A whole month dedicated to financial literacy? Yes. It’s here. It’s happening. And it got us thinking, when is the right time to learn about money? Well, anytime, honestly, but it’s especially important for kids.
Continuing our #tapculture series, we reached out to Cinders McLeod, author and illustrator of the popular Moneybunnies picture books for kids and families. We are so grateful to her for sharing her personal experiences with money, what inspired her to write the books, and what’s next!
1. Do you remember, from your childhood, when you first recognized what money was? Can you describe that time?
When I was growing up, money was anxiety and a secret. You didn’t talk about money. I think I was about eight years old when …
My best friend was from the wealthy side of the tracks. And she and her family were good people, and I’m friends with her still. But I never confided in her my poor cousin image. I was careful what I said lest I give anything away. When my parents split up, I didn’t tell her for a year. Most of my friends lived on the wealthy side of the tracks. And some weren’t as kind.
One day, her mother drove me home after a playdate. I was in the back seat with my friend. When we got near my street, I said turn left here. The mother said, “Don’t you mean turn right?” On the right side of the street was the crescent with mansions. She assumed I lived there. No, I assured her, turn left here. We drove up my street. “Stop here,” I said. Uncomfortable silence. Then my friend whispered, “Your house is really small.”
Other people are better than me because they have mansions. And pools. And chalets. And cottages. And loving parents. Money is what other people have and money isn’t just money. Money is proof of how much you are worth. And my little girl brain concluded I wasn’t worth much.
2. Who inspired you to be an author and illustrator?
Both my parents were creatives, and both inspired me. My dad was a photoengraver and a closet cartoonist. My mother wrote stories, but didn’t believe she could draw, so my siblings and I illustrated. Growing up, I was surrounded by paper, “magic” markers and cartoon books. I thought that was normal. I also thought it was normal to look after myself. My dad worked nights; my mum was a school teacher and taking night school. I had to work out a lot on my own. Unguided, I arrived at painful conclusions like rich people are better. But I discovered, when I was eight, that diary-writing helped. These influences, combined, taught me to use image and text in a myriad of forms.
3. What motivated you to write a children’s book series about money? And why bunnies?
I wanted to help children see that money can be their friend. It can go anywhere with you. I wanted to share the value of seeing money as a friend.
During the 2008 recession, I noticed an influx of articles on how we’re failing our kids by not teaching them about money. That got me thinking about my early, misguided beliefs, which haunted me still. My degree was in Television and Film, not Economics. But a combination of circumstances (freelance, single-mum, self-reliant) made me money-wise. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more I’d have accomplished, how much happier I’d be now, had there been someone, or something, to help me figure it out. And that’s when I knew what I had to do next.
Why bunnies? I started creating the books at Christmastime. I was shopping for gifts at my favourite neighbourhood store, when I saw these cute up-cycled wool bunnies. And the seed was planted in my fertile soil: make the characters money-bunnies, and their currency, carrots. Having carrots as currency aligned with my aim, to focus on big concepts (earn, spend, save, give). And that’s where I believe kids’ financial education goes wrong. It doesn’t help children see the big picture. It doesn’t help them think big. It nickels and dimes. And I wanted to work with a symbolic currency, one that could cross borders, one that wouldn’t date with, say, the end of coins. Also, bunnies are very soft and cute.
4. How would you compare writing and illustrating children’s books to your other artistic projects? What about communicating with children and families is more challenging (or more fun!) than with adults alone?
What comes first? My impulse to observe, create and contribute towards a better world. The idea comes second, the form comes third. If the idea is good, the form will be good. And the form could be anything.
I’ve used music, songs, performance art, film, animation, political cartoons, words and parenting to share my ideas. But, inherent in some ideas, is their form. And the form’s often dependent on what’s available at that time. For example, I took up newspaper cartooning when I was too pregnant to tour with my bass. I took up book publishing when I couldn’t break the woman cartoonist’s glass ceiling. I’m using the historical novel form to tell an adult story about Canada. And I’m using the children’s picture books to tell a children’s story about money. The ideas, forms, and audiences may change, but the impulse remains constant: observe, create and contribute towards a better world.
The biggest challenge to communicating with children? Responsibility. Being constantly aware that every word, every image counts. In books, and in person. I still hold painful memories of things grown-ups said and books that excluded me. When I do readings of my books with kids, I adopt a very Mr. Rogers-style of speaking—quiet, calm, intentional, respectful.
And the biggest challenge to doing a series on money? Respect. Respecting that every family teaches money differently. All I offer is a starting point for discussion, based on my experience as a child and a parent.
Read about her early exposure to Mr. Rogers. Come back when you’re finished!
5. Your resources for parents and teachers are pretty cool. When did you start developing them, and why?
Thank you! My first book mockups looked very different from the final product. The first half was story, the second half, activity. I didn’t know then that story books and activity books were separate houses in publishing. So I focused on the stories. Pre-pandemic, I had posted a couple of sheets. But within days of the pandemic, I realized I could be of service to parents and teachers and the brave new world of homeschooling. I’m currently developing an activity book that expands on these ideas.
6. What, if anything, have you heard from traditional financial institutions (e.g., banks or financial advisors) about your books?
From the very start, I pictured what collaboration with financial institutions could look like. What if a bank gave a free Moneybunnies book with a child’s first bank account? A book would be so much more special and helpful than a plastic piggy bank. The books also make great client gifts. Two banks printed special copies for their clients and their children. And I’m developing webinars for financial institutions to offer their clients—one for parents, one for kids.
7. What’s next for the Moneybunnies?
I have two very exciting Moneybunnies projects on the go: a fifth book with a slightly new twist (stay tuned!) and a line of children’s financial literacy aids for home and school. The books are published by my incredible publisher Nancy Paulsen of Penguin Random House. The aids are companions to the books, and my own project. I’m currently seeking funding to develop them, or as Honey Moneybunny would say, to make my dream come true.
Thank you, Cinders! We really enjoyed getting to know you. In fact, we’re still thinking about the three Ps of children’s rights that you shared with us: provision, protection and participation. Learn more here.
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