By Cheryl Conway
A seed planted in her mind for her first book has grown into mini episodes teaching life lessons to kids as well as tools for parents and teachers to help spread positive resolve to daily challenges.
Life-long Florham Park resident Shanna Truffini’s book, “You Are A Gardner” has taken a life of its own since it was published in Dec. 2017. The 39-year old mother of two wrote the 32 page book in just 20 minutes that March with its simple language and poetic style.
“It was just a matter of me to self-publish it,” she says. So she had a friend, Kelsey DeLaney, illustrate the cover and pages and within months “I had the book in my hand.”
What appears to be a children’s book about gardening is really “a system for parents to talk to their kids and open the door for communication,” explains Kaitlyn Reynolds of Mt. Olive, marketing representative for the book. “The method is to “pull your weeds, plant your seeds, and enjoy the flowers along the way.”
“Pull your weeds” translates to mean “talk to an adult about what is making you sad, scared, mad.”
“Plant your seeds: Do something positive! Bake cookies, take a walk, hug your grandma.
“Enjoy the flowers: Step back and take notice of the best part of each and every day.”
According to an overview of the book provided by Reynolds, “You Are a Gardener” is a solution based system to help children learn to solve life’s everyday challenges with a positive and empowering result. The book embraces a child friendly vocabulary that allows children to effectively recognize and communicate the “weeds” that they encounter and understand that they have the power to control the way they feel.”
While the book is intended for young readers, Truffini says it is “one of those books at any age, you pick it up, the message comes through.”
Go to www.youareagardener.com to purchase a copy at $15.99; educators and schools are eligible for a 10 percent discount.
The idea to write the book grew after Truffini encountered a difficult situation with her daughter Anna, 9.
“When my daughter Anna was five our family encountered an unforeseen event,” explains Truffini, who did not want to provide details. “It caused her to have post-traumatic stress.”
Truffini says her pediatrician told her to “look for signs” and that “children can hold stress three or four weeks,” after a situation occurs.
Concerned, Truffini immediately brought Anna to a cognitive behavioral therapist after she noticed a change in her behavior weeks later.
“She would talk to her once a week; her stress started to take root,” says Truffini. “While the therapist was great, it was not enough. She stopped sleeping through the night and had trouble going to school; just a total change in behavior. Therapy wasn’t enough. It was like a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.”
So Truffini turned to other methods such as homeopathic medicine. “It’s all natural stuff to take; home remedies,” she explains. “It was helpful but it wasn’t enough. Her stress was really starting to take root.”
“I was with a friend one day- she compared stress and anxiety for watering weeds instead of your flowers. That was a light bulb moment in me. That whole day I found myself watering my own weeds and it caught me off guard and how often I was thinking about things that stressed me out.
“That same night, I sat my kids down because there was something special I wanted to share with them and I said ‘Do you guys know you are gardeners?’ I instantly had their attention; told them they are gardeners growing the most beautiful garden inside of them.” Anna was 7 then and in second grade; her son Aidan was 5 and in kindergarten.
“The flowers are like baking cookies and snuggling but every garden has weeds and that’s just a natural fact,” she told them. “Weeds in their garden are the things that make you feel sad, scared or mad. I said ‘As gardeners when we see a weed we got to get it out.’ It was then, I asked them if they had any weeds that day at school. Instantly, they said they had a weed and told me things that made them mad, scared or sad.”
Anna told her how her “music teacher had a bloody nose; I was so scared I wanted to go home and get a hug.”
Her son, Aidan, told her how his friends were playing with Legos in class but would not let him play, so he walked away.
“I literally watched my children’s shoulder come down,” says Truffini, who works as a general manager and creative director at Willow St. boutique in Summit and Morristown.
This verbal exercise helped Truffini realize “We were not talking about these kinds of things every day. We would talk about their problems but not consistently.
“It was a really nice balance to communicate with each other and problem solve with each other,” she says. “We would garden in the car, on the way home from school. What were your weeds; what were your flowers?”
Truffini started to see “tremendous progress” with her daughter, by talking about her weeds. She noticed that the technique had an active result for her daughter, yet a proactive affect for her son.
“It changed our lives,” and it “motivated me to self-publish” the book as she was anxious to share her method with others.
Having always enjoyed writing in her youth, especially poetry, Truffini received a bachelor’s in English from Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Book Blossoms Into Teaching And Counseling Method
After sharing her first book among friends and family, she says “I really knew I had something special.” So she brought it to her kids’ school counselor, who praised the book even more.
She was told: “Stress level for kids is at an all-time high,” says Truffini.” They are seeing it younger and younger; nothing getting to the root of what’s happening. I know the system I’m offering will help.”
Some schools use mediation and mindfulness techniques, “Which are wonderful tools,” she says, “but this is getting to the root of the individual.”
Since her idea was working at home, Truffini decided to share it with some teachers who developed a gardening curriculum using the same language in order to help students share their daily stresses, she explains.
“Flowers, weed and seeds,” she says. Flowers are the positive thoughts and experiences; weeds are negative emotions, thoughts and problems; seeds are the problem solving and coming up with solutions.
She has also shared her method with behavioral therapists and counselors in some schools in Morris County, as well as other teachers and parents.
“My goal is to get everyone to use the same vocabulary,” says Truffini. “We will get to the root more quickly.”
She explains: “One thing happens, you don’t talk about it and it kind of takes root; goes to weeks, to stress and anxiety, leads to depression.
“Let’s give these kids at five or six a voice,” she continues. “When you talk about something, you really set it free. What they experience every single day can be crazy sometimes.”
Children Grow Into Mentors, Spread Seeds
Last summer, when Truffini was at the beach with her kids they noticed a boy playing roughly with his sister, throwing sand at her and causing her to cry.
‘He must have a lot of weeds,’ Truffini recalls her daughter saying. ‘Aidan and I should start a video series and help that little boy pull his weeds.’
With that idea bloomed a series of episodes “Hello Gardeners,” starring Gardener Anna and Gardener Aidan. The first episode was released on YouTube in September 2017. “We’ve been shooting one every month,” says Truffini, adding that her book illustrator, DeLaney, is ironically also a videographer.
Each being three minutes long and concentrating on a different theme, such as bullies, to help kids deal with issues, episode seven is in the works.
Their productions are spreading like wildflowers with calls coming in from all over, as far as Texas, from kids discussing their weeds, says Truffini. “It’s like a ‘Dear Abby’ for kids.”
“Anyone who watches it can get vocabulary,” she says. “So many of these weeds and what’s happening with other kids, it’s nice that there is something positive on YouTube. We are just going to keep making these video series. The more kids we can help, the more we can do.”
As far as her writing, Truffini has ideas for her next book. She also plans to continue to educate others through workshops, presentations, round table discussions and gardening clubs.
“I call it emotional education,” concludes Truffini, “all came from this huge weed to Anna at age five, grew into a seed. It’s absolutely beautiful. My son uses it for proactive- keeping his garden clean; he knows when something’s bugging him, he talks about it.
“Kids have the power to change the way they feel,” she says.
“I pull my weeds all day long and I feel better.”
To purchase “You Are A Gardener,” for free resources, more information and to view “Hello Gardeners,” go to www.youareagardener.com.