Listen to today's episode, "Discovering Caring in ‘Lani Rae's Marvelous Hair”’: A Conversation on Kids' Books and Identity with Yesenia Rodriguez" as Cosmetologist and mama, Yesinia Roderiguez joins Dori Durbin. Yesinia also shares:
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More about Yesenia
Yesenia Rodriguez was born and raised in Riverside, California, where she currently resides with her daughter. A self-proclaimed multipotentialite, she has drawn from her many passions to create her debut children’s book, Lani Rae’s Marvelous Hair. Yesenia is also an educator, hairstylist, and speaker through her author visits. As a cosmetology teacher at Riverside City College, Yesenia loves encouraging her students to nurture their many interests.
Lani Rae’s Marvelous Hair is a story inspired by Yesenia’s daughter, Leilani. It touches on the difficult subject of childhood cancer while encouraging kindness and friendship. It is available in English and Spanish.
The Power of Kindness: A Conversation on Writing and Hair with Yesenia Rodriguez
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More about Dori Durbin:
Dori Durbin is a Christian wife, mom, author, illustrator, and a kids’ book coach who after experiencing a life-changing illness, quickly switched gears to follow her dream. She creates kids’ books to provide a fun and safe passageway for kids and parents to dig deeper and experience empowered lives. Dori also coaches non-fiction authors and aspiring authors to “kid-size” their content into informational and engaging kids’ books!
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[00:00:00.650] - Dori Durbin
Most parents take their morning routines very seriously because they've got it whittled down to every second and one bad hair day can throw the entire routine into shambles. But we also take it for granted that that can happen and that our kids have hair to mess with it all. One author, Yesenia Rodriguez, takes the opportunity to expand on that concept and make us grateful for what sometimes makes us groaning. Yesenia’s book, Lonnie Ray's Marvelous Hair, not only points a moment in time when hair is a problem, but it also points us to a direction where we can help others with a surprise ending that you're sure to love. I'd love for you to listen to my interview with Yesenia. Hello and welcome to the Power of Kids book podcast where we believe that books are the catalyst to inspire and empower change. I'm your host Dori Durbin and today we have with us Yesenia Rodriguez. And Yesenia is a cosmetologist and an educator. So welcome.
[00:01:06.390] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:08.760] - Dori Durbin
Absolutely. We are just delighted to find out a little bit about you and maybe a piece or two about your book as well. So can you give me a little bit more about what you mean by being a cosmetologist and an educator?
[00:01:21.920] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes. So I do consider myself a multi potential light, so I have a lot of interest and I have the privilege of being able to do those things for work. So educator. My background as an educator is as a cosmetology teacher. So I am a cosmetologist, which means I'm a hairstylist. I've done several things throughout the years and right now I focus on bridal beauty. So I usually go on location. I work at weddings and do bridal hairstyling and so I also work at a community college and I teach classes in cosmetology and that covers all subjects. And then I've also been a substitute teacher so I'll do that from time to time so I get a feel of the K through twelve environment. So it's kind of nice that all these things overlap each other.
[00:02:11.100] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, that's a great opportunity to see kids at all different levels in the classroom, hair, the families, all of those pieces. So is that what inspired you to write your book?
[00:02:23.790] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes, so my book is inspired mainly by my daughter, but yes, it's Lonnie Ray's marvelous hair. So it definitely ties back in to what I do for a living hair. But the biggest focus was my daughter.
[00:02:39.110] - Dori Durbin
I love the cover and I know people can't see the cover right now, but she has kind of this mane of curly crazy hair, right?
[00:02:46.800] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yeah. Thank you so much. I have it right here if you want me to show it really quick. Yeah, we won't be able to see it. Probably not, but yes, we have this outrageously long hair. Right. It's a little exaggerated and it was definitely inspired by real events.
[00:03:05.040] - Dori Durbin
I knew on the cover it looked kind of like the kind of hair that would cause issues with grooming and jealousy and things like that. Is that kind of where you're going with your book as well?
