Alanna Zabel, author toy inventor, and founder of Az I Am, wants to make coping tools available to as many kids as possible. With her new mask-wearing kangaroo plush toy, “Dr. Bounce” and its accompanying book, Bounce Back, she hopes to help them deal with their fears.
In the era of COVID-19, the world can be a scary place for kids. They may struggle to comprehend the virus, miss playing with their friends, or be fearful of what’s next for their families. When children have these worries and no way to cope with them, their frustration and confusion can manifest itself through symptoms of anxiety, sadness, and even trouble sleeping.
However with the proper resources and coping skills, it’s possible for many children to overcome their worries and spend more time just being kids.
In the world of Bounce Back, medical marsupials take the mainstage. The book stars Dr. Rooby Bounce, a frontline medical worker who happens to be a kangaroo, and her son Josey, who has a lot of worries about the pandemic.
In her experience outside of AZIAM yoga, Alanna Zabel has created children’s yoga books including the AZIAM girls series.
We spoke with Alanna to find out what motivated her to create the world of Dr. Bounce, and how the toy will encourage kids to focus on the positive.
Hi Alanna! What was your inspiration for creating Dr. Bounce?
Alanna Zabel: I have watched children struggling with the COVID pandemic and lockdowns. They feel that something was taken from them. They are struggling with anxiety. They are afraid.
My motivation was to create a character as a source of inspiration for kids to know that through challenges they will grow stronger and bounce back from adversity!
A lot of your projects are focused on children. What kind of skills and knowledge do you think children should be learning when it comes to health and wellness?
AZ: Funny enough, I was laughed at 25 years ago by much of my yoga community when I began writing children’s yoga books. A very prominent teacher chuckled, “Children can’t comprehend yoga, Alanna. It’s a waste of time.” Then, ten years later, after he had children of his own, he also wrote a children’s yoga book. (These kids books can help your child learn about kindness.)
I am a firm believer that children are more connected to truth than adults. The latter have been molded to fit in and follow the limiting rules of our world. Planting seeds of consciousness and kindness into the powerful and pure potential of a child is one of the most effective means of making the world a better place for us all.
I believe that children should be practicing inclusivity to minimize the bully culture that pervades most communities in our world. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned living in the land of Hollywood is that anyone can look a part. Anyone can put on makeup and a costume and play a role in order to acquire status, wealth and fame. Yet, very few can be comfortable without all of those accessories, simply as they are.
Only when we accept ourselves in an unattached state can we learn to recognize and accept that same source in others. If we can teach this to children early, there is no doubt in my mind that it will greatly make a positive impact on humanity.
You have an extensive background in Yoga and dance. How has that influenced your perspective on what it means to be kind?
AZ: To me, Yoga is about truth. The practice of Yoga also includes a concept called ahimsa – which means “to do no harm”. Yogis greet others and close our practices with the notion of “Namaste”: to see our own light within others, beyond the shells of humanity, the reactions of ego, and the influence of past action.
Can we greet each person with fresh and truthful eyes, recognizing soul over status or conditioning? Yet, how do we defend against those who are harming others? Kindness isn’t always rainbows and butterflies; it also includes the ability to stand up for what is right. Because deep down, we are defending an innate belief that all beings deserve justice and kindness.
Thankfully, in the last few years, kindness has become a trend. This is a great and needed trend to spread! However, the most powerful and sincere acts of kindness are often displayed in silence, when no one is watching, when it’s not “cool” or there are no accolades to be achieved by such actions. Otherwise, we’re contributing to the same imbalanced paradigm we claim to be against. When we can live from a space of sincere respect for all life, kindness is a natural result.
Why do you think it’s important to have access to mentally positive toys for kids, particularly now?
AZ: Ten years ago I secured the trademark GEN Z GIRLZ. I chose to manufacture my dolls and toys because no toy company cared to hear about toys for kids tied to positive messages. Those making decisions were instructed to support media related projects tied into film and music releases. After I successfully launched The World’s First Yoga Doll™ at Toy Fair, the industry changed. It was now acceptable for toy companies to focus on more positive psychology.
I have always had my eye on Generation Z, and I believe that this generation is primed and prepared to make the necessary changes that our planet needs. Through my work, I have seen firsthand how my toys, books, and programs make a great impact on positive child development.
I work to match fun play patterns with deeper, positive messages so that children are literally practicing these healthier states of being while having fun!
You have also created a kids book that is a complement to Dr. Bounce. Tell us more about that!
AZ: Bounce Back is a story around the kangaroo character, Dr. Bounce, and her family. Her husband, Boomer, is an outback firefighter and her son, Josey, is a blossoming hip hop artist and DJ.
We watch as Josey has to not only deal with the pandemic related lockdown of not going to school or seeing his friends, but also the fear that his ER doctor mother (Dr. Bounce) may get sick while treating others inflicted with the COVID-19 virus.
The story is a light-hearted, yet emotional journey as we watch Josey grow stronger and more compassionate. By the end of the story, when the community is joyously reunited, Josey shares the first song that he wrote during the lockdown, encouraging others to keep their heads up, and Bounce Back.