Harlene Simmons always dreamed of writing a children’s book, and that dream came true when “Frankie the Caterpillar” was published in 2020. 

The book follows the title character as he overcomes his fear of change and finds both solace and a new friend named Bonnie on his journey. 

Simmons joined Zydalis Bauer to share how her former career in healthcare shaped Frankie’s story and why she decided to leave healthcare to follow her creative passions.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Harlene Simmons always dreamed of writing a children’s book, and that dream came true when “Frankie The Caterpillar” was published in 2020. The book follows the title character as he overcomes his fear of change, and finds both solace and a new friend named Bonnie on his journey. Simmons joined me to share how her former career as a healthcare worker shaped Frankie’s story, and why she decided to leave healthcare to follow her creative passions.

Harlene Simmons, Frankie The Caterpillar: I think my whole life, I’ve been like a storyteller. It just, you know, I probably didn’t realize it years ago. But then, when I look at it now, and people seem to be drawn to me, I don’t know if it’s just my energy, but I feel like I’m always telling a story of, of some point.

But, I did some activities, with the residents at an assisted — well, it was a combination nursing home-assisted living. So, I used to write poems with them, I used to try to, you know, I would do Reiki on them, you know, I would do things like that. But, they used to be interested in like poetry, and books.

And so, we used to write poems and they would help me come up with an idea. I’m like, “Let’s find an idea.” And we would talk about these, you know, poems. And they would get — I’d give them to my boss and she would submit them, and they would wind up in the newsletters all the time. And of course, when the residents see their name in the newsletters, they’re like, “Oh, this is so cool.” It makes them feel worthy. Like they’re not just gone and forgotten, you know?

So, one day I said, “You know, I’d really like to write a children’s book and you guys feel like helping me with it?” And they’re like, “Oh my God, you write, write a children’s book.” So, I had to come up with an idea.

So, doing the Reiki, I always would put butterflies, like I had them on my labels for products. I — that was like my insignia, you know, the butterflies. So, I knew I wanted to do something with that, but I didn’t want it so much of the evolution, the science of a butterfly, but more like a friendship, and — and love, because that’s what I felt from the residents, because they used to hug me and kiss me all the time.

So, I asked for their input and I said to them, “Well, look here, this is what I want to do. How can we incorporate the butterfly, you know, into a friendship story? You know, I know they have caterpillars first, and they turn into butterflies, maybe we can work around that.”

And they were like, “Oh, yeah!” They were all over it.

So, we started from there and it started like, let’s go on a journey, and let them be friends, and — and it just kind of morphed into this story. And as you know, we edited it, we kept going back and forth, and I said, “Oh my God, can you imagine this in a bright, full color, book?”

So, I said, “Okay, it’s got to be bright, bright colors.” And we put the colors with the storyline, and it turned into, you know, it’s all about friendship, and love, and sharing, and helping one another.

And now more than ever, this is important: to be kind, and have friends, and help them. And I must have had that insight then, that it was going to relate now, and then I kind of rebooted it again.

Zydalis Bauer: And let’s speak to that, because your book, “Frankie The Caterpillar,” it follows the journey of Frankie, as he finds answers and even comfort, as he prepares to make this transition, as you said, from caterpillar to butterfly.

Can you share more about what young readers will discover in this book?

Harlene Simmons: One of it is change. Um, a lot of people are afraid of change. And even kids, you know, they have friends and, but now — I didn’t notice it so much when my son was young — but now, I see it in these kids, like with my ten year old grandson. And I see how it’s a struggle. Because of everybody’s identity changing, because of this whole nothing to do during COVID made them think other things, and they, they feel like they have to change to get friends. And they don’t. They should always be themselves.

And if they’re afraid of change, find somebody who’s like minded like you, and the same to help you, so you can both grow and, you know, have the growth and change yourself. And change doesn’t mean you have to just change your personality or anything. It’s just, change your thought process. Look at people differently.

Zydalis Bauer: You mentioned the butterflies and that being representative of your work in Reiki. You have over 15 years of experience doing that type of work.

Can you briefly explain what Reiki is and were you able to pull from that experience to write this book?

Harlene Simmons: So the Reiki, you know, it’s universal energy. And we’re all made up of energy, but it deals with your mind, body, and spirit. And that’s why everything holistic people do, that are especially into this energy, is in threes because they’re always connecting the mind, the body, and the spirit.

And that, is all connected to your internal organs. It’s your whole being. And when we’re in balance, which is homeostasis, then we function as a whole person and, you know, heal thyself.

There’s nothing in your body that’s not in your head, as they say. Thoughts, we have thoughts, we all do. And thoughts are just stories we tell ourselves, and we do that either for comfort, we do it to protect ourselves, we do it out of fear.

And that’s what kind of connected to the book, is the fear. You know, to the fear of change and what if I don’t like it? What if I’m not happy?

Zydalis Bauer: As I was getting to know you, you shared with me that you’ve always had, like, this creative spark and gene within yourself. And although you took a different career path along the way, you found your way back to some of your passions in different ways.

So, what advice would you give to others who are looking to discover, and maybe nurture passions that they may have that they’ve neglected for so — for so long?

Harlene Simmons: A lot of it is generational. I grew up in a different time than you or somebody younger. Parents were different then. Um, and then when I had my son, I said, “You choose whatever makes you happy.”

But, when other people try to control what they think you should do, for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s money, whether you know, whatever — clout, whatever it is, but if you’re not happy with your job, or — you will never be happy.

And even though I took that medical path and I was great at it, was it my passion? No.  But the one passion that was always consistent was, I loved helping people. I loved to be creative with people. That was the whole foundation…was my passion for others and always there to help them no matter what it was.

So, it’s just try to get past the fear, because if you don’t try, you will never know. And if you make a mistake, it’s okay. You made a mistake, you tried it, it didn’t work out. Move on to the next thing that you might like. And listen, you can dream big. And if things don’t work out, you can always change, but at least don’t be afraid to try.