The silver lining is the fact that we can utilize our emotions and creative drive and translate that pure recipe into doing good.
Julie Garel, market researcher and strategist, recently co-authored a new children’s book, Silver Lining Search Club, with two D.C.-area high school seniors, Ana Gutierrez (Photographer) and Rachel de Silva (Illustrator). We had the pleasure of chatting with the team to discuss finding joy during a pandemic and learn more about bringing the character, Ana, to life—a little girl who is forced to stay at home where she unexpectedly discovers the beauty of nature and relationships.
Q. What inspired you to create Silver Lining Search Club, and why publish this now?
Julie: The idea for Silver Lining Search Club came at the beginning of March as the pandemic hit. I felt it was essential to help young people view the transition with a sense of hope. This whole situation is frightening, unpredictable, and hard to understand, but there are so many gifts immediately around us to appreciate.
I always viewed Ana as a very optimistic, creative young woman. She was the ideal partner for this. And, when she described Rachel, I knew we had the perfect team. I also wanted to help myself discover hope—a feeling that we all can benefit from during this time. Working with these two young women and bringing this creative project to life was my way of finding that hope.
Rachel: For the past six years, I’ve been volunteering in the local community. However, during the quarantine it became difficult to find ways to give back. I was really thankful that Julie and Ana reached out with the opportunity to do illustration for this book. By inspiring others to look on the bright side, I discovered a new way to make an impact in the community.
Ana: I worked at a tennis camp this summer and some of the kids had been away from school for months. When their parents came to take them home, it was interesting to hear so many of the kids express how grateful they were to experience some normalcy at camp—compared to being stuck at home all day. I think the book is definitely going to help kids deal with those feelings.
Q. What does this book reveal about how children are learning and experiencing the world during this pandemic?
Ana: I think a lot of people are struggling with how to spend their free time, and turning to learning new skills or improving upon old ones. For example, I used to play guitar, and then I stopped for a long time. The pandemic renewed my interest in playing again, and it gave me a sense of comfort during this uncertain time.
Rachel: I’ve been using this time to return to doing basic arts and crafts, including making friendship bracelets and drawing.
Ana and I are both rising freshmen in college but won’t have a typical freshman-year experience. But, my mom continuously tells me, “We’re going to learn so much from this experience. We’re going to learn how to overcome challenges and how to learn in new ways.” This book is going to show kids that you can continue to live your life and do fun things like going out and exploring—as long as you show concern for others’ health and safety.
Allowing kids to see and discover a reality that they didn’t know was there to experience feeds their creative spirit and opens their mind up to so many new possibilities.
Julie: I think there is an important lesson here for kids of all ages enrolling in virtual learning: they’re really conquering mountains right now. They are learning resilience, how to adapt, the value of delayed gratification, and about their own strengths. I think that’s a pretty formidable silver lining. Many kids have never tapped into that resilience, but I think they’re discovering their own strength.
It is also a tool for engaging children and helping them access their imaginations. It’s always possible to pursue a happy ending, and it’s incumbent upon us to find it. To me, that’s why this story is so meaningful.
Q: Can each of you share about your experience of working through this creative process?
Ana: It was a challenging but great learning experience. When Julie initially asked me to take photos for the book, my first thought was: “How am I going to do this? We’re not allowed to go outside, so, how am I going to get the shots?”
And then, the project became about how I am going to use what I have right now to bring the book to life. I went around my house taking pictures of the kitchen, living room, and other spaces. When you’re taking pictures at home, you don’t have the best lighting or the best backgrounds. I learned how to create a good composition with what I had.
Rachel: My biggest challenge was learning how to create digital art. That meant not having access to the aspects of drawing that I’m familiar with, like illustrating with pencil and paper or doing watercolor on paper. At first, I missed the feeling of holding a pencil and being able to smudge with my finger. And now, I actually love creating digital art and will look for opportunities to do more in the future.
Julie: I come from the creative industry, having worked in advertising and marketing for many years, so the design process was familiar. For me, it was pure joy and an amazing silver lining to witness Ana and Rachel open their minds to the possibility of fusing their talents and working together to bring words to life in a visually stunning, original way.
Q: Why is it so important for young people (or anyone) to pursue learning paths that connect with their unique interests and gifts?
Ana: When you’re in a classroom setting, it is harder to learn something based on your own interests. Usually, everyone is learning the same information. But, when you start owning the process of learning something new and building skills that interest you, you can create amazing things to share with the world. Learning that lesson early also teaches you to follow your own life path—no matter how difficult or implausible it may seem to the rest of the world.
