WATSONVILLE—Twenty years ago, Linda S. Gunther was working as a Human Resources Executive in Silicon Valley when she had an idea for a story. A character formed in her imagination: Polly, a young girl who regularly panics over small things that go wrong in her day. Gunther wrote a small draft of a story, complete with her own illustrations and bound with a piece of string.
But Gunther ended up shelving the story—filing into the back of a cupboard for another day.
“I wasn’t writing books back then,” she said. “It was a very busy time. I just had a concept of this little girl, so I put the idea together.”
A couple of years ago Gunther mentioned Polly to now-retired Calabasas Elementary School teacher Leslie Evans, who was sold on the idea. (Gunther herself had been an elementary school teacher for many years.)
“[Leslie] told me that it is a big topic now in schools… Everyone’s talking about stress, everything that comes at these kids on a daily basis and how they handle it,” Gunther said. “Little things will make them anxious. [She said] they were starting to do things like yoga.”
With Evans and other teachers behind her, Gunther set off to finish “Panicky Polly,” which she released this year with illustrations by South African illustrator Zsa-Zsa Venter. The story follows Polly as she deals with daily stresses: doing a class presentation, her pestering little brother, fearing she broke the family TV, etc.
Polly meets a kind grocer who gives her some advice: When you start feeling stressed, just put things on pause for a moment. Count 1, 2, 3 and then take a deep breath.
At first Polly ignores the man, but as her day continues to test her, she finds that it might be good to try the technique.
“Most people I know, when I told them I was writing this book, they said, ‘Yeah… you know, we need that for adults, too,’” Gunther said. “There is so much information coming in from everywhere. It’s overwhelming. It’s good to stop for a minute and breathe. That’s true for everyone.”
“Panicky Polly” is Gunther’s third novel. She has also written four romantic thrillers for adult audiences, with a fifth on the way.
Gunther says she enjoys writing both, for different reasons.
“I like writing for kids,” she said. “There’s a beauty in its simplicity. Writing a novel… It is so complex. You become kind of obsessed, you can’t sleep or eat without brainstorming about your characters.”
In conjunction with the release of “Panicky Polly,” Gunther is scheduled to read at four elementary schools in the upcoming weeks, including two in Watsonville. After reading the story to students, she will lead follow-up discussions about what gives them stress and how they might be able to help themselves.
“They don’t necessarily have to do what [Polly] does,” Gunther said. “They can find something that works for them.”
Gunther added that another aspect of the discussion will be how to openly communicate with teachers, parents and friends.
“It’s also about teaching respect,” she said.
Saturday Gunther will be signing copies of “Panicky Polly” at Kelly’s Books, 1838 Main St., Watsonville, from 1-4 p.m. There will also be a wheel that children can spin to win small prizes (bookmarks, candy) and Gunther might read excerpts from her book, as well.
For information, including updates on Gunther’s upcoming novel, “Dream Beach,” visit http://www.lindasgunther.com/.