Ingrid Laguna: ‘I truly believe in the power of one person to make change.’

by |September 7, 2021
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Ingrid Laguna is a writer and a teacher. She lives in Melbourne. Ingrid has written four books, including Songbird, Sunflower and Bailey Finch Takes a Stand.

Today, Ingrid Laguna is on the blog to tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Bailey Finch. Read on …

Ingrid Laguna

Ingrid Laguna (Photo by Daisy Noyes).

It took a decade of my child pleading, slipping persuasive essay-style notes under my door and crying herself to sleep before I agreed to getting a dog. I did not love dogs. I have never loved dogs. I tolerated them. But I finally agreed, and we brought home an eight-week-old lab cross kelpie. He was affectionate and chipper and cute: black and pretty, with brown brindle sprinkled through his eyebrows and on his paws. And I loved him. I stopped to pat other people’s dogs after that and asked after their breeds. I saw them through my daughter’s eyes, and I think I might be a dog lover now.

We took Tuko down to the creek every day. He swam and leapt from rock to rock. He raced up the grassy bank and bolted after sticks. Mia scrambled up trees, calling out from frighteningly high branches.

‘Come down!’ I called to her. ‘You’ll fall!’ But she only climbed higher.

The characters of Bailey Finch and her dog, Sheba, were inspired by my dog-loving, tree-climbing daughter and her dog, Tuko. Mia seeks out Tuko when she is still groggy with sleep each morning. He lies on her bed beside her while she does remote learning in lockdown. She hugs him when she’s feeling bleak or hopeful, frightened or relieved. She kisses his face over and over and makes up songs about him. She gives him nicknames, dresses him in bandanas and tucks flowers into his collar. As I write, she is in his dog bed with him.

In my experience as a teacher and mother, and through my author visits to schools, I’m aware of the prevalence of anxiety in children, and it is heartbreaking. If you’re anxious, your self-confidence is low and your sense of self can be shattered.

It was all too easy for me to imagine Mia’s devastation if something bad happened to Tuko, especially if it happened on her watch. What if it happened to a kid who was already struggling? I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a gutsy kid whose sense of self had taken a beating, a character who was brave by nature but who had lost her way and felt powerless and alone.

In Bailey Finch Takes a Stand, after the loss of her mother a year earlier, nothing Bailey does can garner her grieving dad’s attention.

‘You all right, Bailey?’ said her dad.
Bailey breathed out. She wasn’t all right. She scrunched the bandana she had folded ready to blindfold her dad for the big surprise. Then she broke off a piece of the flat pavlova and tossed it to Sheba. She dropped the rest in the compost bin with a thud.
I’m useless, she thought. ‘I’m going out,’ she said.

I wanted to find out how Bailey could make her way back to herself if Sheba, her best friend and constant companion, fell critically ill. I wanted to find a way for her to rebuild her self-confidence, to find the drive to stick up for what she believed. How could I give this character the agency to feel empowered and the courage to use it?

I have a teaching background and I engage with kids at author visits to schools. Kids have opinions and ideas and their brains are firing fast, all the time. But to have a voice, they need agency. Real, actual agency that they can live and breathe and stand proud about. To access that agency, they need to be free from anxiety and self-criticism.

An important theme in the book is environmental activism. The truth is, I love the city. When my friend tries to convince me to move to Macedon by sending me forest and bird footage, I want to tell her images of a thriving dance floor with live music, or a café with booths and mood lighting would be more likely to spark my interest.

It wasn’t a planned decision for Bailey to meet a kid (Israel) who was home-schooled and loved nature and knew about the endangered growling grass frog or the aquatic macroinvertebrates. I just had to follow Bailey and Israel and I had to do research and I learnt a lot. I learnt how rubbish gets into creeks (through stormwater drains) and how that’s actually the council’s responsibility. I didn’t plan for Bailey to become an environmental activist. But when she realised it was broken glass beneath the murky water surface that cut Sheba’s throat and that other animals were hurt by similar pollution, I had no choice but to follow her desire to take action to make the creek safe.

When Mia was in grade four, she and a friend raised five hundred dollars for Greyhound Rescue selling homemade cupcakes and biscuits and plants potted into jars at stalls. Kids need to know they can make a difference. They need to know they do have agency, if only they believe in themselves enough to take a stand.

The consequences of climate change such as extreme weather events are the new normal for kids. Raging fires and devastating floods and heat waves make all too frequent news headlines. And ominous warnings for what the future looks like must be bewildering for young people. I wanted to empower a kid to make a difference in a way that was real and achievable, through the local environment, which for Bailey is a creek, but for other kids could be local parkland or nearby bushland. Because I truly believe in the power of one person to make change. Kids can be wildly enthusiastic and passionate about their beliefs. I hope that young readers of Bailey Finch Takes a Stand are reminded that change is possible. You just have to take a stand.

Bailey Finch Takes a Stand by Ingrid Laguna (Text Publishing) is out now.

Bailey Finch Takes a Stand`by Ingrid Laguna

Bailey Finch Takes a Stand`

by Ingrid Laguna

Bailey's mum had always said that being by the creek with Bailey and her dad was as good as it gets. She had shown Bailey sap glistening on tree trunks. They had crouched together to nudge a beetle onto a leaf. They had sat on the creek's edge with their bare feet in the water.

It's one year since Bailey's mum died. And her dad doesn't seem to care much about anything. But Bailey still spends afternoons by the creek with her dog, Sheba. Until Sheba gets sick from something she must have swallowed while swimming in the creek. And Bailey notices all the rubbish polluting the waterway...

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