Rachel: When you take the initiative to learn something new, it shows you’re interested in improving yourself. Learning something new makes me happier, and I think it is really important for kids to follow their curiosity and not be afraid. You might just discover a new favorite hobby.
Julie: As a member of an older generation, I followed a very formulaic route of education and learned what I was supposed to learn. I went to college because that was required to get hired for a job. I never considered what that job would be and how it might be gratifying.
That sense of seeking opportunities that bring gratification was not really in the equation then. However, I’ve gone back to school twice as an adult to pursue two different master’s degrees, purely because I wanted to open up opportunities. Those experiences taught me the joy of learning. For the first time, I studied what I wanted and considered how that newly found joy could lead me to do work that was truly gratifying. Now, I can honestly say that sense of joy and questioning never goes away.
Q. Do you see yourselves and your experiences in the little girl in the book?
Julie: I saw a lot of Ana and Rachel embedded in the main character as well as my own curiosity about life, impatience, and searching for answers. I also channeled my daughter’s biology teacher—this brilliant and fun mad scientist-type character—into the little brother in the book. There are little Easter eggs like that embedded in all the characters and words, inspired by each of our experiences.
Rachel: When I was drawing, I was constantly thinking about how I could weave my own life into the characters. For example, I purposely made the little brother resemble my own little brother. He and I fought all the time when we were little, and there is one picture where the little girl is pulling the little brother’s hair—that’s definitely us. I also made the mother look a little like my mom, too, with her bob hairstyle and deep red lipstick. With pictures, you can really bring anything to life.
Ana: The world we created for the characters was inspired by the pictures I captured at home. When we put the character inside that space, it felt very personal because I could see and feel my own home.
Q. Why have you chosen to use the proceeds from this project to support global food relief?
Julie: Every day, I see cars lined up waiting to get the most basic food needs met, and I keep thinking about the number of children who won’t be receiving vital meals in school. Food security was the first cause that came to mind. We’re really proud to be supporting food relief organizations, including food banks, World Central Kitchen, No Kid Hungry and any group committed to feeding families and communities.
Ana: My family taught me the importance of helping people from a very young age. Since I could remember, I have been passionate about supporting hunger relief organizations—this was the perfect cause. It is especially critical right now with so many people struggling to feed themselves.
Rachel: There are many silver linings to take from this project, and supporting food relief is definitely one of them. It feels good to give back. It also shows that little things can make a huge impact.
Julie: The silver lining is the fact that we can utilize our emotions and creative drive and translate that pure recipe into doing good. Young people, like Ana and Rachel, can’t learn or pursue a path forward in life without healthy nourishment that enables their brains to be open to new ideas and possibilities.
Q: What did you discover about yourself during this project?
Julie: It tapped into a curiosity that was always there. This project gave me permission to continue writing and exploring new ideas and emotions. There is a real sense of freedom and liberation in pursuing something that I’ve always dreamed of doing.
Ana: I learned that I love creating things from scratch, and I got to experience what’s possible when you merge different talents. Collaboration makes the process more fun, and I want to continue pursuing similar opportunities. In terms of a career, I definitely want to do something related to photography and art—and create in ways that support a cause I care about.
Rachel: This project taught me to be more open minded—a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Ana and I were struggling, initially, to combine our artistic talents. We really didn’t know how the project would turn out, but it turned out really well. I continue to embrace that open mindedness and practice letting go of the fear that comes with taking on a new artistic project. I have the ability to create amazing things, and I need to remember that.
Julie: I hear a common thread in all of our answers—giving yourself permission to take more risks or to step into new territory. That’s powerful.
Q. How are you viewing the future differently after this project?
Julie: “New normal” is a phrase that I have heard too often. I hope it simply suggests that we will all treat one another more compassionately and fairly. I do not want the future to retain any of the distancing, emotional or physical, that defines our present. I think I miss hugs and movie popcorn the most. So, I’m waiting for a time when we can return to one another’s embrace, more enlightened from the experience of having been apart.
Ana: I am viewing the future with immense gratitude and appreciation. Not being able to see my friends or go to school—two things I had taken for granted—made me realize how meaningful those things are, and I will cherish them immensely in the future.
Rachel: After this project, I am finding ways to appreciate everything I have. This pandemic has really hurt a lot of people, and I am so glad I am able to give back. I will never forget to appreciate given opportunities that came easily, like seeing my friends, or going out to eat.