“I’m not the therapist in the family — I’m the funny one. I’m a grandma, and I’ve done my research,” says artist and musician Mighty Xee, explaining her qualifications for writing and illustrating The Silly Book of Divorce and Separation, just out from Peace Like a River Press. The large-format, meticulously drawn book will be featured at Barnes and Noble in Kingston on Saturday, May 19, at 2 p.m., when Xee will read from the book and perform children’s songs along with T.G. Vanini.
By turns funny and sad, the book’s engaging characters — mostly birds, people, and whatchamacallit with names like Rilla, Zilla, Fussi, and Meepmeep — convey the message that life goes on, coping is possible, and there are even good things about divorce.
Xee, who was wracked with guilt about divorcing when her son was five, was surprised to hear the daughter of one divorced friend comment, “It’s great — they outdo each other spoiling me, and I get extra Christmas presents.” And, of course, after the divorce, there’s not so much fighting.
Still, the book acknowledges, kids experience pain and anger, and there are good and less effective ways to deal with such emotions. Xee recounts a true story told by a therapist, in which a boy, frustrated by his father’s tendency to bury himself in the newspaper, grabs the paper and rips it to shreds. (Well, almost true: in the actual story, the boy sets fire to the newspaper. “My daughter’s a lawyer — she’d never let me put that in!” says the author.) The story is followed by suggestions for dealing with inattentive parents, such as asking for a hug or a game of catch.
The most striking character in the book is the Momordad, a creature with two heads (one male, one female), two arms, and three legs, available at some local malls and pet shops. “Yes, my friends, even YOU can have a Mom and Dad together again, even if your parents are divorced,” crows the text. Unfortunately, Momordads are “a little bit naughty and very difficult to train.”
The cover is printed in vivid color, while the 41 pages of black-and-white drawings are also designed to be used as a coloring book. It comes with a CD of the author reading the stories aloud.
Xee started working on the book over two decades ago, when she and her husband were separating, and she went to the library to find something relevant to read to her son. The only picture book available was Dinosaurs Divorce, a classic that is still in print. “It was good,” she recalls, “but after a few weeks, he was bored with it.”
She began to create characters and draw stories from their life together. The half-finished manuscript sat on her refrigerator, haunting her, for years. Then Xee’s daughter and three-year-old granddaughter moved in after the daughter’s divorce. The manuscript came back into use and began to expand.
“When I decided to finish it,” says Xee, “I went to therapists and asked, ‘What do you want me to put in?’” Child psychotherapist Dennis McCarthy, who had helped her son, offered the newspaper story. Family therapist Ray Bergen said, “Put in that everyone has a little person deep inside. Why? They just do.” A teacher specified, “Make sure you put in that parents shouldn’t talk mean about each other, especially in front of the kids,” and Xee included her suggestion on a page of advice for parents.
The manuscript was tested on families who read the text together and loved it. But the book is aimed at kids aged between “six and 60,” says Xee. She kept having to apologize that it was too sophisticated for younger children, although “they do zero in on the parts that are accessible to them.” As a result, she has already created a manuscript called Great Stuff About When Mommy and Daddy Live Apart, for three- to six-year-olds, starring Tallulah, her affectionate St. Bernard-Newfoundland mix.
Having spent all her savings to produce 1000 copies of The Silly Book, printed at ColorPage in Kingston, Xee is seeking funding to print Great Stuff. Filmmaker Bart Friedman of Saugerties has created an eight-minute video for Kickstarter.com, the micro-financing website for creative projects, and Xee hopes to fund her second book with donations through the website.
“Self-publishing is hard,” remarks Xee, who makes most of her income as a landscaper, “but I have wanted to do this kind of book for a long time, to share some wisdom I’ve learned along the way and to try to help kids and their parents deal with their feelings about separation and divorce.”++
The launch party for The Silly Book of Divorce and Separation by Mighty Xee will be held at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, 1177 Ulster Avenue in Kingston, on Saturday, May 19, at 2 p.m. Xee and T.G. Vanini will perform children’s music and singalongs, and Xee will read from the book. To hear a chapter read aloud, go to www.sillybook.com. To purchase a copy of the book, priced at $29.95, go to https://www.peacelikeariverpress.com/.