[00:03:18.430] - Yesenia Roderiguez
A little bit. So we don't have a jealousy issue, but it's definitely grooming what it takes. But the book does have a different turn that I think some people kind of know when they're reading it, what's going to happen? And then others were like, I had no idea. I did not see that coming. So, yeah, it's it's pretty fun. I like when I can add a little surprise to it. But we definitely talk about the realities of having long hair and what it takes to groom and the trouble it can cause.
[00:03:49.530] - Dori Durbin
So I never had really long hair, but I had a niece who did, and her hair was curly. And I remember my sister telling me stories about how it took literally hours to do her hair because she couldn't even get through the hair. And I think most of us haven't ever experienced that. But that's a real issue for parents and for kids, is that fight in the morning on top of just the regular routine.
[00:04:14.490] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes, definitely. My daughter and I would run late places. It's like, sorry, today was shampoo day. I had a shampoo brush through it, blow dry the hair. It's a whole ordeal.
[00:04:29.170] - Dori Durbin
And if you think about the issues that parents have with trying to get their kids to adhere to routine, sometimes that just adds another layer to it of frustration on the parents part and probably the kids part.
[00:04:41.800] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Well, goodness, yes, it's a whole deal. And if it's something that you haven't had to deal with, let's say a majority of little boys might have short hair if you've never experienced that, it's the whole thing. You have to really plan your day around it.
[00:04:57.470] - Dori Durbin
I believe you would love if you had just a little bit to share with us and read through it so our audience gets a taste for your book.
[00:05:07.560] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yeah, definitely. So I do wish that you could see some of the pictures because the images show a little bit of what I was talking about. And so maybe I can go through and describe, since the word doesn't describe completely. All right, so here we go. But some days, her hair seems much too lengthy. Her mane can be very burly to tame. Sometimes it spills into places where it does not belong. Still, she loves her hair. So Zoom, lonnie Ray and Lila love to pretend they are superheroes. Lonnie Ray often proclaims, if I were a superhero, my secret weapon would be my hair. I could stop one crime at a time with a simple flip of my hair. Snap. All right, so that was my short snippet. And just to describe a little bit, the pictures are of her hair stuck in the doorway, waking up with her puppy and her lollipop stuck in her messy hair.
[00:06:10.060] - Dori Durbin
[00:06:12.230] - Yesenia Roderiguez
And that's her first thing in the morning, her hair kind of falls into her bowl of cereal, and then her mom is brushing out her hair while she's looking at herself in the mirror. And then we have the girls with their plain superheroes. And so, of course, her hair looks a little exaggerated with that extra long lasso, but it's really fun. And sometimes it really did feel that long.
[00:06:37.070] - Dori Durbin
Did you really have a time where your daughter had things stuck in her hair?
[00:06:41.270] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes, she had gum stuck in her hair. That was a nightmare. Or sometimes we would find, like, oh, there's where that stick went, and it's stuck in there. Most of the time that I would try to keep her hair tight in a ponytail or bright, especially if she's going to school so it didn't get too messy. But yeah, definitely that would happen. And it would fall into her food. But most of all, and she don't want me to mention this in the book, but her hair fell in the toilet, and so that's where I got the idea of, okay, it would have spilled into places where it didn't belong.
[00:07:13.630] - Dori Durbin
Oh, yeah. I'm sure that at different times that would be awkward, to say the least.
[00:07:19.230] - Yesenia Roderiguez
[00:07:20.060] - Dori Durbin
So as a cosmetologist, I'm just curious. You deal with people, you said with brides, but it sounded like you had other experiences as well. How important is someone's hair to them, especially when they're kids?
[00:07:36.210] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Hair is a very personal thing for people. It's definitely part of their identity. If you are used to having a lot of hair or curly hair or straight hair, if it's something that you just associate yourself with, it is a big deal. And so, yes, I did work in a hair salon. I had worked on children, mostly adults, and a lot of times when we hear, I want a big change, I want to cut it all off, or I want to do something different with the color, we usually associate that with, or they're going to have some major changes, and it's because hair is that personal to us. Or you just have those people who have to maintain their hair. They're in every two weeks, they're getting their hair done, and it's part of their identity.
