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The Citizen Recommends: Way Past Mad

With her latest children’s book, local author and film producer Hallee Adelman offers a lesson we can all use: It’s okay to let it all out

With her latest children’s book, local author and film producer Hallee Adelman offers a lesson we can all use: It’s okay to let it all out

Lots of children’s books have dancing bears. Talking fruit. Anthropomorphized trees.

You won’t find any of those in Hallee Adelman’s newest children’s book, Way Past Mad. Instead, you’ll find something far more powerful: deep heart, and an unwavering respect for the depth of children’s emotions.

Philly author and film producer Hallee Adelman
Author Hallee Adelman

That could be because Adelman, a Philly native, is a professional teacher, with a PhD in education. It could be because she’s a mother of two. It could be because of her involvement in a wide array of youth-focused initiatives in her beloved city, like the Franklin Institute and Wissahickon Charter Schools, Our Closet and Simon’s Heart.

But it’s just as possible that Adelman’s genuine empathy for kids stems from the fact that, as you sense within moments of talking to her, Adelman possesses that singular, sought-after gift for just getting people.

And at a time when our kids are continually bombarded with high-tech toys and endless distractions, Adelman focuses on the one thing that never changes in children’s lives: the universality and intensity of their emotions.

“I really just want kids and people to feel that they are not alone. To know that they can connect. To feel that they don’t have to be perfect all the time,” she says. “That really does drive me, whether I’m in a classroom or working on a story, that question of how can I let kids feel that they’re ok? That we make mistakes and we can move on, and that nobody has the exact recipe for how to be.”

“I want kids to feel empowered,” Adelman says. “Kids know how they’re feeling. Parents and adults sometimes brush kids’ feelings aside, and I want kids to know that it’s ok to let their feelings out.”

In Way Past Mad, colorfully illustrated in a palette of oranges and blues by Sandra de la Prada, a little girl named Keya starts her day on the wrong foot, thanks to a brother who messes up her room, feeds the dog her breakfast and ruins her favorite hat. “I was way past mad. The kind of mad that starts and swells and spreads like a rash,” Keya says.

When mom brushes off Keya’s frustration, her feelings escalate—and she ends up taking them out on her unwitting best friend…which sets off a familiar-to-all-of-us cycle of regret, guilt, shame and—ultimately, thankfully—unloading.

Way Past Mad reveals a timeless (but decidedly not preachy) lesson, one that kids and adults need to hear, and embrace: Unloading our feelings makes them more bearable, less shameful and ultimately less scary.

Custom Halo“I want kids to feel empowered,” Adelman says. “Kids know how they’re feeling. Parents and adults sometimes brush kids’ feelings aside, and I want kids to know that it’s ok to let their feelings out.”

In Adelman’s previous book, My Quiet Ship, a little girl who wants to escape the sound of her parents’ fighting takes time to work up the courage to say “I’m scared.” And Adelman wants all kids to know that it’s okay to be scared, and that speaking up about whatever your fears are will make you feel less alone.

“We need to let kids know that it’s alright to share how you’re feeling. You can move on, but also know that you’re not crazy for thinking that something hurts,” she says.

She’ll be reading Way Past Mad this Saturday at noon at Children’s Book World in Haverford, where you can call to pre-order your copy and also order a copy to be donated to kids around the city. Already 320 donation copies have been ordered, and Adelman plans to donate one to match every donated purchase.

Adelman’s next book in the series, Way Past Worried, will debut in September and is already available for pre-order on Amazon; she’s currently writing two more books for the series, to be published in 2021.

“Don’t be afraid that you don’t know everything,” she says. “If you have the confidence that you can find the right people and ask the right questions, then great work can happen.”

Adelman’s gift for storytelling extends beyond books. In 2018, she founded World of HA Productions to develop film, television and theater projects. She is the executive producer of The Social Dilemma, a documentary about the downside of social media, and Us Kids, a documentary about the student activists who rallied together after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

She is also the director and producer of Our American Family, a Philadelphia-based documentary that chronicles one child’s decision to move past the addiction that has plagued her family for years. She and her husband—David Adelman, a Citizen board member—actively support The Greater Philadelphia Film Office, and its longtime executive director Sharon Pinkenson.

Do SomethingNext month, the Adelmans will host a fundraiser in honor of their friend Mike Jackson, a Philly-bred film producer who is a partner with John Legend in Get Lifted Film Co.; the public is invited to join additional festivities at The Greater Philadelphia Film Office Production Party on March 21 at Location 215.

That event, as so much of Adelman’s professional and personal work, comes down to helping make a difference in our city—something she encourages in everyone. “Don’t be afraid that you don’t know everything,” she says. “If you have the confidence that you can find the right people and ask the right questions, then great work can happen.”

In other words, as the fictional Keya teaches us, whether you’re a kid or an adult, it’s time to stop letting fear hold you back. To let yourself be, as Keya says, “The kind of happy that starts and swells and spreads like a smile.”

Header illustration by Sandra de la Prada

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