While discussing her latest picture book, Nova's Missing Masterpiece, Brooke Graham offers insight into the personal and professional dynamics of writing children's books on mental health.

What do you love about writing children's books?

I love writing children’s books because they’re an escape from reality—almost anything can happen: toys can give hugs; ponies can talk and monsters really do exist. I write to bring joy to young readers and help them cope with big issues, such as managing emotions and anxiety and developing resilience  

What inspired you to write Nova’s Missing Masterpiece?

I was inspired to write Nova’s Missing Masterpiece after being in the role of Wellbeing Specialist Teacher in a small primary school. I taught children about neuroscience, including the parts of the brain that affect emotions, why and what happens when you flip your lid (meltdown) and strategies to calm down and reset. Through this teaching role I understood the importance of children needing to be explicitly taught and modelled strategies to identify their emotions, calm down and reset. I decided to write a book that would not only be an engaging story, but also include evidence based, simple strategies to manage big emotions.

Who or what inspired Nova’s character?

Watching my daughter, nephew and niece navigate their emotions through early childhood helped me to truly capture Nova’s character, thoughts and feelings.

Did you have any personal experiences that contributed to this new book?

Yes, my interest in children’s mental health and the knowledge I gained in my role as a Wellbeing Specialist Teacher certainly contributed to writing Nova’s Missing Masterpiece.

You’ve mentioned on your website that you like writing emotive stories that help children cope with life’s ups and downs. How has it been exciting and/or challenging to write stories with this aim?

It’s been both exciting and challenging! Authors are often told to write what they know and or love. I’m incredibly passionate about writing stories with themes that centre on mental health because of my experience in that field. When I was in my early 30’s (and my daughter was four years old) my husband suicided. Consequently, my daughter developed anxiety (which inspired me to write my debut picture book, Go Away, Worry Monster!). Mental health has so significantly impacted my life and my daughter’s that I want to be able to help children manage their mental health and be confident and enjoy their life. Writing these stories, that are often considered ‘issues books’ is, challenging for two reasons. Firstly, writing about big issues and serious topics without being didactic can be incredibly hard to pull off; and secondly, many publishers don’t want to risk publishing a book that could be labelled as niche or a difficult topic.

How did writing this book compare to writing your previous children’s books?

The writing process was very similar to writing Go Away, Worry Monster!, especially as they are companion books. The main challenge for Nova’s Missing Masterpiece was to get it to acquisitions. Anouska Jones, publisher of EK Books really liked the concept but the story needed lots of tweaking so there were many revisions before it went to acquisitions and was accepted. I’m very grateful to my critique group who gave feedback on Nova’s Missing Masterpiece for about four months (rounds) in a row.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Nova’s Missing Masterpiece?

I hope they’ll remember to use the simple strategies Nova used to calm down which includes: deep breathing, having a drink of water and doing something relaxing such as listening to music.

What was it like to work with an illustrator on this story? Were there particular images or experiences that you were excited to see?

Robin and I didn’t work together as she lives in SA and I live in QLD, but it was thrilling to see the early sketches of Nova and Robin’s storyboard. Then, when I saw the final illustrations I was speechless! I’m biased, but I think Robin has created the most vibrant and colourful book ever! My favourite page is when Nova and Harley search the backyard. I adore the whole scene, but particularly love the fairy garden and Nova’s hideout.

Robin and I will be meeting for the first time in two weeks to launch Nova’s Missing Masterpiece in Brisbane at Where the Wild Things Are. The following week I’ll be travelling to Robin’s home town to do another book launch for Nova. We are both incredibly excited!

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I have another story coming out in 2025 with EK Books. It is a multicultural story and will be illustrated by Kristen Willis. I’m currently working on a number of picture books that I hope to get contracted and this year my goal is to write the first draft of a Young Adult novel.