[00:08:23.080] - Dori Durbin
That's interesting. That's a piece that we don't really talk about that much until you get older, but it's definitely a concern when you're younger.
[00:08:31.510] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Now, I wanted to ask, did you have a chance to read the whole book? Did you see the ending of it?
[00:08:36.850] - Dori Durbin
I did not see the ending. I read through what I could say.
[00:08:40.150] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Okay. So I know you said not to give it away too much, but I feel like there's a big topic that we can talk about if we're going to give some of the ending away. But because the story does talk a lot about how people identify with their appearance and their hair, and it ties into childhood cancer and what happens if you lose your hair. So that is a big topic of the book and a reason why I wanted to talk about it and write the story.
[00:09:09.740] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, because I know that there's a tie to it as far as what you do with the book. Go ahead and talk about that.
[00:09:15.540] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Well, what I've done, it's kind of been a learning process. When I wrote the book, I really didn't have this whole picture of what I was going to do with it, but it just kind of developed along the way. And so I've been able to go into classrooms, whether it's virtual or in person, and I talk to students about how I wrote the story, what inspired it, and I teach kids about hair donation, and so sometimes it's a whole new topic for kids, usually, like elementary schools. That the age that I'm working with. And then some of them have done it here and there. I'll have some that say, you know what, I've done it before, or maybe my family member has done it before, and then they remember someone that it affected, or they'll say, My grandma had a wig, or something like that. So it does start up a powerful conversation. Sometimes it gets very emotional when I'm talking to the kids. Most of the time, it's just very light hearted and fun. But it does take us into different topics.
[00:10:20.290] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, I would never have heard about that when I was a kid. I don't think I ever heard about it until I was older. That's quite an impact on the kids as far as something that they could potentially do themselves. They could donate here and actually make someone feel just so much better about what they're going through and all those emotional pieces.
[00:10:41.320] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yeah. So being in the industry, I was able to actually do a haircut at all, where I talked about the book, and I had people come in, we actually cut their hair, and we gave them a free haircut if they were donating. And then I actually was able to mail out all of the hair for them. And so we just had a huge bag full of hair, and I was able to send that out to an organization that would make wigs.
[00:11:05.680] - Dori Durbin
Wow. Did you have a huge turnout for that?
[00:11:08.870] - Yesenia Roderiguez
We did it by appointment only so that we didn't have too many people there. But I had about three stylists working with me, and they each had maybe like four to five people. So it's kind of nice. We ended up with a lot of hair. And then the nice thing was the school district where I work, they went and did an interview, and so they took pictures. They talked about it for their own newsletter, and we had no idea. But the first little girl who was getting her haircut. It was her first haircut ever, and she was maybe six years old, and she went to the school district that was doing the interview because it was kind of like in a different town, so it was like, oh, we didn't expect that. And so it was really nice that she was able to show what she did. And it tied in with the book and with our hair squad. It was really nice.
[00:11:59.290] - Dori Durbin
That's awesome. Where do you send the hair? Do you send it locally?
[00:12:03.590] - Yesenia Roderiguez
So there's different places that you can send it to. And that is a topic that I like to talk to with people, because there's more than one great place you can send the hair to. I have personally worked with Locks of Love. That's where I've sent my hair. But there are other organizations, and the main thing I say is, if you want to donate your hair, look at their requirements beforehand, and that will help you determine where you're going to send it to. And so I believe they're out of Florida, so I mail it to Florida. I'm in California, and I mail it there. It'd be nice if there was a local one that kind of fit the criteria, but they've been a great organization that I've sent hair to. And so usually those things you'll consider are if you've had a color treated hair before, how long it is. So some places want more hair, so if you're not willing to give up that much, or maybe you don't have enough yet, you might send it somewhere else where they'll take eight inches as opposed to ten inches, or even if you've been saving it for over a year, some places won't take it, and others will.
[00:13:05.950] - Dori Durbin
I didn't even know there were any criteria, but that makes it yeah.
[00:13:10.810] - Yesenia Roderiguez
So it's nice because sometimes people say, hey, I have this hair. Could you send it for me? But if it wasn't already washed and kept in a ponytail, we can't send it. And so those are things you want to know beforehand.
