Aug. 30, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
For Anastasia Difino, an English language arts and social studies teacher at P.S. 120 in Flushing, it has always been her dream to write a book and have it published. On Aug. 20, Difino’s dream became a reality when she celebrated the launch of her first self-published children’s book, “On the Bright Side,” with illustrations by Taylor Barron.
Difino was joined by children, parents, friends and family at the Beauty Bar Salon Spa in Flushing for an afternoon of snacks, creativity and a read aloud of “On the Bright Side,” followed by a guiding art activity that encouraged an optimistic lens. Guests also had a chance to chat with Difino and have their book signed with a personal message.
Exploring themes of optimism and community, “On the Bright Side” takes readers on an emotionally uplifting journey through a playful mix of narrative rhyme and bright illustrations.
“I wanted to develop this character that kind of went through his day and saw things that our kids might see while walking to school or taking the bus and how it can be turned into something positive,” Difino said. “It has mixed themes of having an optimistic mindset, but also collaboration and working together. I might not be able to make a big difference, but you and me working together might be able to make a big difference.”
With so much negativity surrounding her, Difino said she wanted to work on something that could be included in classrooms, households and bedtime stories that would encourage someone to see the good in things.
Difino began working on the book in December of 2022. Through zoom calls and emails, she collaborated with Barron, who is an artist from Seattle, Washington, and now lives in Paris. Barron’s clients have included Dreamworks, Pamelyn Rocoo/The Collective Studio and others.
“She’s a young, motivated up and coming illustrator who has done children’s books. My vision became her vision and she was very quick to draw what I was thinking,” Difino said.
It took about seven to eight months for the book to be published, and while there were bumps along the way, Difino said it was a great feeling to have the hard cover book in her hands.
After publishing her first book, Difino said she looks forward to writing more children’s books in the future relating to the theme of positivity.
“It sparks conversations that we all should be having with our kids about thinking positively and trying to see the good in our world, be the good and share the good in our world. The overwhelming support has touched my heart,” Difino said. “The most rewarding part is that I have two boys, almost five and seven years old, and them turning the pages in a book that mommy wrote, that’s the best feeling.”
In 2021, Difino was recognized as one of the five grand prize winners of the FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, which recognizes and celebrates extraordinary public school teachers who inspire learning through creativity, passion and commitment. As an elementary school teacher, Difino strives to inspire young children and to find and be their best selves, not only academically, but socially and emotionally.