A children’s author has struck bronze by combining her love for writing, her “wiener dog” and her knowledge of mental health issues.
Ally Arena, who works night shifts with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) where she answers calls from people experiencing a crisis, said growing up she always thought she would end up writing as a career. But as she got older, she began to realize that dream would likely remain more of a hobby.
“I always found a lot of comfort in (writing),” Arena said, adding she also spent a large majority of her life wanting a dachshund.
When she finally got her wish and brought home Olive, she quickly began to discover her new pup’s “unique” personality. It was after noticing what a “tiny nervous wreck” Olive was that Arena decided to combine her love for writing with her love for wiener dogs.
“It initially started as a poem that I wrote about Olive… (and then) I just thought she would make this great character for this children’s book," Arena said. "She’s unique but relatable… but with this demeanour, I thought would be perfect to start the conversation with kids about anxiety.
“My intention was to have the book shine a light on how those with anxiety navigate life a little bit differently," she added.
The book, titled Olive the Worrying Wiener: A Short Tale about a Particularly Long Dog, also contains a slight parallel between Arena and Olive.
“I have struggled with anxiety for some time," said the Barrie resident. "It’s meant to allow children to normalize those challenges that go along with navigating life with anxiety and to also allow them to see that no matter the circumstances, they’ll be able to find comfort amidst those struggles.
“I aimed to highlight as well that the therapeutic benefit goes both ways between dogs and humans. They say dogs can be soothing for humans, and I am certainly there to soothe Olive when she needs it," Arena added.
Creating a story that was relatable to both children and adults was also important to her.
“They say to write about what you know… so when it comes to wiener dogs and worrying, I thought this might be my expertise,” Arena joked. “I wanted the story to speak to people in a few different ways.
"The messages are a bit layered," she added. "Kids will be able to see that this neurotic, nervous little character who is having a really hard time with things the average person wouldn’t necessarily struggle with, they get to see that those challenges don’t take away from a kid’s worth or lovability.”
Working in the mental health field, Arena said it was important to her to use her knowledge to help fill what she believed to be a bit of a void when it came to children’s books that address mental health.
“I always noticed a lack of books for children that touch on a subject that touched on mental health… and I always thought children’s books were overly simplistic and lacked that scoop on what they’ll be dealing with in their adult lives or growing up as a kid experiencing mental health (issues),” she said.
“Growing up, I couldn’t even put a name to what anxiety was and why I was feeling the way I was," Arena added. "I thought it was so important to give (kids) a chance to understand what it is and how it might develop… along with finding the means to normalize it and (offer) coping strategies to get through those challenges.”
The book was recently awarded bronze in the pre-school picture books category in the United Kingdom-based Wishing Shelf Book Awards, where submissions are read and judged by children in eight U.K. primary and secondary schools.
It was an honour Arena admitted is humbling.
“I took a chance and submitted my work and then found out I was a finalist,” she said proudly. “What drew me to those awards was that they use actual children to read the books. It’s actually being critiqued by the exact audience that you want, which I thought was really cool.”
Arena has already published a follow-up book, titled Olive the Worrying Wiener and the Invasion of Pickle the Pup, which she wrote after adding Pickle to the family.
The second in her Olive the Worrying Wiener series, the book teaches readers that while change can be scary, especially for someone with a nervous nature, it can also be a wonderful way to grow, find joy, and learn how to adapt and cope.
For more information on Arena, Olive or her new sister Pickle, check out their Instagram page @the_needy_weenies.