts.

But the book is just a jumping off point for their grand vision. McCurdy and Mendez hope to further engage and empower children through the “Kids Can Club” website, where they explain to kids how they can start a helping club, supported by trusted adults such as parents, teachers and counselors. As part of the club, children take a pledge, organize their own club, take on helping missions and report their successes back.

“What we wanted to do with the club is expand on the learning of the children in the book,” Mendez said. “It allows us to carry the exercises and solutions from the book into the club, with a pledge on the site that helps empower children. Kids can take what they’ve learned and bring it out there.”

The pair plan to release additional books that spotlight different children in the club, all of whom are working through different emotional issues. But they’ve learned that the book publishing process is a long and arduous one, and life moves quickly. To that end, in between book printings, they plan to publish additional content on the Kids Can Club website, including mini stories, games, videos and coloring pages. To stay timely, they plan to also publish seasonal content, such as lessons on gratitude around the holidays, for instance. Much of the content will be kid-oriented, but they’ll also have tools for parents and teachers as well.

“The way we see the website is just this constantly evolving tool for teachers and parents to work with their kids and help identify different feelings,” McCurdy said. “In helping others, we help ourselves. For example, Clementine’s thoughts are zinging and zipping and she’s just getting overwhelmed, and then she learns this tool. She has this clarity and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to share it with my friends.’ That’s a way of helping others, but she’s also helping herself and integrating it more into her system and her body. If we can teach our kids now to be those types of people and citizens, the world could be a better place.”

“Clementine Gets UNSTUCK!” can be purchased through Amazon, BookBaby Bookshop, Left Bank Books, Target and more.

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