Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Christi Eley, author of Mr. Flopsy Whispers From God: A Lesson On Being Still.
FQ: What inspired you to write a story about an energetic child? Was is personal experience, suggestions from others, or ?
ELEY: I was inspired to write about an energetic child for two reasons. First, because I had a very energetic child of my own (who is now 25-years-old). When she was young, I searched for any resource to help me parent her in a positive way and help redirect her high energy. Secondly, I have been working with children for over 20 years in my ministry, Mrs. Cottontail and Friends – doing bunny programs for children in many different settings. During this time, I have encountered countless children who have high energy and I’ve seen the challenge it presents to parents and teachers on a daily basis. It really has been my passion to come up with ways to help these children. The bunnies have such a calming effect and the theme of the book culminated in all my experiences thus far.
FQ: I love the idea of using a rabbit to share God’s message. Where did that idea come from?
ELEY: I have had a deep love for rabbits since I was a young child and my grandfather and I raised a rabbit together. I took this passion and introduced my own children to rabbits from an early age. After many years of being around rabbits, I realized that they had such a calming nature, that they really could be used in many ways to help people learn valuable lessons. This is how my Mrs. Cottontail and Friends ministry was formed. I started doing educational and therapeutic bunny visits for people of all ages. It didn’t take long to see how you could bring out so many wonderful emotions and messages while being around the rabbits. People would share very personal things with me, memories, lessons learned. The rabbits represent pure unconditional love and that is God’s message.
FQ: I see that you have rabbits. Is Mr. Flopsy based on one of your own rabbits?
ELEY: Yes, Mr, Flopsy is definitely based on one of my beloved rabbits! He is a 5-year-old Holland Lop, blue eyed white rabbit. He has the sweetest personality, loves going out and being around people and even dressing up! You can find many pictures of him on my Facebook page and on my website. He even does personal video messages for children around the world!
FQ: On your website you offer “Bunny Programs.” Would you tell our readers a bit about them?
ELEY: My Mrs. Cottontail and Friends ministry is for people of all ages! I do programs for children at daycares, schools, children’s museums and birthday parties. I also do programs for the elderly at nursing homes and retirement centers. In addition, I will do community events during the year. These involve bringing 4-5 bunnies, allowing people to interact with the bunnies. They will have the opportunity to safely pet/hold the bunnies depending on the situation. For educational programs, I will teach rabbit facts and read books. For birthday parties, I will do rabbit games and crafts. The bunnies also do something very unique – they wear costumes! We have over 25 different themes that people can choose from or we can custom make a theme for your event. We have different themes for holidays and times of the year – right now we have over 100 costumes and this time of year, we are doing Chinese New Year!
FQ: I have to ask – where do you get your bunny outfits? Do you make them? They’re absolutely adorable!
ELEY: Thank you! I really have a wide range of where I get the costumes – I have several ladies that make homemade costumes for me. They are amazing and do such terrific work! Then I am always on the lookout for extra small dog clothes that might fit, doll or teddy bear clothes and novelty party items that sometimes will work. It keeps things exciting to always be looking for new ideas. Last year at this time, we got an extra small dog costume for the Kansas City Chiefs when they won the Super Bowl along with a little football to hold! Of course, the rabbits only wear these clothes for a very short amount of time when they are out doing programs. When they are home, they are all natural!
FQ: With your Bunny Programs, you must get to see a lot of interesting interactions between your rabbits and young children. Would you tell us about one experience that is particularly meaningful for you?
ELEY: Oh my, this is a great question! After so many years interacting with children and bunnies, you are correct, I’ve had so many amazing and meaningful encounters. One that comes to mind is a boy I worked with last summer with private bunny visits. He was having many behavioral issues and after just a few visits with the bunnies, he opened up, wanted to hold them, interact, have great conversation and was excited about our next visit. The mother cried tears of happiness every time I left because she was so overjoyed at his reaction with the bunnies. On a broad scale, I would say that this seems to be a common reaction – children who are dealing with problems, behavioral issues, fear, high energy seem to relate very well to the bunnies. Also, every time a child says to a bunny, “I love you,” it makes my heart happy!
FQ: How did you find your illustrator, Aries Cheung? As a debut author, did you know before you began working together exactly how you wanted the characters in your story to appear? Did you have specific instructions for him or did you simply give him the story and ask for his ideas?
ELEY: Aries Cheung is an amazing illustrator! I have actually known him for 15 years. He illustrated another project of mine called Angel Bear Yoga (a children’s yoga program focusing on positive character traits and nature). When looking for an illustrator for that project, I was given some very good advice. I was told to look through my favorite children’s books and contact those illustrators and that’s just what I did. We had a wonderful working relationship and kept in touch all of these years. For this project, Aries was given the story and the only instructions I gave him was what type of bunny, so he would model him after my white, blue-eyed lop bunny at home. Other than that, he had free reign to do whatever he wanted. I completely trusted that he understood the message of the book after we discussed it and I was blown away when I saw the finished product. Every page was exactly how I imagined it – I couldn’t be happier with the finished product.
FQ: You also offer a workbook, Mr. Flopsy Workbook. Is this a stand-alone product or meant to be used in conjunction with your book? What sort of things can parents/readers expect to find in the workbook?
ELEY: The workbook actually can be a standalone product. It is a culmination of all the activities that I’ve been doing in my bunny programs and parties for the last 20 years. I include “all things bunny” – bunny trivia, educational facts, several bunny crafts, several bunny games, bunny decorations, bunny food ideas, and a few exercises related to the Mr. Flopsy story, but could standalone on their own as well. I think it is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers who want to do bunny related activities at home for parties, sleepovers, homeschooling or in the classroom. It would be great around Eastertime when teachers are always looking for bunny related activities. Of course, if they have read Mr. Flopsy Whispers from God, then it is an excellent resource to expand upon that story as well.
FQ: Mr. Flopsy Whispers from God is part of a planned series, Mrs. Cottontail and Friends. Please tell us a little about the series, what the next title/topic will be and when readers can expect to see it hit the stores.
ELEY: Yes, we are planning for this to be a series of books! Book two is already written and the illustrator, Aries Cheung has already begun working on it. The theme will follow Mr. Flopsy as he encounters new characters including friends at school and an adorable bunny named Baby Bleu. The message will be LOVE and we will have a corresponding bible quote to theme the story around again. We are very excited to continue sharing these very important lessons with the help of Mr. Flopsy!
FQ: Your faith is very important to you and it’s wonderful to see it brought so lovingly to a children’s series. In this ever-increasing secular world, what advice would you offer parents who are worried about how to share the love of God with their little ones when there are so many distractions today?
ELEY: Yes, this is so true. I believe we have to make this a priority, and from my own experience, the easiest way to do this is to teach through experience. I had years of experience working with rabbits, so that is my easiest way to teach the message. For someone else, it would be something different, but when children see our passion for something, they are more willing to listen to what we have to share and that’s when we should take the opportunity to share our faith. I think it’s important to take time out every day, even if it’s just a few moments to concentrate on our faith. The simple suggestions I give at the end of Mr. Flopsy will help parents and teachers take a few moments with the children to do just that.