[00:13:23.450] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, we like to tease. My husband is pretty bald. We like to tell him that he needs the service. But if you think about how the process is of creating the wigs and all, everything beyond that yeah, there definitely needs to be some criteria there to keep things going. Wow. And you never intended for your book to do this?
[00:13:47.290] - Yesenia Roderiguez
No. When I sat down to write a book, I had different ideas, and this story just flowed the most naturally for me. And so I didn't know I was going to do this, but I've just been kind of going with the flow, seeing where it takes me. And so far it's been great. It's been amazing. And anyone who says that they want to write a story, I'm like, you should. It's a great community of authors. People encourage each other. You meet some of the most amazing people in this community.
[00:14:18.150] - Dori Durbin
It's a great plug for that. You did independent publishing, right?
[00:14:23.160] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes, I am self published.
[00:14:25.070] - Dori Durbin
Yeah. So I happen to know your illustrator, and she's amazing. And so when I saw have you met her personally? I know her through the grapevine. Like you said, you have all these connections that you make. And Sonny Duran is the illustrator. So when I saw it with her, I had to laugh because it fits her. It fits her personality too. Just for people who don't know how this works how in the world did you figure out how to create your character and what you want your character look like? Does it look like your daughter or not?
[00:15:02.830] - Yesenia Roderiguez
She does resemble her. I love that you know Sonny because she's amazing. And I really tell her, like, you did everything for my book. She was the most amazing illustrator I could find because she was just so knowledgeable, so skilled. And she helped me so much because it was my first time doing this. And so I did show her a picture. Of course I wanted to let her have her artistic freedom. But I showed her a picture of what my daughter looked like and said, you can kind of let it resemble her. So that was really the only character that I sent her a picture of. And then she sent me five different images and said, which one do you like the best? These little rough sketches. And sometimes I'll share that with my students when I'm presenting to them. I'm like, this is the making of it. And I show them the five different ones. So there was one that I loved and that's the image we went with. But there was another one where she was kind of moving differently, where I said, I like that one too. Can we kind of combine them?
[00:16:00.260] - Yesenia Roderiguez
So there is a few images throughout the book where she's moving or maybe a profile, like a side view. And she kind of combined some of the images. So that was a lot of fun, putting that together.
[00:16:12.180] - Dori Durbin
I think when you see your vision come together in an actual book, it's huge. It's such an exciting it's like getting Christmas every time that you get a picture, right?
[00:16:23.240] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yes, it definitely is. I was so excited. And like I said, Sunny is so talented that I was just, like, blown away. Everything was like, yeah, I love it.
[00:16:31.470] - Dori Durbin
That's awesome. How about your daughter? How did she feel being a star of her own book?
[00:16:36.190] - Yesenia Roderiguez
She liked it. She really liked it. How would I describe it? She was in fourth grade, I believe, when I started writing the book. She's now in middle school in 7th grade. And so so at the start of it, she was kind of like, okay. You know, I think at one point she was because I was sharing it with her, her classmates, her school and she got a little shy about it, but she really did embrace it. And I remember she said, that how kids are. Someone was telling her, like, a joke, like, well, your mom doesn't care about you. And she goes, has your mom written a book about you? You thought of that? It's something that comes to mind. She does feel special that she was the star of the book.
[00:17:23.700] - Dori Durbin
That's awesome. Depending on your kid's, age makes a big difference, and whether you wrote embarrassing content that they can't ever recover from makes a difference. But I think it would feel really special to have something that memorialized a part of your life, and that's really what you did.
[00:17:41.380] - Yesenia Roderiguez
[00:17:43.330] - Dori Durbin
That's fun. Okay, so if somebody wanted to use your book, if they're a parent and they're going to sit down with their kids, because I'm really big on educating kids early, what would you want them to understand from your book or about your books process? And I know the wigs was part of that, but before that, what were you hoping to achieve with your book?
