Award-winning children’s book author Julia Cook joins Zibby to discuss Herman Jiggle, Just Be You, a heartwarming tale about overcoming insecurities and learning to accept and love oneself. Julia shares how she came to publish 140 books–it all started when she couldn’t quite figure out how to teach children! She also discusses her most memorable books; the mistakes she’s made in a couple of them; recent trends in anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation for children and adolescents; and her best parenting (and just life) advice.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Julia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Today, we’re talking about Herman Jiggle, Just Be You! Really, we’re talking about you just being you because I’ve been reading your books with my kids for so long. I think it’s really exciting to have you on the show, so there you go.

Julia Cook: Thank you. I am very excited to be here. It’s an honor to be on your show, Zibby. I’m a follower. I’ve seen you on GMA. Pretty impressive. You’ve got it going on.

Zibby: Thank you. How many books have you written? Do you have any idea?

Julia: I’ve written 140. They are in nine languages. I believe there’s over three million sold. It is a freak way that I got into it. I was a former middle school teacher turned school counselor for elementary age. Could not figure out how to teach my kids . We have this much to teach our kids, and we have this much time to do it in. If we can find a really cool book, we can take seven minutes and read it to them. If the book has great stuff in it, that great stuff will stick with them forever. Rainbow Fish and I Love You Forever and The Giving Tree, all of those amazing messages are disguised in a children’s book. because they just want us to wave our wand and solve their problems. If we do that, they might live with us when they’re thirty. The goal is to raise them to live in an amazing world where they do well. They have to solve their own problems. The books into the kids’ head. It worked. A teacher came in my office one day and said, “You should try doing something with this.” I called a publisher on the side of the book. They said, “Send it in.” Then they said, “We’re going to publish your book. Do you have more?” I said, “How much do I have to pay you?” They’re said, “We’ll pay you.” I dropped the phone. I never planned on that. That was about seventeen years ago. It’s been a ride.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, what a great story. I do feel like each of your books has such a clear message. Yet it’s fun. I was trying to analyze what it is about your books. I’m sure people have dissected them and their popularity. It’s the great illustrations too. It’s the rhyming and the words and how you just totally get inside someone’s brain and then repeat the same message over and over so that by the end of it, you get it. It proves out. I don’t know. What do you think about that?

Julia: They’re pretty much the same format. The kid has an issue. Then they’re presented with solutions. They try the solutions, and they work. In order to write a children’s book, you have to be that kid. They’re all first person, which is huge in the children’s book world because it allows kids to become that character. If a kid doesn’t say it, I don’t put it in a book. It has to be kid-friendly wording-wise. You have to think like you’re fifty-eight and write like you’re eight.

Zibby: Are you still around kids all the time?

Julia: Very much so. A few years ago, they said, “Why don’t you just speak at conferences?” I said, “If I take my foot out of that trench, I lose all of my –” I’ve done over three thousand school visits. This is my first week off since January 1st. I’ve been on the road all the time. Do a lot of parent talks, a lot of teacher/staff development on kids — they’re missing some of the skills that they need to be great people. Maybe they’re not getting it at home. Maybe they are, but they’re not practicing it. COVID didn’t help us. I noticed that when kids came back from school, when you’re talking to them, they’re talking to you at the same time. I show kids, if these are your words and these are your teacher’s words and they happen at the same time, they crash in midair. Nothing goes in your head. This is a one-way street. Things are either coming out or going in. You can’t talk, make noise, narrate anything while someone’s talking to you. It doesn’t get in their head.

Zibby: Which book is that? Which book was that in?

Julia: Let’s see. I’m trying to think. It’s in one of them. I Have Ants in My Pants. “Try hard not to speak when others are talking. If you do, you won’t hear what they say. Words can’t go in when others come out because your brain doesn’t work that way.”

Zibby: Wow, a whole quote from it and everything. Impressive. Some of the books that we really loved, A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue was one of them. Talk about that. I know it was one of the first.

Julia: It was one of the first. It was giving kids four simple rules about tattling. The kid tattled so much. His mom says, “If you don’t stop tattling, you’re going to get Tattle Tongue.” He says, “What’s that?” She says, “Itchy, itchy, scratchy, scratchy, twitchy, twitchy, catchy, catchy. Purple spots will start to upon your tongue. Then you’ll know that Tattle Tongue is what you have. Tattle Tongue is very bad.” He tattles all day. He goes to sleep, and the Tattle Prince visits him. He looks in the mirror, and he has Tattle Tongue. He’s freaking out. The Tattle Prince teaches him the rules and waves his magic scepter. Glitter falls from his wand. In the morning, Josh sees yellow and purple glitter. His teacher has the tattle scepter. He’s thinking that the teacher is the Tattle Prince. It’s kind of fun.

