Posted March 23, 2022

Temple alumna writes children’s book to kick-start a conversation about mental health

Mishel Williams wrote Little Z and Firefly: A Journey to Finding Light and Love with the intent of giving both parents and children tools to cope with mental health.

After dealing with a sexual assault in 2017 and entered what she referred to as “a really dark place,” adjunct instructor in the College of Education and Human Development Mishel Williams, EDU ’09, did what she knew best: She turned her attention to her creative side, something that had always helped her deal with stress and anxiety even as a child herself.

In 2018 she started writing Little Z and Firefly: A Journey to Finding Light and Love, a children’s book aimed at kick-starting a conversation and providing usable tools surrounding mental health. 

Once the pandemic ravaged the world, Williams realized that it was time to release her book, ultimately self-publishing on Dec. 9, 2021.

“I really want it to be a starting place for parents to approach talking and teaching their kids about mental health, to arm them with tools that they’re going to be able to use for a lifestyle for, you know, their entire life,” Williams said.

The book follows a young character named Little Z who is experiencing depression, referred to as “the dark place” in the book. Little Z makes a wish to get out of the dark place and the audience is introduced to Firefly, a character who is full of life and determined to pull Little Z into the light. 

Throughout the story both characters learn valuable lessons about how to approach getting out of that dark place. The book gives children and parents seven wellness tools to follow, including talking it out, healthy diet and exercise, mindfulness, creating order and joy, writing it out, and mirror work. 

Williams recently published a workbook on Feb. 9 that goes hand-in-hand with Little Z and Firefly. The workbook is a hands-on guide children can use when they experience their own feelings of depression or anxiety; the same tools they learned from Little Z and Firefly. 

When Williams herself experienced depression following her assault, she found she had her very own Firefly. That Firefly happened to be her aunt, who introduced her to some of the tools she wrote about like mirror work, which is the practice of looking at oneself in the mirror and reciting a positive affirmation.

“She was a huge influence in my healing process,” Williams said. “So in essence, she was my Firefly at the time, and I was Little Z.”

In 2018, Williams experienced what it was like to also be the role of the Firefly. She temporarily took in one of her students for a couple of months because the student wasn’t safe at home. 

While caring for the student until she was placed in a proper care facility, Williams taught her the tools she had learned.

“So I was her Firefly, trying to help her out of that dark place,” Williams said. “It became a beautiful journey of folks supporting one another; a real full circle moment.”

The character Little Z was named as a tribute to the student Williams cared for over those few months, she said. 

The character Firefly is meant to symbolize that even in the darkest of places, light still exists, Williams added.

After teaching previously at Temple in fall of 2017, Williams returned in fall 2021 to teach again. She currently teaches Special Education Assessments and Effective Practices for Students with High Incidence Disabilities.

“It feels good to come back and now take everything I’ve learned over the past 13ish years and share it with new students and new budding teachers, that’s been a really cool experience,” Williams said.

Williams’ main goals are to create a full-fledged curriculum based on her workbook and eventually to turn Little Z and Firefly into a children’s mental health app.

“In this digital age kids are born and they already know how to use the iPhone, which is crazy, but yeah that’s the big goal, to turn it into a mental health app,” Williams said.

To find out more about the book, go to or follow @littlez_firefly on Instagram. The book is currently available through Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes and Noble’s online stores.

-Matthew Aquino