[00:18:05.610] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Well, I wanted people to see a character that you don't always see. So Lonnie Wright is the main character here, but Lila is the friend, the best friend that sometimes we talk about people who might get sick at a young age or really at any age, and then the recipients. So a lot of times it's like, I donated my hair. You're kind of the center of attention, and that's what happens with Lonnie Ray. But Lila is the character that we don't always see. Who receives the hair? It could be anyone, your best friend, someone just going about their daily life, and then they have this interrupt their life. So I wanted Lila to have a face so that people can get to know someone who would receive a wig. And yeah, that was the main thing. And to introduce a new topic that might not always be discussed. My daughter was six years old when she asked me, I want to donate my hair. And I was surprised, but I thought maybe because I'm a hairstylist and I've talked about it before she was familiar with the topic. So I thought, how cool would that be to let other kids know that they can do this?
[00:19:12.740] - Yesenia Roderiguez
There's something that they can do. They don't have to have money to help a friend. They don't have to have a whole bunch of anything. You can look at what you have yourself, whether it's your hair or something around your house that you can donate to help someone feel better. Maybe it's just your time so that you can be a six year old and do something big to impact someone else's life.
[00:19:34.100] - Dori Durbin
That's amazing. And was the story based off of.
[00:19:38.090] - Yesenia Roderiguez
A friend of hers? It was not. So Mila was a made up character, but she was definitely inspired by people we've known. So I have known other people, mostly adults who have had cancer, but some in childhood who have had it. So I just kind of thought about those people that I've known and kind of their experiences and what they may have gone through. And so that's what I considered when I made up the character of Lila.
[00:20:06.250] - Dori Durbin
That makes sense. I'm just thinking as a parent, you could sit down and talk about caring and kindness, could talk about sickness and cancer. I mean, there's a whole conversation waiting to happen and a variety of conversations, really. So it's a moment where you could really dig in to see what your kid knows to begin with and then expand on that. You said you read in classrooms and that there were a few kids that knew about hair donations or why hair donations needed to be there. Was that just like a handful or what's your experience with that?
[00:20:42.990] - Yesenia Roderiguez
I think my experience with that is there's at least one in each class, and sometimes there's like one or two. Not everyone has done it, but when I get to like, what do you think is going to happen next? Sometimes I have classrooms where nobody guesses, and it's usually the younger ones, the younger age range, where they're like they come up with these different things. And then sometimes in like the fourth, 5th, 6th grade, someone will raise their hand and they're like, I think she's going to donate it. Then after, when we do a Q and A, they'll say, yeah, I've done that before, or I knew about that, or I'm going to do that. So there's always at least a couple in each class that know about it.
[00:21:25.310] - Dori Durbin
That's impressive. It's more than I thought, for sure. So you mentioned talking to the kids. What has your experience been as a first time author? Have you loved it? Is it stressful?
[00:21:38.590] - Yesenia Roderiguez
I really loved it. Being an author, and especially an independent author, it comes with a lot more that you don't expect, like the marketing, just getting the prints, getting it out there. That's a lot of work. And so far this is the only book I have complete, and I thought I would have more by now, but I didn't realize how much work would go into maintaining the one book. So it's so hard to even get another one out. But I know some people have done it. To go back to the question yeah, the experience with going into the classrooms. Right. So I was like, you know what, how can I do this? This was during COVID time, so I reached out to many teachers and I did a lot of zoom calls, and I would just say, could I, you know, give me a few minutes to read to your class and I can introduce the story? And then I it ended up quickly turning into like a 30 minutes process where I would then do show them a PowerPoint and show them the process and then do a Q and A. And mostly with the older kids, like kindergarten, I'll read to them and I really don't do a Q and A because I've learned that.
[00:22:48.790] - Dori Durbin
A little bit. Yeah.
[00:22:51.990] - Yesenia Roderiguez
But yeah, once it's second grade and on, we can have a Q and A. And usually with like 5th, 6th grade, I've done hour long. Not the whole process. Like the whole visit is an hour because we'll have a conversation of maybe something that they knew or a lot of times I want to write a book. How do I do that? And so we just have so much to talk about once they get older.
[00:23:19.250] - Dori Durbin
I think that's the cool thing about being an author that you don't realize when you go into it that you develop these superfans, but you also open these doors up as far as them having a direct link to creating something themselves.
