Decorah resident Regina Noel Downing recently went from music instructor and health and life coach to published author. She published her first book, “Give a Little Snuggle,” in May.
Decorah resident Mathew Havran illustrated the children’s book. The collaboration is one Downing didn’t dream would happen, calling herself an “accidental writer.”
Not on my radar
Downing graduated from Luther in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in physical education and music. She went on to earn her masters in elementary education, got married and started a family. After the birth of her daughter, Downing began traveling to people’s homes to teach piano lessons. For the past 12 years, Downing has built a music lesson studio, teaching anywhere from 20 to 30 students piano, voice and ukulele lessons.
The thought of writing a novel occasionally came into Downing’s mind over the years but never anything substantial. One day, her son was having a meltdown and Downing wanted to connect with him. She came up with a little song that she created in the moment.
“It worked. Within minutes he was laughing and tickling and snuggling…and the world was right again,” she said. Downing remembered that moment and started writing more songs to help people deal with difficult moments in life.
“When the pandemic hit, I had to put all my students in the studio online. I worried about my littles, who really need a lot of hands-on manipulatives. An adult student shared some song/story books with me one day, and a lightbulb went off. I was like, ‘why am I not doing this with my song!’” said Downing.
A whirlwind publishing
“Give a Little Snuggle” is Downing’s first song put into a children’s novel. It’s designed to help parents and caregivers connect with a child when they’ve had a bad day or are scared.
“It has all the important components for connection: a snuggle, a giggle, a tickle…and it really acknowledges children’s feelings and fears, without making them feel belittled,” she said.
The book includes a teaching component for adults as well as sheet music so it can be sung or read.
Downing reached out to Decorah illustrator Mathew Havran to see if he’d be interested in working with her. Havran is a local artist; however, this was his first published illustration.
“I wanted to get into illustrating children’s books ever since my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child over four years ago,” he said. “I love the overall feel of the story and that there is also a musical element as well since both Regina and I both play piano, ukulele and sing.”
Havran said he was inspired by their families and overall experiences.
“The character design, painting style and color were inspired by my old high school drawings, classic Winnie the Pooh books, and a bit of watercolor experimentation,” he said.
In the fall of 2020, while Havran was still working on the illustrations, Downing began looking for a publisher. Most companies she found weren’t reading manuscripts until the end of 2021 due to the pandemic.
“I was like, well, this book needs to be out now because the book is such a great tool for helping families connect, and I feel like more than anything right now, that’s what we need. We need to be connected,” said Downing.
Instead, she reached out to fellow local children’s author JoAn Stevenson and asked for some advice. From there, she contacted Fox Pointe Publishing. By the end of that day, Downing had a verbal agreement.
Downing was involved in everything in the publishing process, from edits to design to publicity.
Worth the work
The book was available for purchase in May and can be purchased locally at Dragonfly Books and Donlon’s Pharmacy. Downing said she’s had people reach out to discuss how the book has impacted them and their family. She said one of the best responses has been from her family, with her son saying that he’s proud of her.
This summer, Downing plans on doing several readings and performances of her book, including in Clear Lake, Cresco and Mankato, Minn.
She’s also looking to the future. Her next book is slated for release in November, with Havran again providing the illustrations. She also has three more she’s working on.
“Writing these books is sort of meshing these things together for me. Health and life coach, music teacher and entrepreneur,” she said. “I think for a long time I was looking to make a bigger impact. I had a desire to have a bigger reach. Now, I’m an accidental author.”