News and Interviews

Lana Button's New Picture Book Helps Kids Cope with a Common Classroom Anxiety

New environments can be intimidating at any age, but all the changes that come with going to school as a kid can be especially tough. In Raj's Rule (Owlkids Books, illustrated by Hatem Aly) picture book author and early childhood educator Lana Button addresses a common childhood anxiety that is rarely addressed - the bathroom. For a lot of kids, the idea of "going" anywhere but home is totally overwhelming. 

Enter Raj, the sweet, funny protagonist of Raj's Rule, whose titular rule is that he never, ever uses the school bathroom. It means uncomfortable days and missing out on lots of fun activities. When his rule is challenged, Raj finds help to overcome his anxiety and have a lot more fun at school. Empathetic, light-hearted, and charming, Button's approach offers a great way to talk to kids about not only one common fear, but a range of anxieties. 

We're excited to welcome her to Open Book today to talk about Raj's Rule as part of our Kids Club interview series. She tells us about teaching kids that "choices put you in charge", how she works to overcome that internal, negative voice during the writing process, and the importance of occasionally getting a "virtual hug" from your writing community.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Lana Button:

My new book is called Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School) (Owlkids Books), illustrated by Hatem Aly. It is a super fun picture book that starts out like this; “My name is Raj and I have a rule. I never use the bathroom at school.” How does Raj manage? Easy peasy! He’s created a whole list of no-bathroom tips that might make things uncomfortable, but gets him through his day- with no bathroom trips. But an unplanned sneeze derails Raj and his rules. This book was lots of fun to write. I wrote it for the many children who deal with this anxiety to varying degrees throughout their school day. As an Early Childhood Educator I know that this is a very common anxiety for children.


Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?


In writing this story I wanted to poke fun at an issue that causes a lot of children anxiety, so that we can safely look at it without sounding preachy. With a tone that I hope elicits some giggles, I hoped that children would see that they are not alone in this I hate-using-a-public-bathroom situation, and most importantly, that facing fears frees you. I hope the story can be entertaining but also be inspiring and helpful to children in their personal growth, self-control, and independence.


Did the book look the same in the end as your originally envisioned it when you started working, or did it change through the writing process?


The beauty of picture books is that they are a collaboration. I absolutely love the process of working together with several people to mold a story idea into a picture book. This story began as Rumi’s Rules for the Bathroom at School. I had imagined the story with a young girl as the main character. My terrific editor Debbie Rogosin and I decided, about three quarters of the way through the editing process, to turn the story to feature a boy as the main character. All of my other picture book stories feature female characters. This issue affects both boys and girls, and I felt the change fit with this child’s quietly determined personality. And then the amazing Hatem Aly brings the story to life with his fantastic illustrations.

I hadn’t imagined the story with speech bubbles, which came about from the design team at Owlkids Books and I absolutely love that aspect of the book.


Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?


Although I was not organized enough to create specific tips for myself, I can definitely relate to Raj. I was that child who only wanted to use the bathroom at home. And I was really challenged because my parents took my brother and I camping, in the woods, for up to two weeks at a time! I spent so much of that time thinking of the bathroom situation (and feeling very uncomfortable) that it affected my ability to enjoy myself. Children can be incredibly strong and determined to control things, and sometimes that can be in ways that are not always the healthiest. It takes a certain amount of resilience to do something you’d rather not do, even when it’s in your best interest. I definitely wanted to show my young audience that it is worth it! You will ultimately be much happier if you can overcome your disdain for doing something, if it frees you up and allows you to have a happier, healthier day. Making that choice puts you in charge.


How do you cope with setbacks or tough points during the writing process? Do you have any strategies that are your go-to responses to difficult points in the process?


The toughest point in the writing process, for me, is the self-doubt I feel when trying to get the first draft of a story ironed out. I usually start with a story spark that gets me excited. But as I try to get it down on paper, often it falls apart, and I just can’t ‘tell it right’. In order to push through to successfully getting a first draft complete I need to push past the voice in my head that needles at me saying, “This isn’t good enough. You should stop.”

There are times when the story idea does stop here, but when I’m successful is when I’m able to drown out that negative voice in my head with visualizations of a completed story; one that will be read out loud to a group of children. I see myself reading the book, where the page turns will be, and imagine the children’s reactions to it. This fuels my persistence and can push me to keep going. In an industry that is full of rejection you have to force yourself to be your own cheerleader.  


How would you describe the writing community in Canada in terms of authors writing for young people? What strengths and weaknesses do you observe within the community?


The writing community in Canada is incredibly inviting and supportive. We support each other in our wins and our losses, through social media, in writing groups and with meetings, workshops and conferences through the amazing CANSCAIP organization. I don’t think I would have been published without this support. With social media we are able to show support for each other’s new books, and can also give a supportive ‘virtual hug’ when someone is having a rough day. It’s definitely a positive supportive community and I find this support incredibly encouraging, which fuels my desire to continue creating stories.


Lana Button has a background in early childhood education and is the author of several picture books. Lana’s books are often used to help children overcome anxiety and boost self-esteem. She and her husband live in Burlington, Ontario and have three grown daughters, a doting dog, and a spoiled cat.

Buy the Book

Raj's Rule

Raj has one rule: he never uses the bathroom at school. It’s just not the same as the one at home. All day, he avoids bathroom trips. Easy enough, since he lives by these tips: Don’t linger at the sink. Stay away from anyone who makes you laugh. Watch out for distractions, especially schoolwork. And sit still: no running, jumping, cartwheels, or sneezing. Until one day—achoo!—Raj has to break his own rule.
After he faces his fear and uses the bathroom at school, Raj feels different. He doesn’t have to rush! He can try new things, laugh, explore … even enjoy his work. He can stay awhile and play. Raj discovers things are better if you just go when you need to.
Told in speech bubbles with bright, lively art showing a diverse group of kids, this is a riotous rhyming read-aloud with an empathetic take on facing a common fear.