Jen Mulzer’s son thinks in colors, songs, and stories.
When it’s time to go to bed, he can’t keep his eyes closed—he’s too excited about the adventures he might take in his dreams. And when it’s time to sit still at school, all he wants to do is dance. His body is full of motion, and his mind is full of music, but that can be frustrating when parents or teachers tell him “now is not the time.”
Mulzer, a student in Butler University’s MFA in Creative Writing program, wants her son and other children who experience ADHD or similar conditions to know there is nothing wrong with how they process information or move in the world. No matter how frustrating things are right now, she wants to say, just hang in there.
“I wanted to address that even though you might be in a situation where you feel frustrated, or like you’re not part of the group, or you can’t keep up, or maybe something’s not interesting to you—whatever the situation is, it’s temporary and it will pass,” Mulzer says. “And someday, you’ll have that moment when things just click, and all the things you struggled with will add up and make sense.”
That’s the key message of Music in My Head, a new children’s book written by Mulzer and illustrated by Abey Akinseye, a Butler junior majoring in Psychology and Sociology with a minor in Art. Published early last month, the book follows the story of a young boy—inspired by Mulzer’s son—whose “body dances all the time, especially when it’s time to sleep.” Alongside the text, Akinseye’s artwork vividly illustrates each of the character’s imaginary adventures, from leading a circus to flying to the moon.
After drafting the story last year, Mulzer reached out to Butler’s Department of Art to find an illustrator. She knew she wanted to work with a fellow student, so she shared a summary of the project and began accepting portfolios.
Intrigued by the story, Akinseye applied.
“I think what interested me the most was how much I related to the story myself,” he says. “Sometimes I have trouble sleeping because I’m always thinking of these adventures in my head, and I even stay up at night painting or drawing because these ideas are always there, and I’m afraid to lose them.”
Mulzer chose Akinseye’s portfolio as her favorite from the bunch for his ability to capture facial expressions and personality. When they met in person to go over details, she could see his passion for the story. Akinseye told her about how art served as a form of therapy for him, and how he wanted to use his art to help others (with the goal of pursuing a PhD in art therapy). When Mulzer left the meeting, she thought, “Oh my gosh, he was meant to do this.”
They have worked mostly independently for the past year, with Mulzer providing brief descriptions for the illustrations and Akinseye producing artworks that were even better than what she’d imagined.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” Akinseye says. “I didn’t want any of the images to be the same, and I wanted each page to stand out and be its own independent story.”
He is grateful for Butler Adjunct Art Instructor Jingo de la Rosa, who encouraged Akinseye to get his art out into the world.
“He also taught me to carry a small sketchbook around to just draw down ideas, which became very helpful for this project,” Akinseye says. “And he is an illustrator, so his insight was very helpful.”
On the writing side, Mulzer was grateful to have the opportunity to read her own writing out loud to other students in the MFA in Creative Writing program.
“When you need to read something out loud, all the sudden you are changing the language, or you are changing some of the structure because you are getting tripped up on things,” she explains. “That really helped me. I had already written the story for Music in My Head, but then I had to go back to it and revise. And that’s extra important for children’s books, which are meant to be read out loud.”
When they were almost finished, Mulzer reached out to a children’s book publisher in Indianapolis to ask how she might go about getting the book onto store shelves. They directed her to Wish Publishing, an independent publisher that works mostly with new authors and artists. After providing some guidance for the process of finalizing the book, Wish published Music in My Head in November 2020.
Mulzer says the best review so far has come from her son, who is now 9.
“I gave the finished book to him, thinking that we would sit down and I would read it,” she recalls. “But he immediately said, ‘I can read it to you.’ He started reading it, and he actually gave me edits, because he knew right away: ‘This is me, and this is my dog.’ I loved that it was his little mind all over again. He was super excited. He loved the story, but then he’s also critiquing it, and that’s totally him.”
For Akinseye, the experience helped him learn about how ADHD and similar conditions are typically portrayed. He wants to help children understand that there’s nothing wrong with being themselves.
“I hope this book shows ADHD in a different way,” he says. “A more relatable way.”
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