If you go to the children’s section of a bookstore, you may see an entire subgenre dedicated to helping kids adjust to change. Such topics might include moving to a new place, expecting a new sibling, or starting a new phase in their education. Debbie Cavalier, the CEO of Berklee Online, noticed there was a gap in the children’s section for stories about parents going back to school—so she decided to write not one, but two, herself.
Self-published in August of 2020, Cavalier’s two books—My Mom is Going Back to School and My Dad is Going Back to School—have not only found an audience with kids adjusting to change, but in December of 2020, the books also won National Parenting Product Awards.
“I have been so inspired by our adult learners these past 18 years at Berklee Online, and I’ve learned the stories of their busy lives,” says Cavalier, who was a co-founder of Berklee Online in 2002. “Our students have families and jobs, and they’re trying to achieve this educational goal to make a better life.”
My Mom is Going Back to School and My Dad is Going Back to School both follow the story of eight-year-old Bryce, who illustrator Dana Regan has drawn in such a way that the gender and ethnicity of the character are purposefully ambiguous so as many kids as possible can identify with the child. Throughout the 24 pages of each book, Bryce learns about this new change to the family dynamic and gives young readers a look into what can be expected when a parent goes back to school. This includes late nights for mom and dad, and pitching in a little extra around the house, but ends in a graduation celebration.
“Any change to a family’s routine is a big deal for kids,” says Cavalier. “So with these books, I want to show that even when a parent goes back to school there can still be a consistent routine and things to count on.”
Prior to the books’ release, Cavalier has shared the stories with Berklee students and alumni, including Bonny Baez, who is a freelance animator enrolled in Berklee Online’s Electronic Music Production and Sound Design degree program. He is the father of three-year-old Wes.
“This book sheds light on a topic that we see more and more in our modern generation of parents,” says Baez. “It helps kids understand what to expect when a parent goes back to school and ways for the whole family to enjoy the excitement.”
Cavalier has also shared the books with her colleagues in higher education, including Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University. Cavalier reveals that LeBlanc has a cameo at the end of the book and is illustrated handing out diplomas. She says that LeBlanc, whose online university is one of the world’s largest, has been a mentor to her over the years as Berklee Online has grown its presence.
“When I ask adult learners why they have done this hard thing, going back to college, they often say, ‘I did it for my kids; I want to provide better for them and I want them to know their mom or dad is a college graduate,’” LeBlanc says. “Debbie’s books are a celebration of that commitment and the lived experience of kids whose parents are going back to earn a degree. Millions of them do it every year, but there has been a void of children’s books to speak to that experience for kids.”
Children’s books are familiar territory to Cavalier who is a Grammy-winning children’s songwriter and the leader of the band Debbie & Friends. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Cavalier has been performing concerts live on YouTube to entertain young ones and give parents a needed break. She is empathetic to the challenges that parents face when it comes to pursuing an education while managing family responsibilities.
“I wrote the books prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I think the story is more relevant than ever,” says Cavalier. “Historically, people turn to educational pursuits during economic downturns. As the parents explain in the story, they want to learn new skills, earn a degree, and get a new job one day. I admire these adult learners very much. They are managing a heavy load while trying to make a better life for their loved ones. This story pays homage to them.”
Cavalier is self-publishing the books through BookBaby, which is owned by the same people as the music distribution company CD Baby. My Mom is Going Back to School and My Dad is Going Back to School will be available for purchase on BookBaby’s store BookShop on August 4 and will be available at most major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble on August 25. To receive more information regarding the books’ release, you can sign up for updates.
“I hope that for a family that’s about to embark on this big adventure together, the books provide a positive framework for what lies ahead,” says Cavalier. “I hope it helps kids see that although there may be some challenges along the way, mom or dad going back to school can be fun and result in very positive outcomes for the whole family.”