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“Young people who are making an important social impact” with Laena-Mae Turner

I love telling stories to my friends and drawing them pictures. When I saw that my pictures and stories about Covid made my friends happier, and my mom’s friend said we should make a book, I was so excited. I wanted all the children around the world to read it and be happy. As part […]

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I love telling stories to my friends and drawing them pictures. When I saw that my pictures and stories about Covid made my friends happier, and my mom’s friend said we should make a book, I was so excited. I wanted all the children around the world to read it and be happy.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laena-Mae Turner.

At the age of eight, Laena-Mae Turner believes that there are no age limits to living your dreams. From only five years old, she began writing stories; creating her own characters that she could not find in other children’s books on the market.

Her debut book, Inside We Stayed for Months and Days, is a humorous and insightful picture book following children around the world during an international lockdown; understanding the unifying reaction to some disastrous news from different people, races, cultures and countries across the globe.

Laena-Mae Turner was only a few days old when doctor’s diagnosed her with a life-threatening autoimmune disease known as Hypogammaglobulinemia. Having spent many weeks in and out of hospital throughout her life, Laena-Mae is no stranger to living in isolation. Having survived tuberculosis at only three years of age and multiple illnesses due to her severely compromised immune system, she is an incredibly resilient young lady and her optimism throughout the pandemic is unfounded.

Currently Laena-Mae is one of the youngest published authors in the world and is the youngest child globally to write and publish a book on the Covid-19 pandemic. “I wanted to write a book for all the children across the world that would make them realise that no matter how lonely it is to be stuck at home, that we are all so brave to live in this new world,” shared the young author. “Not being able to play with our friends and stay home is only for a short while. By staying home or by wearing our masks, we are helping the world get better from this terrible virus.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I live in a small town in South Africa with my mom and my dog Patches. I spend a lot of time in hospital and at home because the doctors told me my body needs to fight a little bit harder than everyone else to stay strong. It’s very lonely, but when I can go out and see my friends, my favourite thing to do is to play soccer and go to the lake and feed the ducks. I love to write and draw and it is my dream one day to be an artist and draw or paint things that people keep in their homes.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I have written a book about the Covid-19 pandemic for the children of the world, to help cheer them up. Lots of grownups don’t really know how we are feeling and I wanted to make kids feel like it is going to be ok and that we are all in this together. Living in South Africa, we have thousands of children who are now very hungry and don’t even have families because of Covid, so I asked my mom if I can give some of the money from my book to these children. I am very lucky because I have a mom who takes care of me, but so many of these children don’t and it makes me very sad that they are all alone.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When all the people on the news and our teachers started telling us about this horrible virus, I was very scared and very sad. So my mom would show me pictures each day of children around the world who were also wearing masks and staying home; this made me feel a little bit better. I drew some pictures for my friends and asked my mom to send it to their moms, to show them that even in Japan and Brazil and America, all over the world, children were wearing masks and staying home. This made them feel a little better and they asked me to draw them more pictures. I love to draw and tell stories so this made me very happy. Then my mom’s friend said I should make a book from all my pictures and send it to children to make them feel better about staying in isolation.

I know how hard isolation is. I spend a lot of time at home and alone because the doctors tell me to. I haven’t seen any of my friends since February this year and I haven’t left the house all this time. It’s very lonely and I didn’t want other kids to feel lonely, so I made the book for them; to make them smile.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I love telling stories to my friends and drawing them pictures. When I saw that my pictures and stories about Covid made my friends happier, and my mom’s friend said we should make a book, I was so excited. I wanted all the children around the world to read it and be happy.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

My mom always tells me to never give up and shows me that you can do anything or be anyone you want to be. When the people we sent the book to told us I was too young to write a book, that didn’t stop me and I said to my mom that we can even just print the pictures and we can send them to my friends. I was so excited when one of the publishers said yes and wanted to print my poem for the children of the world. I think other kids should never give up if they want to do something that makes them happy. There is no age you can or can’t make your dreams come true.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most amazing part for me has been receiving messages and videos from other children I have never met, where they tell me that they are proud of me and that they love the book. When my mom shows me the videos or messages from other children, I am so happy that I never gave up and that my mom told me to keep writing. We also received an email from a charity we are sending some of the money from the book to and they showed us pictures of the children reading my book and with their new toys and I felt so proud of myself and my mom keeps telling me she is proud of me. My mom always told me that if we each do something small when we can, that we can start making our world better, in a small way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

It is not a funny mistake, but one that I learned from. I was drawing pictures for my friends and the book on tiny pieces of paper and leaving them all around the house. Sometimes down the side of the sofa or under it. My mom vacuumed some of them up and I had to start all over again. This taught me that I mustn’t leave things laying around and I must keep everything neat and tidy in my room so I don’t lose important things.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My mom is my best friend and she always makes me believe in myself. When I am sick, she tells me I am strong and I will fight the germs and get better. She always tells me how proud she is of me and I love her so much.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I am grateful for everyone who sends my mom and I messages about what I am doing and when the tv or media people call I am so happy they want to share our news with the world. It is my dream many other children will also do something small to help others who are suffering because of Covid. They can pack a small sandwich each day to give to a person who has no food or wrap a small toy for a child with no family.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think people around where we live can try be more giving this Christmas. Maybe donate some food or toys to other children who have no families or their families have no money. We can all help, even if it is something small like an apple or a sandwich. Or even give away some of your toys you don’t play with anymore. It makes my heart very sad that so many children in our world don’t even have one toy or nice food like me for dinner.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish people told me how long things take. When they first told my mom and I they would print my story, I did not know it would take months and months. It was fun in the beginning to chat on zoom with Simone, the lady who illustrated my book from my drawings, but it took forever to get my book. My mom always was chuckling when I asked her “Is it done yet?” Grown-ups don’t tell you how long everything takes and they are more patient than us kids I guess LOL.

I also wish more people would have told me that when you do something positive, that your friends can act jealous and not happy for you. I really was sad when this happened, but my mom explained that I should focus on the positive things and all the children who will be happy with my book and the children in the charity who will get new clothes and food. This was not easy to do because I felt very hurt by how some of my friends were behaving when I was on the TV or in the news.

I am very shy and no one told me that it can make you very nervous to talk on tv and the radio. I was happy my mom was there with me.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We live in a world where we must all learn to share what we have. We don’t need so many toys and all the clothes we have in our closest. Even if we just give one toy and one thing we don’t wear to another child who has nothing, we can make the world a little better.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast or lunch with Iron Man/Tony Starke (Robert Downey Jr). He is my favourite Marvel character. He never gives up and works very hard. He is super clever and very cool. He’s the best Marvel hero and I would love to meet him one day.

How can our readers follow you online?

I have an Instagram they can follow @missmaebooks

The can find my book on Amazon under the title “Inside we Stayed for Months and Days”

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you for interviewing me. I am very grateful.

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