Zibby: That’s awesome. We loved it. I have four kids. They’re always all fighting. There’s always stuff going on and tattling on this and that. Now I have to read it to my younger kids more. What about Be Where Your Feet Are!?

Julia: So many times, we are in an attempt to do more than one thing at a time. We like to multitask. People think, oh, I can get more done because I can — actually, the research shows that your brain has to stop doing one and do something else. You only allow fifty or thirty-three or twenty-five percent to that task. They say that if you do one thing and do it really well and then move on to the next task, you’re a lot more efficient. In our society, we walk and text and drive and text. We miss out on so much in our world because we’re always thinking about this or what’s going on online or what’s going on with our neighbors. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and be where your feet are.

Zibby: Love it. Good advice. These are, by the way, all great advice book for parents, which of course, is the other benefit you get when reading them to your kids.

Julia: They’re research based. If it says something in the book, then according to research, that’s what we should be telling kids. They’re a safe bet for parents in that world. The thing that’s cool is that every year when they go to print, we update them because our kids change every year. My Mouth Is A Volcano has been out for seventeen years. We don’t send kids to time-out anymore. We say, go sit on the Zen den chair and think about it. Things have evolved. We don’t keep them in from recess because teachers need kids to have recess. Kids need recess. As we grow as a society, how you talked to children seventeen years ago is not how you talk to children now. Every time they go to reprint, we look at those things and read the comments. I like to say that every Julia Cook book is definitely a work-in-progress. It’s not a once-and-done. How do they stay fresh? How do they help, all the time, kids? The thing is to add to their life, never take from it. I made quite a few mistakes in my lifetime and continue to make them every day, but that’s how you grow. That’s how you learn. If they ever find anything in a book that they don’t like, let’s talk about it. Let’s figure out a way to make it better.

Zibby: What’s a mistake that you feel really badly about?

Julia: When Soda Pop Head came out. “There goes Lester. Watch him fester. His ears start to fizz. He gets mad as a griz. His face turns red. He’s a Soda Pop Head.” The kids in the book are teasing Lester for having anger issues. That’s shaming him, in a way. That’s changed greatly lately. Now we have redone that book. “I am Lester. Watch me fester. I’m angry today. You need to stay away.” He’s recognizing it. Instead of the kids laughing and pointing at him, they’re looking at him like, whoa. It’s kind of cool because when we took that page out, a lot of teachers got very angry and said, “Put it back in. That’s what we show kids not to do. See, do we laugh at people when they’re angry? They’re doing the wrong thing.” They used it as a teaching thing. I’ve always lived by the rule that if you put it in a book, it’s what the kids should do, not what they shouldn’t do. Another one, Making Friends Is an Art!, when it came out, I started out with Brown and all the things he didn’t have and took a stab — it was offensive to kids. I don’t want to look at my brown skin and not love who I am. I never wrote that book with color in mind at all. Brown is the brown crayon. When you mix all of them together, you get brown, so he has every friendship trait he needs.

A very wise woman, Kay Smith, told me, “Why would you start with what Brown doesn’t have? Instead, start with what Brown does have. Do you notice that your brown crayon has white arms? Do you notice that…?” She gave a real critical eye to things that would be offensive to people that I was ignorant of. Boy, we changed it. We changed the art. “I’m Brown, and I’m the luckiest crayon in the box. Let me tell you how.” That book went from here to here. It’s a book that every child can read and love. I use that all the time with kids. I’m like, you don’t put your name on it and just think it’s awesome because we can always grow. We can always get better. Who we were yesterday is not who we are today or tomorrow. It was a very valuable learning experience, a very humbling learning experience. The intent is and always has been, let’s help kids get great people skills so that they can make the future better. These are the vehicle to do that. Always listening and open to change.

Zibby: Amazing. Ricky Sticky Fingers was another one of our favorites.

Julia: Every kid on the planet, you included, has temptation to take stuff once in a while that is not theirs. He does not realize how bad that makes him feel until his mom hides his bike and makes him realize that maybe that’s how they feel when he took his stuff. Then he finds his bike at the end. “When kids steal from stores, the store owners get mad. Then the prices go up. People feel bad. When kids steal things, they know that it’s wrong, but the bad inside wins, and the good plays along. Inside they’re thinking, that thing could be mine. They’re just not strong enough to say no to the crime.” Same as Lying Up A Storm. You can tell a kid not to lie. They’re trying to lie to preserve themselves. If they realize that they lie, that they hurt themselves, they’re a lot less likely to lie. If you tell the lie, you won’t ever find your inside sun.

Zibby: The last one that we read probably more than all the other ones was Wilma Jean the Worry Machine. I have had anxiety forever. I’m sure all my kids are going to be plagued. It helps me. It helps me to read the book. All the different worries spilling out all the time.

Julia: Wilma Jean the Worry Machine just had a facelift. We had some input saying that the face of her was too scary for some kids. One of the things that I put in there that was wrong that has been changed is, “My worries were easy to fix.” Worries are not easy to fix. People didn’t like that. We fixed that. What happens is the teacher teaches her to put her worries into the things I cannot control and the things I can control. Then you focus on the things that you can control. Anxiety is something with children that you don’t say, oh, I know how you feel. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and validated. Anxiety is something that you would say, I can only imagine how you might be feeling. See the difference there? It’s the same thing when you give a child a compliment. I’m so proud of you, Zibby, because you’ve done this. You’ve done that. You have this amazing podcast. That’s a praise from me to you. It’s about sixteen miles long. How about I say, wow, I’m sure thinking you’re amazing, but I can only imagine how good you must be feeling on the inside to know that you’re doing all this good for other people. I can only imagine how you must be feeling on the inside. I bet you’re doing a happy dance the size of Alaska. What does it look like? Does it look like this? You actually reward kids from intrinsic means, from the inside out versus outside in. That’s huge.

Basically, Wilma Jean the Worry Machine, everybody worries. You talk through those worries. I had a little boy who just worried about everything. He made a recipe box. If he had a worry, he wrote it down and what he needed to do to overcome that worry, and he put that in the recipe box. He carried his recipe box around in his backpack. They weren’t in his head. They were on the recipe cards. He was always there. He could always write another one if he had a different worry. It does wonders for kids because it gave them an avenue to compartmentalize things. COVID threw us for a loop because nothing was predictable. When kids worry, when they have anxiety, the basic reason is they can’t control what’s going to happen. They go to all the ifs. That can be overwhelmingly devastating for adults and kids. We talk through those ifs. We think about solutions. Together, we’re pretty strong. Power of predictability is huge. When someone says, “I know how you feel,” they don’t know how you feel because they’re not you. Someone says, that’s ridiculous. You know that’s not going to happen. How do they know that? To you, it’s real. A better way would say, I can only imagine how upset you must be feeling. Let’s figure out a way to talk through this.

Zibby: I’m writing this down. I like to think I’m empathetic with my kids. I say, I totally know how you feel. I’m scared about this. I’m scared of the dark. I say, I know how you feel. I used to be scared of E.T. I couldn’t sleep for a year. I know how you feel, but it’s going to be okay. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying that. I don’t know.

Julia: You say, I can only imagine how you must feel, versus, I know how you feel. You’re not them. One of the coolest ways of dealing with anxiety and stress is you make a list of all the things that stress you out on a piece of paper. Then you take a saucer or something and draw a circle on another piece of paper. Then you look at your list. If your list is an anxiety that you can control, you put it inside the circle. If it’s not, you have to write it outside of the circle. Then you only allow yourself to give that energy to the things inside the circle that you can control. So many things happen in our world that we cannot control. We use up all our angst on that, and there’s nothing to go around. “Stay in your hula hoop” is an amazing tactic from Al-Anon, of all places. That is just an amazing program to teach people how to compartmentalize and how to own what’s theirs and disown what is not. I think the biggest contributor to anxiety these days is sleep deprivation. Suicide rates in our country are on the rise for littles. You have to ask yourself why that is. I think it’s two reasons. Number one, when they play a video game, this is the size of their footprint. To win, they have to take two steps. They win, and everything’s amazing. To win in real life, the size of their footprint is this big. It’s five times the work to get a win in real life, like a homerun derby baseball game on video game versus real life. When they do work hard to win, the amount of dopamine that goes in their brain is five times greater.

As long as they balance off-screen highs and on-screen highs, they’re fine. If the only time they feel like they’re good at anything is when they’re in front of a screen, real life is very difficult. I tried. I take two steps. I tried as hard as I can. I quit. I can’t do it no matter how hard I try. It actually messes up their level of try. Then the second contributing factor to increased ideation of suicide, in my opinion, is sleep deprivation because we spend an incredible amount of time on our screens and yet get everything else done. When a human being loses sleep, the first symptom they feel is irritability. The second symptom they start to feel is increased levels of anxiety. They worry about things they didn’t worry about before. The third thing that starts to happen is they get depressed. Why try? I can’t do it anyway. I quit. Those are all chemical things that have to do with sleep deprivation. You have that combination of kids gaming at night and parents on their phone at night and looking and seeing what the weather’s doing and constantly worrying and obsessing about others. What’s going on? It’s almost like you get the whole world in your face when you look at Twitter or when you look at Facebook. Sometimes you just take a step back and breathe and be where your feet are because it spreads us out so much and robs us of sleep.

