Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Today we’re delighted to be hosting Etty Burk, the organizational psychologist whose book Aaron the Different: A Story of Courage, Belonging, and Acceptance recently won a Mom’s Choice Award. Aaron may hail from an imaginary planet, but young readers will certainly be able to relate to this painfully self-conscious 8-year-old misfit. For elementary school children struggling with mental health and self-esteem issues, Aaron the Different helps address the important topic of bullying—and beautifully illustrates how being different can be an asset rather than a stumbling block.
MCA: Etty, it’s terrific to have you with us today. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I call New York home, where my one-of-a-kind family inspires me every day. I appreciate the city’s hustle and bustle and seek tranquility in nature through hiking and kayaking.
MCA: From your writing, you seem deeply committed to inclusion and respect. What sparked this passion?
There’s something magical about walking into a room and feeling welcomed. I’m passionate about ensuring everyone feels included and respected in life and at work. As a business leader and an Organizational Psychologist, I’m involved in projects that create cultures where we feel respected, safe, and valued and make workplaces better for all. It’s what led me down the path to earning my Ph.D. in Psychology and Education from Columbia University—it’s all about ensuring we all feel respected and safe, like we truly belong.
My book, Aaron the Different: A Story of Courage, Belonging, and Acceptance, is my way of helping build a world where everyone’s differences are celebrated daily. It reflects my belief that we can do amazing things if we value each other and work as a team.
MCA: What inspired you to write Aaron The Different?
As someone driven by a desire for social change, I wrote a story encouraging kindness and acceptance, which are essential in building a more empathetic world. The book Aaron the Different was created due to my professional knowledge of psychology and my desire to create an inclusive and non-threatening way of approaching differences. I aimed to create a story that entertains, educates, and helps children and adults understand and stand up against bias.
Writing a children’s book was a deliberate choice, as it is the perfect way to reach young hearts and minds. Teaching children about diversity and inclusion can shape a better future for everyone. The book aims to show children the importance of seeing the world from many viewpoints, valuing their uniqueness and that of others.
It is a call to action, urging us to shift our perceptions and embrace our unique qualities as strengths that can enrich our collective experiences.
MCA: Could you tell us more about your path to becoming a writer?
Absolutely. It was one of those “aha” moments. Seeing the impact of bullying and the sting of bias made me realize that stories can be powerful—they can change hearts. I wanted to craft a story that would seed the values of empathy and inclusion in our children—the future changemakers of our world.
As a parent, I couldn’t overlook the prevalence of bullying and the need for genuine inclusion. Also, in my professional role, I have witnessed biases at play in various organizations. It struck me that by instilling values of tolerance and inclusion in children, we could foster a more inclusive society and workforce in the future. Our children are the architects of tomorrow, and it’s our responsibility to help shape a better future.
Imagine a world where everyone feels accepted and included, where we help those around us feel welcomed as part of the group. Just think of how many lives can improve if we celebrate our differences and not fear them. What an amazing world it would be! We all have the power to make it happen, starting today, no matter who you are or where you live or work.
MCA: Your book, Aaron the Different, sounds like a labor of love. Can you share more about why you think the messages in the book are so important?
The primary audience for my book is children. It encourages them to see the world through different perspectives, to appreciate their uniqueness and that of others, and to find the courage to move forward.
We all have differences and struggles, but we can create a world where everyone can shine and feel accepted. We can create positive change in all areas of our lives by leveraging our differences and strengths. Aaron the Different speaks to anyone who believes in the transformative power of respect and inclusion. It celebrates diversity as a strength and is committed to building environments that celebrate every individual.
This book is a powerful tool for sparking conversations about our differences, using storytelling and education to inspire reflection. With reflective questions and a glossary to deepen understanding, this book is a valuable resource recommended for teachers, parents, and children to facilitate discussions around diversity, mindful acceptance, and belonging. It can inspire readers to embrace inclusivity and respect for individual differences, making it a valuable addition to any library.
MCA: Would you mind giving us a glimpse into the story of Aaron the Different?
The story follows Aaron, an eight-year-old boy from a distant galaxy, who feels out of place because of his differences. A significant event changes his life and shows everyone the importance of inner strength and accepting each other. It’s a tale of self-discovery and social change, set in an imaginative world where overcoming prejudice leads to a whole community learning to embrace diversity.
Edit SiteMy book discusses how we can all be different but still fit together. It’s about ensuring we all feel important and work together to improve our communities. I wrote Aaron’s story because we can do incredible things when we appreciate each other’s differences.
The book is an early chapter book with awesome color illustrations aimed at 4th and 5th graders (8- to 10-year-olds), but it has been read by younger and older readers who have found value in it. The book can also be read to younger children, with many opportunities for discussions and learning moments.
MCA: What key lessons do you want readers of all ages to take from the book?
I hope readers celebrate their own and others’ uniqueness. It’s essential to be brave in accepting ourselves and those around us to create a world where everyone feels they belong. Working together, we can create a cohesive and inclusive society.
The story of Aaron the Different encourages young readers to respect and be open-minded toward their differences and those of others. The character of Aaron and his experience of not being accepted because he is different can resonate with many children who might find themselves or others in similar situations. The book aims to inspire and comfort all young readers to grow up respecting and accepting others for their unique identities.
Imagine living in a world that celebrates all of us for who we are. Now, let’s make it happen!
MCA: Those are such inspiring messages. What kind of feedback have you received from readers?
My readers’ heartfelt responses are a constant source of inspiration. Every message is a treasure! Hearing that Aaron’s story has touched lives, that it’s sparked conversations and brought smiles—that’s the real reward. It’s heartwarming to know this little book is out there, making a tiny ripple in our big world. Knowing that Aaron’s story has made a real difference in people’s lives is humbling and deeply rewarding.
MCA: With such positive feedback, I imagine you have new projects in the works?
Yes! I’ve just started writing another Aaron the Different adventure and am excited to see where it goes! I can’t wait to share it!
MCA: If readers, parents, and educators want to connect with you, how can they do that?
I’d love that. My virtual door is always open to engaging with readers, parents, and educators! It’s super easy to get in touch with me. If you want to discuss book clubs, parent groups, or how to incorporate Aaron’s key messages into your curriculum or want to learn more, you can visit my website at ettyburk.com and drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you! Let’s connect and make a difference together!
MCA: Thanks so much for joining us today, Etty! We wish you all the best with your future writing endeavors!
You can learn more about Etty Burk and her award-winning book, Aaron the Different: A Story of Courage, Belonging, and Acceptance by visiting her MCA Shop pages.