QUINCY -- A Quincy author hopes her works help local students understand their feelings and the feelings of others.
Tracy Schlepphorst, author of "Eden and Her Happy," recently published her second children's book, "Henry and His Manners." The books distill complex concepts, such as overcoming grief and understanding one's emotional outlook, into a format easily understood by children.
"I created what I call emotion bellies," Schlepphorst said. "The idea was to have a character that has visible emotions on the inside, so that, as she would go through her day, you would see how her emotions would shift."
In the emotion bellies, happy, sad, frustrated, angry, surprised and silly feelings are always jockeying to be front and center. Whatever emotion the character is experiencing in the story becomes the focal point of the character's attire.
"The final message in the book is that your happy can never leave you," Schlepphorst said. "It just gets buried underneath your other emotions."
Schlepphorst was compelled to write her Emotion Belly Books while grieving the death of her brother. She sees her work as the books she wishes would have been available when she was a child.
"After the death of my brother, I started reading a lot about happiness," Schlepphorst said. "My dad passed away when I was 6. I've had a lot of loss, and I realize the importance of taking care of your own happiness."
While Eden -- a character Schlepphorst based loosely on her own perception of herself as a child -- deals with grief in the second book, Schlepphorst's new character, Henry, sorts through the emotional turmoil that comes with acting out.
"I realize all the emotions you go through in childhood, through your teenage years and then on into adulthood," Schlepphorst said. "It's just a different way to think about managing your emotions."
When she isn't writing, Schlepphorst reads her books to classrooms across the region several times a month. Her desire to promote self-awareness to the students, she said, stems from her time as a teacher and a guidance counselor.
"Part of the curriculum is social-emotional learning," Schlepphorst said. "People are realizing the importance of learning about your emotions at a young age."
Schlepphorst developed a plush doll for the Manners character in "Henry and His Manners," which she uses as a visual, tactile tool while speaking to classes.
"I ask the kids a lot, 'Is anybody really bad?' " Schlepphorst said. "I want them to understand nobody is ever bad. They just make bad choices. Once you get that label of bad, then it's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
While these questions may appear overtly existential, Schlepphorst said the students understand the message.
"We think that they're not listening or paying attention, but they really are," she said. "You'd be amazed. Kids love to talk about their emotions. They love to talk about how they feel."
In developing "Henry and His Manners," Schlepphorst enlisted the help of Charlie Martin, also a Quincy resident, to illustrate her work. Martin also will illustrate Schlepphorst's upcoming third book, "Eden and Her Joy."
" 'Eden and Her Joy' goes back to that grief again," Schlepphorst said. "Eden (and Her Happy)" was kind of an adult perspective of grief. I'm kind of backing it up years to when I lost my dad, and I really am telling the story of the actual events as they happened for me and how I felt."
Schlepphorst's books are available at the Salty Sun, the County Market store at 48th and Broadway, Kirlin's Hallmark in the Quincy Mall and at emotionbellybooks.com. She will be signing books at the Salty Sun, 937 Maine, from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday.