Out of her shell
Through the writing and publication of “Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift,” the 2011 graduate of Clarence High School is slowly learning to exit the comfortable confines of her shell.
“This story was really meant to be a reflection of my journey with anxiety. I wanted to share it so that I could begin helping people with similar struggles and let them know they’re not alone,” said Parwulski. “Through kindness we’re able to understand one another and understand each other’s journey. I wanted to give a voice to those people.”
Parwulski’s first foray into the world of children’s literature follows the story of Beatrice, a turtle who would rather spend her days inside the cozy sequester of her shell than interact with the strange and often intimidating creatures that inhabit the world around her.
Beatrice insists upon her isolation until a butterfly lands in her rock garden, compelling her to confront her anxieties as the two depart on a journey through the forest. Along the way, the once timid turtle discovers the power of friendship, the importance of acceptance and the knowledge that even seemingly inconsequential good deeds can leave a lasting legacy.
“I’ve always loved children’s literature and have always been mesmerized by the illustrations,” said Parwulski on her decision to dive into the genre. “I kept that love with me, that love for reading, and it transformed into a love for writing.”
Parwulski obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Daemen College before becoming a preschool aide at the Little Red Schoolhouse, located at 5175 Harris Hill Road.
“I feel like the work is a perfect complement to my writing,” she said. “I’ve always loved working with children and mentoring them. They constantly inspire me, so being able to write stories for them is a true joy.”
At the Clarence Board of Education’s May 7 meeting, Parwulski told the audience she would make a donation of “Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift” to the students in each of the kindergarten, first- and second grade classrooms in the district’s four elementary schools, totaling 46 books.
The significance of youth finding literature as a form of escapism is not lost on Parwulski, who credits writing as the cathartic outlet she needed in order to find her voice.
“It can be difficult for me to feel comfortable speaking, but writing is surely my haven,” she said. “I credit it with making me feel comfortable communicating and connecting with others. Writing gave me a way to still feel that I could be a part of this world.”
As they flipped through the pages for the first time, close friends of Parwulski began recognizing similarities between the story of Beatrice and that of its author.
“A lot of her [Beatrice] journey parallels my own. I love to put a personal piece, a part of myself, into my stories. I would say the book is semi-autobiographical,” Parwulski said.
Yet the book contains more than just a few resemblances to Parwulski’s struggle with anxiety and her ability to overcome it. It’s also an homage to her late mother, Celia, and the profound impact that she had on Parwulski’s life and writing.
Celia was quick to gab to her co-workers and anyone else who would listen about her daughter’s latest writing milestones, in addition to being Parwulski’s most steadfast supporter and confidante.
In September 2014, Celia was found unresponsive in her bed. Doctors were unable to revive her and later attributed her sudden death to a heart defect that had gone undetected.
Parwulski and her father continue to be active volunteers for the American Heart Association as they work to raise awareness of heart health, yet Celia’s daughter found a way to honor her in a way that will endure: Celia is the inspiration behind the butterfly in “Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift.”
“She’s the one who helped me feel more comfortable getting out of my shell. I dedicated the book to her because I want to honor her and carry on her legacy through my writing,” said Parwulski.
That helpful push from someone close is the foundation for “Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift,” says Parwulski, in that it’s often a necessary impetus for us to discover the world in all of its sadness and splendor. This, she says, is the message she most wants children to absorb.
“I’d like them to know that they’re not alone, even in moments where you feel like your experience can be very isolating,” she said.
“There are people who love you and support you, and can help you get through the most difficult times through understanding.”