Storyteller, Writer, Author
Mrs. D. (Olga D’Agostino), author of children’s picture books, Carlo the Mouse on Vacation and The Trees Have Hearts, grew up on a farm in a village nestled in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.
Surrounded by nature and the real world, without TV and toys, she learned to read at a very early age and books became a huge part of her life. As a child, she used to create her own imaginary world populated with characters from books she read.
She finished business college in Lviv, Ukraine. To escape the harsh reality of life in the Soviet Union, she emigrated to the United States in 1992 with her two small daughters. For many years she worked in her own business. In 2011 she started to pursue her childhood dreams, among them, writing books for children.
She is a member of SCBWI, speaks several languages fluently, and loves reading, writing, gardening and traveling. She lives in Smithville, New Jersey, with her husband, Patrick, and an adventurous cat named Nyda.
How did you come up with the title of your children’s book, The Trees Have Hearts?
Mrs. D: Authors are often advised to write what they know best. When a child moves away from familiar surroundings, it takes time to adapt to a new environment, especially when there is a language barrier involved. After arriving in the USA, my daughters had a hard time finding friends. Often rejected by other children because they could not speak English, they felt lonely and sad.
We lived in an old house with three beautifully blooming trees growing in our front yard by the windows. My younger daughter found refuge in the old garden, where the three garden trees became her first imaginary friends. One day, watching my daughter playing in the garden, I heard her talking to the trees.
Trees have a universal language and accept everyone as their friend. Each tree had a name, purpose and role, as if they were her real friends. I quickly realized that the conversations my daughter had with the trees was not empty talk; it was a loving and caring dialogue between old friends, helping her overcome her fears and worries. Listening to my daughter’s talks, I could see a beautiful friendship between a child and nature growing stronger each day. Many stories were shared in the old garden, the news from school, happy and sad moments, toys and games, dreams and worries.
The imaginary world that my daughter created gave her the comfort she needed. It saved her from loneliness while adapting to her new home. Watching my little girl happily twirling around the whispering trees, I knew she would be fine. She knew all the right answers, as if the garden trees taught her how to deal with the problems she was facing each day. She knew she must overcome her fears and start making real friends.
I always believed in the invisible connection between humans and nature. We just must learn how to listen. Unlike grown-ups, children have a beautifully developed imagination and often look in places where we grown-ups do not dare venture.
You had mentioned that The Trees Have Hearts holds a special place in your heart. How so?
Mrs. D: In February 1992, when the Soviet Union crumbled, we left our home in Ukraine. With the few belongings we were allowed to take with us, we arrived at a gloomy train station. It was a cold February day, which added more misery to our uncertainty. Burying her face in her warm coat, my younger daughter clutched her grandfather. The gusty wind swished through the open platform, knocking Grandpa’s hat to the ground. He ignored his hat, which swiftly rolled through the busy platform.
“Who will tell me new stories when I go to America?” my daughter asked her grandpa. Hiding his tears, he shrugged his shoulders.
“You have no phone,” she sobbed, fearfully staring at the slowly approaching train. A chilly wind followed the train, loudly whistling a winter tune.
“Listen to me very carefully.” Grandpa hugged my daughter tightly to his chest. “The wind will be our invisible phone,” he said mysteriously. Wiping tears from her face, she stopped crying and wrapped her tiny arms around his neck. Listening to his quiet voice as he was about to tell her one of his secret stories, she smiled.
“When you feel the wind on your face think of the story we never finished.” He lifted her up in the air. Her curls tossed in the wind, covering Grandpa’s face. They giggled until the train screeched to a halt and the doors opened.
“Can you feel the wind?” Grandpa asked, placing my daughter in my arms. She lifted her face and spread her arms.
“He is here, Grandpa,” she smiled. “I will send him every day to your home to tell you how much I miss you and bring you a new story.” He slipped a tiny golden cross around her neck and quickly disappeared into the busy crowd.
“I will wait for the wind, Grandpa,” my daughter screamed behind him.
Watching my daughter quietly sitting on the doorstep and listening to the wind playing in the trees, I knew she was thinking about their unfinished story …
Is there an underlying message in The Trees Have Hearts?
Mrs. D: I think each child’s story should have hidden messages and teach lessons, but without too much preaching. Writing this story, I did not concentrate on one particular message. I hope the story itself will point the readers to the messages, which I underlined in this story. Hopefully, The Trees Have Hearts will touch their hearts and remind them that no matter how we look or where we come from, or what languages we speak, everyone needs a friend who will love us and accept us for what we are. By nature, children are very compassionate and caring. We just have to direct them in the right direction.
There are also a few good lessons in this story. Some of them are how to act when a child takes the wrong school bus or is left alone on the school bus, how to help a child deal with moving from place to place, changing schools and home, losing old friends and finding new ones. This is a good story for parents as well. Parents should talk more with their children about self-acceptance and the real meaning of friendship. I believe The Trees Have Hearts will help children to accept other children who may have some difficulties or disabilities.
The book has been beautifully illustrated; did the illustrations capture the essence of the story the way you had envisioned?
