Kelly Norman is a woman of many titles. A mother, a high school librarian, and now a writer! She has been inspired by all these roles to produce her story Understanding Molly. Which introduces us to a young girl who experiences ADHD and ODD and how day-to-day life can be different, crazy, scary and hard. This book identifies the struggles but also highlights the good and what families and friends can do to help. Come with us as we interview author Kelly Norman and learn more about this chapter in her life.
Q: What inspired you to create a novel about a child with ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder)?
A:I began writing the novel as an exercise in self-care and mindfulness. Having five children at home, two of whom have either ADHD or ADHD/ODD, I have lost count of how many nights I have gone to bed feeling nothing but defeat and frustration.
Parenting is hard at the best of times; but parenting both neurotypical and neurodivergent children, together, under one roof, felt impossible.
It seemed as though the harder I tried to keep everything under control, the more chaotic life became. I kept asking myself the same questions, over and over. “What was I missing?”, “What am I doing wrong?”, “Why won’t my children listen to reason?”
After a particularly difficult day, I sat down at my kitchen table and decided that I would try to step into the shoes of an ADHD/ODD child. Afterall, how can I possibly expect my children to see things from my point of view, when I wasn’t willing to give them the same consideration?
Such a simple form of empathy has changed not only the way I parent each of my children individually, but also the way that I view the world.
Q: Was it a challenge finding the authentic voice of 11-year-old Molly and her peers, and did you have any tricks to tap into that age mindset when writing?
A: Yes and no. I was very mindful not to base the character of ‘Molly’ on my own children or any situations that had actually occurred under my roof. I needed her to carry her own voice, her own feelings and of course, her own personality. The way in which ‘she’ would react to circumstances became so fluid within my imagination, that the story almost wrote itself. I could see things from her point of view, and I could empathise with how she was feeling. I felt it too.
I would often reach a peak moment within the story and close my eyes. I would take a moment to put myself into ‘Molly’s’ position and write accordingly. Everything fell into place once I was immersed in her mind-set.
Q: When reading Understanding Molly, we see some chapters written from different characters' perspectives in Molly’s life. Why was it important to you to show these POVs and not just Molly’s?
A: I felt compelled to not only share with the reader Molly’s point of view, but also the perspective of those around her. ADHD and ODD has a broad reach; not only does it impact those who live with the condition, but also those around them. As such, it was my intention that whoever picked up the book would find a meaningful connection with at least one character, but also be able to empathise with the rest.
Q: What is the biggest takeaway you hope young readers will remember and learn from your novel?
A: I believe that it is so important for young people to understand that every person they meet is worthy of acceptance and understanding. Although we might struggle to comprehend people’s actions or begin to rationalise why they react the way they do, it is imperative that we practice empathy. By taking a moment to look at a situation from a different perspective other than our own, the way in which we view the world begins to change. That conflict driven game of tug-o-war that we are each trying to conquer becomes less important and can pave the way to a peaceful resolution.
Q: Having the opportunity and experience of working in school libraries, do you believe this made it more difficult or easier to write a book aimed at children?
A: In some ways, easier. Children are so diverse in the books they choose to read. They want to either be taken away on an adventure, or they want to read something they can relate to. Something that lights a spark within them.
With the right combination of humour, guidance and connection to story, books have a wonderful way of positively influencing young minds. All it takes is that one novel to turn a reluctant reader into an avid booklover. Helping children discover a love of reading is perhaps the best part of my profession. If my book can spark that wondrous light in at least one child out there, then my job, as a writer, is indeed done.
Q: After finalising this novel and knowing about these particular disorders in young people do you have any advice for teachers, librarians and parents who might find themselves in need?
A: Be kind to yourself.
There are countless days when I struggle to get by. I think we all do. The unpredictability, the anxiety, the tendency to “make it up as we go along”, is always there in the background, and it’s both mentally and physically exhausting.
Throughout the years I’ve lost count of how many times my husband and I have been advised to, “just ignore it”, or “don’t let it land”, but we are human, and it hurts.
I have never pretended to have all the answers, oh, how I wish I did, but the one thing I have learnt is the importance of self-care and empathy.
If you think this is hard for you, take a moment to imagine how hard it is for these children. They don’t have the ability, or the coping skills, that we have gathered throughout our journey. As such, it is up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them pave their own path and teach them self-love and acceptance.
Reach out. Seek professional help. Forgive yourself during your most difficult days and celebrate the little wins.
I know it might feel as though no-one understands what you are feeling, but I do. I really do.