Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by emotions this past year? Toni Yuly has created a sweet character with whom we can all identify in that regard. I so appreciate the glimpse she’s giving us below about how the idea for Ollie Octopus came to her — I’m fascinated by others’ creative processes. Tony’s inspired me to play around with a rhyming phrase that popped into my own brain the other morning on a walk! Most importantly, her brand new board book, Ollie Feels Fine (Sasquatch Books) provides a gentle springboard for conversations about feelings with the youngest of readers.

Toni Yuly

I got the idea to make a book about an emotional octopus while visiting a tiny neighborhood in Kitsap County called Holly. Ollie from Holly! The beach at Holly is a gorgeous bay surrounded by the Olympic mountains and for some reason I imagined this fun loving, sweet octopus living there. 

I love a lot of things about octopuses. They are smart and otherworldly looking and can change their shape and color! 

The idea to have a young octopus change colors when his emotions changed seems fun to me. Even though the colors represented in the book are not accurate to the colors of a real octopus, I think it is a fun and helpful way to show kids when Ollie is feeling an emotion. I used the “Zones of Regulation” color chart as a guide for Ollie’s changing colors. Basically he is green when he is happiest and red when he is mad or scared. Yellow is upset, blue is sad, etc. 

I think that feelings and emotions are things we all struggle with. I know I certainly did and still do. Having an alcoholic parent growing up I learned as a child not to show my emotions much so I wouldn’t upset them. People thought I was calm, but inside I was an emotional wreck. Emotional intelligence was not much of a concept when I was young! Ollie feels his emotions but is easily overwhelmed by them, which is really common for a lot of kids (and some adults too!) Luckily for Ollie, he has a good friend Stella, the starfish, who helps him. She helps Ollie know that it is ok to not always feel ok. 

I don’t know about anyone else but during this pandemic I have been feeling a lot of emotions, just like Ollie. It has been an emotional roller coaster and I am glad to have my friends and family around when I am feeling overwhelmed emotionally. 

I have made other board books that were first published as picture books: Early Bird, Night Owl, Cat Nap and Thank You Bees, but Ollie Feels Fine (Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot Books) is my first original board book. It is a nice big square size that feels good in your hands. 

It was fun to work with a local publisher too, and my editor, Christy Cox is the best!

Ollie Feels Fine by Toni Yuly

Toni Yuly has been an early bird her whole life and loves to start the day in her studio listening to other early birds sing outside her window. She lives in a small house by the water in Bremerton, WA, a short ferry boat ride from Seattle, WA where she was born. 

Toni fell in love with Eastern sensibilities during a year spent in Sendai, Japan when she was just 17 years old. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BFA in Painting where she studied with the great American painter, Jacob Lawrence. Now, after many years as a librarian in the King County Library System, Toni works full-time as a designer, artist and writer.  To learn more visit her website www.toniyuly.com