Zibby: Wow. I’m taking this as my own personal therapy session, I’ll have you know. I think you should send me a bill at the end of today because I feel like I’m getting not only parenting tips, but stuff for my own sanity. When did you start the activity books? When did that become a component? Was that in the plans all along?

Julia: A lot of the teachers bought those, bought the books, and so they said, do you have any activity books? I started doing those probably third year in. I think there’s twenty-one activity books. Then I’ve been putting a lot of stuff on TPT, Teachers Pay Teachers, Julia Cook enCore. There’s a lot of Julia Cook books on TPT. That’s very honorable too. I started doing that a little bit. There’s more need for books and content right now than the activity books themselves because everybody’s creating those. Both publishers are a little bit leaning toward that right now, more content. The Herman Jiggle, Just Be You! book is so cute.

Zibby: Sorry, we should talk about that. Herman Jiggle, Just Be You! Herman has a couple ways that he’s feeling — he and his friends have ways they’re — everybody’s feeling inferior or less than, whether it’s the sneakers or the —

Julia: — He says, “I’m the only one in my school that has porcupine hair. I need to glue down my hair.” They tease him. Then she says, “I like your hair, Herman. I think it looks great.” Then she says, “What are you doing?” He goes, “I’m trying to get my teeth get loose. I’m the only kid that doesn’t have any holes.” “I like your teeth, Herman. They’re going to come out when they’re ready.” “I need money.” “Why do you need money?” “So I can buy Nitro Flyer shoes like everybody else.” The mom says, “Let me get this straight. You want to glue down your hair, pull out your teeth, and buy new shoes just so you can be like everybody else?” “Yes.” “Herman Jiggle, you are wonderfully made and valuable. You don’t have to change your insides to match other people’s outsides. Everybody’s different, and that’s a good thing.” He says, “Sometimes I don’t fit in.” She says, “If you’re happy, you’ll always find a way to fit in. If you’re yourself, you can be happy.” It’s just one of those things. We always try to be like everybody else so that we can fit in, but everyone is different. That’s a good thing because if we were all the same, we’d be really boring.

Zibby: It’s so true. “Just be yourself,” that’s what my mom always used to say to me when I was little. Don’t worry. You don’t have to worry. Just go be yourself. I was always like, who is that? I’m not exactly sure who I am right now. I’m eleven. That would put me down a big spiral. I think that with Herman Jiggle, Just Be You!, what you do so well is say, okay, the things about you are the way they are. Everyone is attracted to people who are confident about themselves, which is true. If he just owns it and owns who he is, then people will be attracted.

Julia: It’s funny because his hair’s poking up, so they call him — he has porcupine hair. Then the next day, he goes to school, and everybody’s made their hair poke up so that they have porcupine hair too because they think it’s cool. That’s a really fun story. I’ll give you a little precursor. January 2nd, we have Blue Monday. That’s the day after Christmas where everybody spends all their money. I have a book called I Am Money, and I Don’t Grow on Trees all about financial literacy through the eyes of money. “These are my old-school jackets. I love how shiny they are. Sometimes I like to dress up in my Venmo and crypto clothes. These are my credit card coats. Once in a while when I’m wearing them, I like to sneak out and buy stuff that I can’t afford. This makes people happy at first, but then when they get the bill, they get stressed out and worried.” It says, “Different ways you can earn me, save me, spend me, and give me away.” Then he says, “There’s different ways to earn money. You can mow lawns. You can make a lemonade stand. You can sing for people. You can even let a banker or an investor use a part of me and then lend it to others. You work hard to earn me, and if you’re careful and smart about it, I can end up working for you. Now that’s interesting.” It talks about saving. Then it ends, the thing that I love the best is that, “If you become really good at what you love to do, you can make more of me than you will ever need. Then you can do the coolest thing ever. You can share. I am money. I don’t grow on trees.” I am very, very excited about that. That’s Sourcebooks publishing. It’s a Random/Penguin company. Should hit presales — you can look on my website. I’m sure you’ll see links for presales. It hits everywhere on the second of January.

Zibby: That sounds great. I will be preordering that, for sure. Julia, thank you. I’m so impressed. Thank you for all the advice. All the kids you’ve helped, you’ve left such a footprint on the world with what you’re doing. It’s amazing and so helpful and fun as well. Thank you.

Julia: Thank you. Thanks for having me on your show. Love it.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.


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