Mrs. D: The Trees Have Hearts is a beautifully illustrated book. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and definitely help to bring my story to life. It took many months and a lot of work with several illustrators to illustrate this delightful children’s book. I am a self-published author and must direct every illustration. I am also a strong believer in making a good product that will attract many types of readers. As readers look at the illustrations, I would like them to envision this story clearly. The illustrations must guide children through the story before they start reading the book. I hope I achieved my vision for this book through the art of a very talented illustrator, Juli Hasegawa, who coloured The Trees Have Hearts. She really did a great job. Her amazing illustrations are full of colour and fun. In print, this book looks more attractive than I expected. I just wanted to hug an adorable little girl and twirl with her between three beautifully blossoming trees.
What do you hope children will learn from reading this book?
Mrs. D: For children: I hope that after reading The Trees Have Hearts, the next morning, when children board the school bus, they will sit next to the child sitting alone by the window. I hope when children walk into the lunchroom and notice another child eating lunch alone, they will invite him or her into their group. I hope children will learn how to have more tolerance of children who are different from them and give them a chance to be their friend. I hope they will open their hearts to every child standing alone on the side of the street and share their toy with them. It is so little to learn, but so much to offer.
For parents: After you finish reading The Trees Have Hearts to your child, stop your busy life for a moment and take time with your child. Close your eyes and go to a special place, where everything is simple and pure. Cuddle with your child on the green grass or golden sand…stare at the beautiful blue sky…listen to the splashing waves…spin around in a blooming garden or talk to the whispering wind. Look around you and see what is important in life and to your child. Stop and breathe. Be a child for a moment. Dive into their imaginary world where you can hide in the shadows of blossoming trees. There was a time when my curly-haired girl taught me how to see her world through her innocent green eyes. Do not lose this precious time together. Our children grow up so fast, and I believe these special moments are given to us for a reason. Hug your children every chance you get; reassure them that they are loved. They have their worries and fears, ideas and solutions, as we do. Right or wrong, our children need us to understand their imaginary world and to be present in their dreams. Try to listen and hear what they are hearing and see what they are seeing. Love simple things with an open heart, and you will receive unconditional love. Teach your children, lead them through their lives, but let them run free in their imaginary kingdom.
I had the privilege to see this imaginary world through the eyes of my little daughter and saved those moments in my memories forever. The curly-haired girl is running free in the blooming garden. Now, it is your time, and I will share my story with you.
This is your second published children’s book. What has your publishing experience been like?
Mrs. D: As a self-published author, I chose an uneasy road. Looking at my colourful children’s books, I know how much work lies behind every word I wrote. I may be the author of these beautifully made books, but it took “a village of people” to bring them to the reader. I know there are many more people I’ve never met behind each of my books, people who worked so hard and contributed a part of themselves to every page. It took a team of talented people to make one small children’s book. On my journey as a self-published author, I was lucky to meet many fantastic people and talented artists. Some of them did not work on my books directly but were gracious enough to give me great advice or encourage me to move forward with my stories. Each book carries a different message, but they all have something in common. It takes the soul, heart and labour of many people to create one small book.
Before my book signing, I often think what I will tell my little readers when I read them my book, The Trees Have Hearts. I will tell them that I am enormously thankful to the extraordinary people who put so much effort into this small book and made my dreams come true. I will tell my little readers to treat books as their friends, and that when they read this small book, they should look for the smiles of these wonderful people, watching them reading from behind every word, page and illustration.
What’s next for you?
Mrs. D: Currently, I’m working on many projects, including several new children’s books and short stories. I love to write children’s stories but I also love to write in different styles. I just finished my first short story, The Little Girl Praying on the Hill. Now I am working on my new book, A Taste of Bread. I have also written many children’s stories, which are awaiting their turn to be published. English is my second language and it takes me much longer to correct my writings before I submit them to the editor. One good thing is that I never suffer from writer’s block. Sometimes I feel I have already lived many lives. My life itself is an unwritten story.
I am very happy to announce I just received the first printed copy of my new book, The City Kittens and the Old House Cat, a beautifully illustrated, heartwarming Christmas book about sharing and giving.
This year I am publishing four new children’s books:
Good Morning, World! A happy and uplifting story about Baby Thomas and his grandpa. Baby Thomas wants to hug and embrace a beautiful world full of amazing things, but Grandpa takes the world very seriously. They see the same picture, but each takes a different approach. In this book, young readers will easily connect to the wonders of nature and unforgettable characters playfully interacting with each other.
Too Many Rules for One Little Mouse is the first in a series of books on Carlo’s adventures. Clever, curious and very impatient, Carlo the mouse dreams of the world outside the hospital. His parents teach him how to follow the rules and how to survive on his own, but Carlo’s insatiable desire for adventure constantly gets him in trouble.
Now We’re Talking is the second book in the series on Carlo’s adventures. This nosy little mouse leaves home for the first time to explore life inside the hospital. Before he knows what’s up, the kitchen staff are on his tail.
What’s Going On? is the third installment of the adventures of Carlo the mouse. Carlo knew he was not supposed to go near the manager’s office, but when the kitchen staff were chasing him, he made a choice that started a war.
Twitter:@MRSDBOOKS and @CARLOTHEMOUSE
All my books are listed on my Amazon Author’s page: