Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you so much for joining us today for another interview with one of our amazing honorees. For this interview, we were able to speak with Dennis Gillan, author of the Mom’s Choice Award-winning book, Nice Shoes!: A little compliment can go a long way. Nice Shoes! is based on a true story and is an important and positive book that is the perfect way for parents, teachers, and caregivers to open a dialog with children ages 4–10 about having a bad day and also how they can brighten the day of someone else who might really need it. Keep reading to find out more about Dennis Gillan and his award-winning book, Nice Shoes!
MCA: Hi Dennis, thank you so much for joining us today, and congratulations on your Mom’s Choice Award! Nice Shoes! is such a sweet story with a simple yet powerful message, a little compliment can go a long way! The message about kindness and compassion is crucial for every little reader to learn. Can I first start the interview by finding out a little bit about your background?
Dennis: My name is Dennis Gillan and I am a mental health advocate. I lost two brothers to suicide, eleven years apart. Here is my bio that I send out to folks who host my talk:
Dennis Gillan is a national thought leader on the topic of suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. He travels internationally speaking, raising awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Dennis has been deeply touched by suicide after the loss of both of his brothers to suicide, eleven years apart. After years of sitting on the sidelines, he jumped into helping those in need by working on the suicide prevention hotline when he lived in Chicago. After moving to South Carolina, Dennis got involved with several non-profits that take on mental health issues, and this allows him to lobby lawmakers and raise awareness by sharing his story. Dennis gave a TEDx talk about loneliness that has received over 25,000 views! Dennis also co-wrote a children’s book about dealing with sadness and showing children how kindness can save a life. Dennis is the executive director of a non-profit called the Half a Sorrow Foundation. The name of the foundation comes from an old Swedish proverb that states a shared joy is a double joy, a shared sorrow is half a sorrow. The mission of the Half a Sorrow Foundation is to improve mental health by promoting real conversations. Dennis’s keynote talk definitely promotes real conversations and his style and delivery is like nothing else out there. He combines his losses with real world solutions and even sprinkles in humor from time to time to disarm the audience and let the message land. That message is life is worth living!
MCA: I’m so sorry to hear about both of your losses. It is very touching and impactful that you have been able to create something so meaningful from something so painful. What was your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?
Dennis: My co-author, Stephen Pihl, inspired me. Steven was a student at the University of Delaware when I was invited to speak there. I work with a student group to have a select few come on stage with me and share their story about how they deal with their mental health issues. Steven was one of those students and he told the story what became nice shoes. I could not get the story out of my head and two years later I called up Steven and asked him if we could do something with it and we settled on a children’s book. It was a great decision.
MCA: I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that Nice Shoes! is based on a true story, can you share that story with us, and what made you want to turn it into a book?
Dennis: I, this is Dennis, could not get the story that Stephen told out of my head. And the crowd reaction was phenomenal to watch as I stood behind him on stage. A kind word literally saved his life, and I knew if we didn’t capture that this story would disappear into the ether. And I felt strongly that it needed to be shared.
MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in Nice Shoes!?
Dennis: The key lesson to be learned in nice shoes is that kindness always wins. In the book, the protagonist Derek was having a bad day and he thought every day would be like this. Until Carlos caught him on the way out of school and told him he liked his shoes, and that changed everything. With one kind word, Carlos turns Derek’s day from bad to good. And that is the key lesson we want the reader to learn. We also want the reader to learn that yes there will be days when nothing goes your way. It happens, and it’s OK to be sad about it. Ee also want the reader to learn that sadness is normal but prolonged sadness should be looked into. And that is where the parents and the educators come in!
MCA: We love that you’re also laying the foundation for talks about mental health with Nice Shoes!, that is so incredibly important! What kind of response from readers have you received?
Dennis: the response has been unbelievable. Not only did we sell a lot of books we also gave out a lot of hugs at a recent book signing. Everybody has a story to share, and we are so glad that Steven allowed us to share his heart and by doing this we now get to encourage others to do the same.
MCA: Why are books about mental health and kindness so important to share, especially with children?
Dennis: It is important for young children to learn some social-emotional skills that will contribute to resiliency. And we are of the opinion that there is no better skill set than being kind. Carlos was well liked in the school because he was kind, but little did he know that his kindness would save a life. That’s why it’s important to share this story.
MCA: If you could ensure readers of your book walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?
Dennis: You never know what someone is going through. And if that’s the case, why not be kind all the time?
MCA: That is a great question to leave us on, thank you Dennis!