Photo credit: Dawn Bowery
Mom to celebrity actress/singer Dove Cameron, Bonnie Wallace is the true definition of a supermom–not to mention an incredible author, podcaster, and entrepreneur. Bonnie recently launched her new app/phonics based book series for kids, We Can Books. We Can Books is Bonnie’s way of sharing a cherished part of her family history with the world. It’s an incredibly special and valuable learning tool for kids that combines familiar images and simple key words to help them learn to read. We sat down with Bonnie to chat about her experience raising two incredible and successful children, parenting, and all things We Can Books!
You are a mom to two beautiful and successful adult children, Actress Dove Cameron and celebrity voice trainer Claire Hosterman. How is parenting adult children different from parenting children under 18, besides the obvious everyday care that comes with having children under your roof?
It’s an exercise in learning how and when to be hands-off. Young adults aren’t served when you do too much for them, or when you try to protect them from everything. The painful truth is, you can’t protect your kids from the world, you can only try to give them the tools to walk through it with as much grace as possible, and to make good choices. Then to help them find ways to get back up again when something difficult happens. I wish I could wrap my arms around my girls and protect them from every pain-! But I recognize that I won’t be right there every moment of their lives, and so I try to give them strategies for managing difficult situations themselves. Specifically, I focus on helping them reframe their experiences, and keeping a sense of perspective. On the flip side, it’s also a real joy to watch them grow into themselves.
Photo courtesy of Bonnie Wallace’s Instagram
How do you continue to create cherished memories and continue family traditions with two very busy children?
That’s been a challenge! With our extended family still in the Seattle area, and Dove’s work often taking her far from our home base in LA, we try to be flexible and not get too attached to needing to have things be the same every year. What really matters is being together, whether that means we all fly to NY because Dove is doing a project there and can’t come home, or celebrating the holidays early or late so we can all be together. This year the girls and I are celebrating Christmas early so I can fly to the UK to be with my husband and his family, who haven’t all been together since the pandemic started almost three years ago. A few times we’ve celebrated Christmas several weeks late, because that’s when we were able to all be in the same place. I find that staying clear about the main thing—which is that we love each other and WANT to be together– and not sweating the details—is the secret to happiness around the holidays.
What advice would you have for moms who are about to transition from parenting children in their home to seeing them enter adulthood, and go off to college?
Basic life skills like cooking, banking, and laundry etc. are important of course, but also think about what kind of self-talk you’d like them to engage in when you’re not there, and model that. What do you want the voice inside their head to say to them in your absence? There’s a wonderful classic book by Carol Dweck called Mindset that I think is really helpful in that regard.
But equally true is how we need to prepare ourselves for that massive transition. It can be challenging for a mom whose days have been literally structured—for 18+ years—by what it takes to care for and raise another human being. When that changes, it’s easy to feel a sense of identity crisis. We aren’t the same people we were before we had children. We’re deeper and bigger and may have no idea who we are outside of that role. If we have more than one child, the span of time from the first child to the last one leaving the nest can be most of our adult lives! I was 24 when my daughter Claire was born, and 49 when Dove turned 18 and moved into her own place. A lot of life happens between those years! It’s been a real process for me to discover who I want to be in the world since then. If you’re intentional—and lucky—it can be a time of Renaissance.
Photo courtesy of We Can Books
You recently launched We Can Books which stems from a beautiful family legacy started by your father. Was it an emotional experience finally getting able to share a piece of your family history with the world?
Yes! I could never have dreamed that my father’s powerful insight—combining family photos with the proven science of phonics—could be made available for parents to create literally in the palm of your hand! When my dad made the first book for Claire—Claire Can— 30 years ago, it was a true labor of love, with weeks of cutting and pasting and photocopying from the family albums. Today, with the We Can Books app, you can either upload photos from your phone that relate to a key phonics word on each page—or make a game out of staging the photos—or just go with our beautiful, preloaded photos, and make an heirloom quality hardback book that your child will love learning to read. The combination of familiar images with the word sets creates an emotional connection that keeps a child engaged and makes them want to open the books again and again.
