As a licensed counselor working with families, Dustin Wright’s clients often ask him for recommendations for workbooks and tools to use at home.
Frustrated with the lack of creativity of materials on the market, Wright decided to start his own book company to introduce a series of books aimed to help children, ages 5 to 12, and families with their mental wellness.
Wright, whose independent practice is based in Staunton, created Happy Hobble Books to help families navigating the emotional wellness of their children, a genre he calls “family help.”
“I’m picky. I would always find things I didn’t like about something,” he said. “I’d find things I wish were different. And the more and more those thoughts kind of piled up in my head, it got to the point, where I was like I’m just going to create this workbook.”
Wright said he recognized all these different ways that he could teach mental health to youth – and they weren’t being utilized. Also, he said, the kids he worked with seemed to get bored with many of the workbooks on the market already.
“When they go home, they have all these video games with elaborate graphics and what they’re used to in their culture is so much more advanced than what we’re used to from our childhood,” Wright said. “Yet, the workbook genre hasn’t changed since we were kids. And it hasn’t progressed with the youth culture.”
Wright has developed a series of books and workbooks which go on sale this week through Amazon.
The first, a workbook with activities for families titled “My Temper Taming Workbook … For Us”; the second, a workbook that combines learning handwriting with emotional wellness; and the third, a rhyming storybook series titled “The Adventures of Chad” which starts with “The Feelings of Glad, Mad and Sad.”
Wright’s brand of publishing incorporates YouTube videos, for example.
He said the workbook gives families lots of options for activities to do together including magic tricks, science experiments like an exploding volcano and DIY craft projects including making a monster puppet so they child can share their feelings through the use of the puppet.
“They learn through doing these activities,” Wright said.
While the workbook might be new on Amazon, for Wright, it’s been years in the making.
“To the world, they’re going to see it for the first time,” Wright said. “But in my practice, it’s like the fifth edition. It’s just because it’s gone through so many edits and changes.”
Wright has been working with his own clients for years – replacing activities until he felt he had all the right pieces in place – to help families work together to find a happy middle ground.
Enter The Happy Hobble.
The publishing company is named after one of his characters, Herbert, The Happy Hobble, a name he admits is a mouthful, even for his four-year-old.
Wright, the father of two, has dozens of works in progress, that he and his wife share with his own children.
The inspiration for his lead character and publishing name came in part from his love for his alma mater – James Madison University. Herbert has purple skin and gold hair, the main two colors associated with the Harrisonburg university.
A rhyming game he played with a roommate in college also inspired him to create the storybook with a Dr. Seuss-like feel – with rhymes.
“In college, my roommate and I used to listen to hip hop, and we would text rhymes back and forth,” Wright said. “We’d freestyle back and forth on text and have these unspoken competitions, like who could come up with the best metaphor or a double rhyme in the same line or whatever.”
Like his workbook, his story book, and knack for rhyming, helped him create a tale perfect for kids with a mental health twist.
“Whenever their feelings get to be too much, or past the threshold of being unhealthy, they morph into the entity of that feeling (in the book). So if he got mad, and he starts to kick or yell, or scream or hit, then he’d let his Mad Monster out, and he becomes the Mad Monster,” Wright said. “The whole premise is to maintain health and wellness and also using coping as a way to keep these characters away and to maintain being a Happy Hobble.”
Another thing that Wright said sets his workbook apart is the adult education piece of the book.
He said the book includes skills that parents can use to counter their child’s behavior and helps the adult develop a six-step action plan for kids who may be struggling.
“You have all these really creative, engaging activities to teach different mental health components and coping skills,” Wright said. “And by the end of it, they’ll have designed their complete coping skills toolbox.”
The workbook isn’t for professionals or other therapists necessarily. He wrote it for parents, like him.
“I wrote the book for them, the butchers and the bakers. And with them in mind when I was writing it, I was pretending they were sitting right in front of me, and I was speaking directly to them.”
It can be frustrating for parents who love their child but feel hopeless and helpless not knowing what to do or how to help, he said.
“By creating the environment of ‘hey, we’re gonna make this exploding volcano together, because that’s the next thing in chapter seven,’ that’s a fun activity,” Wright said. “We reconnect and reengage. We do fun things together, and we learn together.”
Wright is working to put together a trainer package which would be an all-in-one kit complete with props including a stuffed Herbert – and include all the necessities for each activity – so you could walk into a church or school or use it as a parent – and not need any additional supplies.
He’s also busy planning a launch party complete with stations so those who attend may experience some of the activities firsthand.
“I love tapping into my creative side,” Wright said. “I love just trying to be creative and seeing what I come up with. And seeing how I can help with my knowledge and experience in the mental health world and working with kids.”
There’s no question that Wright has put his heart and soul, time and money into this publishing company, and he admits, he’s a little terrified now that the books are finally for sale.
Seeing the finished product – “it’s definitely emotional. At the end of the day, you know what, if my friends and family are the only people to buy my book, and if they like it and it helps out a couple of kids, it will be worth it.
“But I have a feeling it’s going be a little bit better.”
Wright plans to donate 5 percent of book sales to Mental Health America of Augusta.