SISTERS WRITE CHILDREN’S BOOK ABOUT LOSING A PARENT
“My Little Boy, Your heart is now learning to feel many new things…”
The poignant beginning of a children’s book about working through grief sets the tone for what’s to come. It should also serve as a warning to grab a box of tissues before reading too far into it.
The book, Love, Mom, was written and illustrated by Abilene sisters Jalyn Scott and Allison Scott Westman. It is based on their own experiences following the death of their mother, Michele Scott, in 2013 at age 46. She had been a science teacher and coach in Abilene schools for many years and died suddenly of an undetected illness.
At the time, Jalyn was 13 and Allison was almost 16. Their brother, Derek, is older and was the model for the little boy in the book. Derek and their dad, Mike Scott, weren’t involved in the book process but both gave their blessing.
“We definitely had their support throughout the whole thing,” Jalyn said.
The book, published by Mascot Books, is classic children’s illustrated literature, with a short rhyming letter and an illustration on each page. Each letter, except the last one, begins with “My Little Boy” and ends with “Love, Mom.” Each of the “My Little Boy” letters addresses an issue that a child who’s lost a parent will face growing up, such as the parent not being present for a ballgame or recital or not being there to soothe hurt feelings.
One letter lets “My Little Boy” know that it’s alright to enjoy life, too, even when grieving. The boy’s feelings are validated through his mother’s words as she watches over him.
Even the tough topic of holidays is addressed. One page is illustrated with a decorated Christmas tree, stockings hanging from the mantel, and a holiday meal on the table.
My Little Boy,
Holidays that may have
once brought you cheer
Likely will be days you
dread every year.
If you feel happy, enjoy
as much as you’re able!
But if you start to feel sad,
It is okay to leave the table.
THE STORY BEHIND THE BOOK
The inspiration for the book hit like a lightning bolt when Jalyn and Allison were visiting their grandmother in Gallup, New Mexico, where their mother grew up. The sisters try to make the trip every year close to July, the month their mother died. In July 2021, they were looking at some children’s books belonging to their grandmother when the same thought struck both of them at the same time. Their eyes locked.
“The idea came to us,” Jalyn said, “and it just flowed.”
They had been given books about grieving after their mother died. But those books were either written for an older audience or they sugar-coated the issues. After dinner that night at their grandmother’s house, Allison and Jalyn started brainstorming their idea while their grandmother and Allison’s husband, Josh Westman, tackled the dishes.
They came up with the concept of using hypothetical letters for the text, which Jalyn, the wordsmith, would write. Allison, a gifted artist, would be the illustrator and help Jalyn with the rhyme and rhythm of each letter. By the time they went to bed, a plan had been developed. But Jalyn had her own plan.
“We got up the next morning,” Allison said, “and Jalyn had written it.”
The rough draft was finished and the sisters would spend the next few months touching it up, coming up with ideas for the illustrations, creating a cover, deciding on a color scheme, and sorting through all the other details that go into book publishing.
Their mother’s spirit can be felt throughout the book. The color scheme is based on her favorite light shade of orange, line drawings inside the cover represent family photos from her scrapbook, and dates by the drawings are in her handwriting. The wording of the letters is not specific to Allison’s and Jalyn’s situation but is drawn from messages that their mother wrote in birthday and Christmas cards or on notes to the children – the things most cherished by the sisters. A short dedication at the beginning of the book explains:
To our mom, who we deeply love and miss. May your legacy shine through the nature of this book as an embodiment of your compassion and empathy for others.
Allison and Jalyn both have busy lives, but they already are looking ahead to spinoff projects based on Love, Mom. Both sisters are graduates of Abilene Christian University, as is Derek, who lives in Fort Worth and is a financial analyst for JCPenney. Jalyn earned a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders and enrolled this fall in ACU’s two-year master’s program in speech-language pathology. She also works part time.
Allison earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in art, with a concentration in illustration and figure drawing. She is a product of the husband/wife teaching team, Jack and Jill Maxwell. Allison studied under Jill Maxwell in high school and Jack Maxwell at ACU.
“They’re kind of my art influences,” Allison said.
Allison works full time as an administrative assistant for youth ministry at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, the Scott family’s church home when the children were growing up. She also has her own wedding planning and coordinating business called Wedded by Westman. Her husband, Josh Westman, is assistant choir director at Cooper High School and is a songwriter and performer.
Allison and Jalyn don’t know exactly what their next project will be, but a follow-up book or other resource guides aimed at helping children are possibilities. Writing Love, Mom was therapeutic for the sisters, as they continue to navigate losing their mom at such a young age. They are hopeful that the book will have the same effect on children who read it.
“It has for sure opened doors of conversation,” Allison said.
GOING BEYOND GRIEVING
A blurb from the publisher describes Love, Mom as a book that seeks to draw awareness and spark conversation around loss and grief, as well as offering comfort.
“Grief is complex for anyone who experiences it, but for children in their formative years, it can feel even more earthshattering. Love, Mom is a necessary and hopeful book that acknowledges the realities, difficulties, and little victories of growing up despite grief and sadness,” the publisher’s blurb reads.
Be sure to save a couple of tissues for the end of the book. All the letters except the last one begin with, “My Little Boy.” The final letter is illustrated with a drawing of the little boy sitting at his desk in his room. He is writing left-handed – just like Derek, Allison and Jalyn’s older brother who served as the model for the drawings.
The little boy’s very huggable dog lies on the bed watching his best friend write the letter, which begins with “Hi, Mom!” The letter describes his feelings and offers assurance to his mother.
Love, Mom comes straight from the heart and is aimed at the heart and soul of children who are experiencing the same grief and bewilderment that Jalyn and Allison experienced when their mother died. The soft, warm illustrations evoke a sense of comfort and security.
The sisters hope the book will help guide children to the place they now find themselves. They will always experience moments of grief, but they have managed to become strong young women who have chosen to share their insights and talents with others. A news release from the publisher describes who they have become:
“They are living proof that it is possible to heal and thrive after persevering through heartache that once felt insurmountable,” the release says. “Their resilience is inspiring.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT LOVE, MOM
To learn more about Love, Mom, go to www.readlovemom.com. The website contains biographies of the authors, a video explaining how the book came to be, and an order form. Locally, it can be purchased at Texas Star Trading Co., Mardel Christian & Education, and K. Ellis Boutique.
By Loretta Fulton
Photos by Shayli Anne Photography