[00:23:34.550] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny that you say super fans, because I've had the cutest experiences before that I did not expect. I went into a classroom and it was a whole third grade, like those three classes, and they treated me like a celebrity. I've never had that kind of treatment. I had flowers, I had a gift given to me. They were so sweet and they wanted to take pictures. It was just such a nice reception. I was like, wow, I think I want to do this all the time. They were adorable. So sweet. And I had a friend who contacted me. She goes, you read to my daughter's class and she said, wow, Mom, I didn't know you knew a celebrity. Well, she's been very generous, but yeah, thank you. That was nice of her.
[00:24:28.070] - Dori Durbin
That is great. Not that we need those every day, but when it happens, after a long process of trying to figure out if this is the right book, is this the right idea? Is it the right character? It's kind of nice to have a little bit of kickback there and feel important, appreciated.
[00:24:44.250] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Definitely. Of course, we don't need little kids to boost our egos, but at the same time, they're just so genuinely kind and sweet about it that it matters. And words really are important. A lot of times we'll say, oh, brush it off, don't listen to it if it's something negative. But we do see how it can positively impact someone. So words really are important. When you give someone kind words, no.
[00:25:10.230] - Dori Durbin
Matter what age, it helps you're, right? 100%. Okay, so let's say I'm listening. I'm a parent, I know how to use your book now. I know what it's about. What if I'm a professional who's seen other kids books and been like, yeah, it'd be nice to have my own, but I'm not taking the leap. What are a couple of reasons that you feel any professional should have their own kids book, if that's in their heart?
[00:25:36.200] - Yesenia Roderiguez
It definitely is in their heart. Do it. It's been a great talking point, especially if I'm in a new place with new people and they'll say, Tell me something interesting. Oh, well, I have a children's book, or sometimes it just naturally comes up in conversation, and people are really surprised. I've actually been to a wedding where I met someone and he said, My dad writes children's books. And then we started talking about that. So it's a great talking point. I feel like it kind of stands out and people will remember you. And I've even kind of given it as, like, a business card in some cases. Of course you want to sell your book, but sometimes it's like, hey, you connect with someone so much that you're like, here's this. You can sign it for them, and it's almost like your little business card, and they don't forget you when you give them a book that you wrote. It's pretty amazing.
[00:26:27.160] - Dori Durbin
I think you're right. I think if you can stand out as it's almost like making yourself an expert and having the desire in your heart to connect with kids, families, communities, instead of just in your specific profession, I think that's amazing. Ability for you to connect with new people to new clients, potentially, yeah.
[00:26:49.590] - Yesenia Roderiguez
I've met so many amazing people through writing a book that I wouldn't have even imagined.
[00:26:54.810] - Dori Durbin
Do you keep a bag of them in your car? I have to ask.
[00:26:57.410] - Yesenia Roderiguez
I try to. Sometimes I'm like, oh, I don't have a book. And so being in that situation, yeah, I definitely try to have at least one with me so I can show someone or yeah, you never know where you're going to end up.
[00:27:08.730] - Dori Durbin
Yeah, I love it. I love it. Well, I appreciate your perspective. I want to see the end of your book because obviously I need to go see that. And I love what you've done with the book as far as reaching out into the community and educating people. I think that's fantastic.
[00:27:25.790] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Thank you so much, and thanks for having me. It's been really fun talking to you.
[00:27:29.740] - Dori Durbin
Oh, and where can we find you? Easy, so we can get your book?
[00:27:33.810] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Well, I do have a website, rodriguez, Author.com. But I'm mostly on Instagram, so it's Yosenia Rodriguez, author on Instagram. And so you can always chat with me there. Send me a message. So website or Instagram? Perfect.
[00:27:50.790] - Dori Durbin
And we'll include links in our description under the podcast as well, so we'll make sure they can find you. You cynia. Awesome.
[00:27:58.010] - Yesenia Roderiguez
Thank you so much.
[00:27:59.150] - Dori Durbin
Oh, thank you. Thank you for your time.