Peoria author stresses importance of diverse friendships

Peoria author Laura Osland recently published her first children’s book, “Hello Friend!” (Laura Osland/Submitted)

Peoria-based author Laura Osland always had an interest in writing, but it wasn’t until the height of COVID-19 that she penned her first children’s book.

Released via Dorrance Publishing, “Hello Friend!” shares the adventures of Big Red Bird, who seeks to make friends with other birds who are different than herself.

Big Red Bird visits a flower garden, a favorite tree and a bird feeder, where she encounters human characters Granny Rose, Jolly Mr. Taylor and Kind Mr. Dylan.

Granny Rose resembles Osland’s mother, and Taylor and Mr. Dylan were inspired by her two sons.

Big Red Bird interacts directly with another bird called Little Yellow Bird. In the story, Little Yellow Bird sees tremendous growth as a character.

“I wanted to give the characters a little personality. She is a little standoffish, and she has to learn something in the end,” Osland said.

Osland said she thought a children’s book with a central bird character would speak to young people.

“I knew that kids relate to animals more than people. I don’t know what made me click with the bird. I guess they just seem more free because they can fly. … There’s a lot of dog books out there, which is great. Everybody loves a dog. There’s not too many with birds. I thought let’s try something a little different and see what happens,” Osland said.

The book shares a larger message of the importance of getting to know others who are different.

Osland said this message is especially important now because many young people are scared and reluctant to interact with others in light of COVID-19.

Osland said her favorite color, red, would fit her main character because she is strong and extroverted.

Big Red Bird mirrors herself, Osland said in many ways.

“I am not an introvert. I love to talk to people. I try to make everybody feel comfortable, and I can just feel if you’re a good person or if you’re not,” Osland said.

“When I’m out in public, I can make friends with everybody at the grocery store. I’m one of those kinds of people.

“When I was young, that’s how I met my best friend in seventh grade. I walked into my English class, didn’t know one person in there, not one person from my old elementary school. And I was like, ‘Oh, great. What am I going to do?’ I saw this little girl. She was 13. She had a red dress on and green glasses. She was sitting in the corner all by herself, sunken down. I thought, ‘I’m going to go sit by her.’ To this day, she is one of my best friends. … Maybe that’s what gave me the color red, too. I remember her wearing her little red dress and her green glasses.”

After a Dorrance Publishing illustrator brought Osland’s story to life, she was stunned.

“When I first got the illustrations, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, it’s real. I created this. This is amazing.’ It’s just exciting. I went from being super scared to this is exciting,” Osland said.

A melding of loves

Osland was born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she read everything in front of her, from cereal boxes to S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.”

She placed in and won essay and poetry writing contests offered through her school system. For her prize, her work was often published.

The owner of a “spoiled rescue dog” named Prudence, Osland put her dreams of writing on hold while raising her daughter and two sons and serving as a caregiver.

During the height of COVID-19, she had the free time to start writing again.

“I thought now is the time to get back into what I really want to do,” she said. “I started reading more because I stopped caregiving. So, I had more time on my hands. I thought, ‘Instead of reading this, why don’t I create this?’ That gave me the boost.”

She wrote “Hello Friend!” in two weeks, and it went through several rewrites.

“I thought, ‘If this is good, I’ll send it in. If it’s not, constructive criticism is always welcome.’ And they liked it, and there you go,” she said.

Her now-adult children and husband helped with that process.

“I got positive feedback and negative feedback, and it really did help,” she said.

“Your immediate family is going to be totally truthful with you. I would rather have you tell me the truth than talk me up and fill me full of air. Who is more honest than your children?”

“Hello Friend!” took about a year to be published once she submitted it. Osland paid for a package, which included the costs of distribution, production and promotion. “Hello Friend!” will soon be available for buyers for libraries and schools at a book fair in Italy.

Soon, she said she hopes to host readings/book signings at local libraries. She hasn’t been able to do so thus far because of COVID-19 restrictions. Osland plans to bring a plushy red bird toy with her when she meets with readers.

“It is geared toward little children, and if you get them before they can read, get that story ingrained in their heads, then they will hopefully keep that with them in their heart,” Osland said.

Osland is hoping to create a series from the Big Red Bird, developing her central character and adding others. A teen novel is in the planning stages, too.

Osland said publishing her first children’s book has put a spark in her and made her want to write more.

“I really love to create and put things on paper. My imagination has always been very vivid,” Osland said.

“Hello Friend!”