We’re very excited to be interviewing Justine Adams, who is a Melbourne Mum, children’s Physiotherapist and has most recently authored and launched her first children’s book, Goodnight, Toes. Mums really are incredible at what they can fit into their lives, and we’re honoured that Justine has taken the time to chat about the launch of her book, and how she came about writing it.
RN: We’ve heard that you have grown up with a love of books, with your mum’s beautiful bookshop in Gippsland [Victoria]. We’d love to hear about how the love of books has impacted your life, including how you use them during your professional work as a physiotherapist.
JA: You’re right mum did have a very beautiful bookshop in Bairnsdale and it was simply bursting with treasures and endless possibilities- as bookshops tend to do. I have a personality that tends to find everyday life overwhelming, and this was particularly true in my teenage years. I was expected to work in the shop in my spare time, which initially I thought would be dull but quickly I learned that a bookshop is the best sort of haven there is to recuperate from the crazy world outside. There, I would lose myself in daydreams. The children’s section was always my favourite, I loved devouring new titles straight out of the box and relished in the privilege of recommending them to parents, grandparents, aunties etc, imagining them introducing a young soul to the world inside.
Working as a physio for kids, we often have to ask so much of our dear little patients. Using books to calm, distract and build trust with children has been a true pleasure in my job, and helped me to be more effective in my role. In recent years, I have been particularly interested in using Social Stories® - a picture book style which uses age-appropriate terminology to explain specific life challenges, concepts and tasks to children (such as visiting the hospital and undergoing a treatment) to enable them to understand what will happen and why. I love watching how the knowledge, when effectively communicated, allows children to demonstrate autonomy and confidence in a daunting new setting. They get the chance to use their powerful voice to be part of the conversations about their own body, their health and feelings about it all.
Have you always dreamt of being an author and when did you start the process of writing Goodnight, Toes?
I’ve always admired children’s book authors and written stories privately to relax, but never thought I would experience the amazing privilege of actually being a children’s book author. Since working with kids professionally and then having a couple myself, I have been in awe of the power of a beautiful book to comfort and relax both child and adult, particularly when it’s enjoyed together. To spark conversation and bridge the distance between a child’s perspective and adults to make way for a moment of genuine connection.
Goodnight, Toes started as a ritual that emerged when we had just had our second son and so predictably, the toddler’s bedtime routine went absolutely haywire. I’m sure you can picture it- a chaotic, delirious, despairing mess which, in our exhausted state left us both feeling like complete failures. I felt like a terrible parent for not being able to teach him to fall asleep on his own and he was clingy and desperate for me to stay with him, grappling with why world had changed so suddenly. By that time of day, I was too depleted to figure out where to turn next and current advice on sleep training felt beyond me.
So we let it all go, decided to pause, rest and reconnect in that moment instead. We agreed, I would stay cuddling him for a few more minutes and we would work together to practice winding down. A moments peace to enjoy being with ourselves and each other. I would say the words of Goodnight, Toes, he would listen and we would both allow ourselves some kindness, gratitude and reassurance.
It’s a ritual we still do 5 years later (my younger son now there too) but it was with Camille and Affirm Press’ help that it blossomed into the rich and dreamy experience of Goodnight, Toes. Camille brought to it a lens with which to view our ordinary day with childlike wonder taking it from peculiar, private family ritual to dreamy bedtime story that can (hopefully) be enjoyed by families everywhere.
Have your children taken on your love of books, and did they have any input into the writing? We suspect that they may have played a part with the ‘goodnight bum’ part?
Haha how did you guess?
The boys have been very lucky- through their Grandmother’s bookshop, they have been absolutely spoilt with an endless supply of books. It’s a lovely thing for them to share, and I think instils a love of books and stories from the basis of connection. We have also had the same bedtime routine a long time now, which always includes snuggling in bed to read together before our own Goodnight, Toes routine. It’s comforting to all of us.
As for writing Goodnight, Toes my boys contributed as much to the writing as I did! As night followed night, I would try different iterations, some they responded to, others they didn’t and would get restless. Eventually over the years, we settled into these words, like the comfiest pyjamas. However, it probably won’t surprise anyone to know that the ‘goodnight bum’ began as ‘goodnight poos’- I wish I could say that spark of brilliance was mine- but I could never be that clever or hilarious. Unfortunately, you need to get your hands on an early edition for that precious nugget (pun intended)!
It's obvious that your Physiotherapy background was an influence in writing the book, given the focus on all the different body parts. What else influenced your writing?
Certainly, the experience of being a physio and observing that any person’s body is able to achieve great things, no matter how it looks, behaves, grows or stumblesis the basis for the line of gratitude through the book.
Mostly though, the writing came from the awe I felt when I watched my children grow and move in those early years. I never cease to be astonished by the courageous, determined and clever way a child urges their body and mind to explore the world around them. Right from their first efforts to lift their head in tummy time, to pulling up to grin at you over the coffee table, to jumping over stones on the creek- it’s a stunning dance of problem-solving and conviction. Just how capable these little people are, how limitless their potential!
I would like our children to remember this for as long as possible. Goodnight, Toes offers a moment to reflect with gratitude on our ability, possibility, and courage. It seems a reassuring way to end a day.
We adore the illustrations in the book, by Camille Manley - how did it feel to see your words bought to life?
This was an experience like nothing else, like entering another dimension. Each time I was sent another proof it was deeply moving, weirdly a bit confronting at the same time but ultimately unbelievably delicious! This was so personal, and there it was - illustrated into life with a richness and sense of wonder that only someone as talented as Camille could have put to paper. We didn’t know each other before this, but she seemed so instinctively to understand my intentions. It felt like stars had aligned and a beautiful partnership had emerged. Meg Whelan, our wonderful and talented editor from Affirm Press paired us together and for that (and so much about how she guided us through the creation of the book) I am so grateful.
Have you got more book ideas in your head at this stage? We can’t wait to read more if you do!
I am always writing bits and pieces- it’s one of the ways I attempt to stay sane (especially this past year or two)! I am very grateful to have another title planned for release in October next year. It focusses on those many ordinary, messy moments we have as a family, and looks to remind us that even on the toughest days as parents (and kids), our love for each other is unconditional and that’s good enough. So stay tuned!
What tips would you give mums to encourage the love of reading for their little ones from a young age?
I think beautiful reading experiences come for kids and adults alike when we delve into a book we like the sound, look and feel of- but the magic really happens when it’s shared in a moment of connection. When an adult and child play an equal role in the experience, exchanging thoughts, bouncing off each other, both comfy and engaged, there is a rich, cosy immersive energy which brings the experience to life. Rituals like visits to libraries and bookshops, walking around neighbourhoods exploring little libraries and of course settling down before bed provides precious, tender and shared adventures. It doesn’t matter where the books come from or how good you are at reading, it’s the regular experience of human connection, safety and belonging that gives children’s books their power.
Thanks enormously Justine for taking the time to chat – we are so impressed with your beautiful book and we absolutely know that it will be a huge favourite in households everywhere. We're already super excited for your next book too!
If you would like to win a copy of Justine Adams book, 'Goodnight, Toes', head to our Instagram post featuring the book and let us know - what body part you would say goodnight to, and why, as part of your own bedtime ritual.