We Can Books is a series of three personalized books that lead children through a progression of related phonics words. By the time they can make their way through all three books, they are well on their way to independent reading. While We Can Books uses an app to create its one-of-a-kind photo phonics books, the end product is an old-school hardback book that children can hold in their hands. It’s the best of both worlds: technology and tradition in the service of education. I love knowing that my father’s gift of love for his grandchildren will contribute to the lives of so many families. And I love seeing how moved he is that his wonderful idea is helping to make the world a better place.
What were some of the challenges you faced starting We Can Books, and how did you overcome them?
So many challenges! I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with great partners, which has made all the difference. Our UK-based app developer is brilliant. We had a long, challenging road finding the right white label printing partner who could deliver the quality books we wanted. We went through four different ones before finding the perfect fit, and each time the app had to be tweaked for each printer’s needs. Along the way, we thought we were ready to launch with one, just to have them pull out at the last minute. Finally, the printer we wanted all along developed the capacity to work with us. This challenge added most of a year to our development timeline, which added to costs, and lost us momentum before the holiday season hit, which has been frustrating. Of course, since We Can Books is app-based, there have been technology challenges as well. But we finally have all the right pieces in place, which is gratifying.
All along, I think the secret to overcoming these challenges has been keeping an eye on the “why” of what we are doing. I believe with all my heart in the importance of teaching children to read, and I know that the We Can Books approach works. Kids love it.
What makes We Can Books such a vital learning tool for young children?
I think it’s the emotional connection that they feel with the books, as well as the intuitive way the images and the words relate. When children see images of themselves and their world—for example, a photo of themselves in a hat, or with their pet cat, on the cat/hat/mat/fat/rat/bat page, they are deeply, naturally engaged. They’re excited. And that emotional engagement helps them to make the connection between the sounds and the letters, which is so crucial to learning how to read. The key word that relates to the image—say, “CAT” or “HAT”—is phonetically related to the other words on the page, so it’s an easy, intuitive leap for the child to go from the key word to the rest of the word set. And then they’re actually starting to read!
The power of association, particularly for children, has always been a vital tool for learning. We Can Books uniquely leverages this insight, using photos uploaded from your phone. The end product is a tactile, analog antidote to the digital overload faced by children today.
Photo courtesy of We Can Books
Can you walk us through the process of setting up a personalized We Can Book?
Yes! It’s fun and easy. First you simply download the app, which you can do either on the App Store or the Google Play Store. We ask for your name and email address to create your account, so that we can save your book for you, and ask you to confirm your email so we know it’s correct. Then the app itself walks you through the steps!
- First, choose which of the three We Can Books you want to make. If your child is just ready to start reading, we recommend beginning with Volume 1.
- Enter the name of your child and a fun photo of them for the cover, then sign the dedication page.
- We start by giving you a set of words for each page.
- As you move through each page, you choose a picture from your photo gallery on your phone or take a new one that matches one of the words in that set. No worries if you can’t find a photo or take one to match, we have a great image for each page you can use. The search function in your gallery can be a great tool here! It can be a fun project to make the book together with your child.
- When you’re happy with your image, drag and drop the relevant word into the best place near the image.
- Repeat what you’ve just done for the remaining pages in the book to complete it.
- When you’re done making your book, upload a photo of you and your child for the back cover. Review the book, and then order it!
10 % of the annual profits from We Can Books will go to support Children’s Literacy Programs. What can you tell us about this program?
We know that not every family is able to create original one-of-a-kind books to help their child learn how to read. In keeping with our mission to support the gift of reading for as many young people as possible, We Can Books is committed to donating 10% of our annual profits to global literacy programs. The three nonprofit programs we are currently targeting are the World Literacy Foundation, Reading is Fundamental, and Room to Read. They are fantastic organizations, and I encourage everyone to check them out.