Reviewed by Melissa Arnold
For the past several weeks, a national conversation about racism and discrimination has reached a fever pitch. Protests are happening from coast to coast, social media is buzzing, and statues are being taken down.
As a musician, teacher and parent, Tara Drouin has always tried to instill young people with good values, among them respect, inclusivity, and celebrating the things that make us different and unique. Several years ago, Drouin’s band iRideSense (pronounced “iridescence”) wrote a song called “One Heart” that shares those messages. Not long after, she published a book for children, also titled One Heart.
Now more than ever, the message of “One Heart” — both on the page and in the fun, upbeat tune — is needed in our world. The book is easy enough for young readers to try alone, and can be used as a lighthearted, positive conversation starter about these important issues. Tara Drouin is also available to lead 45-minute lessons on diversity for students either in-person or virtually. Teachers can hire her via the Nassau County BOCES system.
Are you from Long Island?
When I was very young, I lived in Far Rockaway, and then we moved to Merrick when I was about 12.
Were you a musical child? Do you come from a musical family?
Yes! My mom would play guitar around the house. She was really into Joni Mitchell and a lot of classic rock — The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin — all of those were played at home. I took guitar lessons when I was around 12, but it didn’t really stick in the beginning. My younger brother really took to it, though, and he was writing songs at 16 years old. It wasn’t until I started playing bass that I really found my instrument.
What did you pursue in school, and what did you end up doing for a career?
When I first started college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I got a degree in liberal arts from Nassau County Community College. I was taking a music class, as well as a lot of English and poetry classes.
I worked in the fashion industry for many years, but music was always a serious pursuit. Songwriting came easily to me. I would use music as an outlet for my feelings and expressing the way I live life. It’s my therapy. A lot of the songs I write are the things I need to tell myself.
Tell me a bit about your band, iRideSense.
I’ve been playing in iRideSense since my early 20s — we’ve been together since 1993. I’m now married to the drummer, and my brother is a part of the band as well. When I first started school at Nassau County Community College, I met Rob Viccari, who became our guitar player, and my husband Rich auditioned for us. He was the last piece of the puzzle. Some of our songs ended up being licensed to Nickelodeon, which was really cool. We released a couple albums and got to do a cross-country tour, so it’s been a crazy ride.
You’re also a teacher, correct?
I am. I went back to school to become a teacher when I was in my 30s. I had always thought about teaching and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world with music. The band was moderately successful, but I did want another career, and my husband encouraged me to go back to school. I got a bachelor’s in English and my master’s in education for grades 1 through 6 from Queens College. I’ve been teaching for 12 years now in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
What came first, the idea for the book One Heart or the song?
The song came first. I’ve had a diverse population in all my classrooms my students have been Dominican, Haitian, Asian, Jewish, and from many other backgrounds. I saw a need for children to learn that while, yes, we might all look different and have different experiences, on the inside, we have the same heart. We’re all human.
I wanted to write an upbeat song that would bring people together and share that message of unity. It’s a bit of a departure from our normal pop-rock sound — “One Heart” is more folk-based, and I had my daughter and nephew sing on the chorus. We released the song on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, in 2016.
What inspired you to write this story?
I could always picture images to go along with the lyrics of the song. I really saw it turning into a book.
How did you go about publishing the book?
I self-published. At first I didn’t know that was possible, and I put a lot of time into researching and sending query letters to publishers. I read that the process was competitive. But then a friend said to me, “You know you can self-publish, right?” I had no idea. I ended up going with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where each book is printed on demand instead of in mass quantities. It works really well for me.
Is there a target age group?
I think it would be a good fit for kids in pre-K through 5th grade
Who is the illustrator and how did you find her?
I met a really nice art teacher working in the Bethpage School District named Nancy Noskewicz, and she also loved the idea of the book, so she offered to illustrate it for me and we began to collaborate. She had never illustrated a book before, and it had been a long time since she’d done artwork for herself, outside of the school setting, so she was really excited. I loved the creativity she brought to the illustrations.
Have you gotten feedback on the book since it was written?
Yes, I got some great feedback and sold a bunch of copies. A friend of mine put the book images together with the song track on YouTube, which went over really well, too. I also got to do an interview on The Donna Drake Show.
What message do you hope kids will come away with after reading your book?
This book teaches kids about unity and kindness in a way that’s easy to understand. No one should be judged by the color of their skin, but rather the kind of person that they are. In light of everything that has happened with race relations in America, most recently with George Floyd, I feel a responsibility as a mom, a teacher and a musician to speak out against this systemic racism.
We cannot change the past but we must change our future. Our children need to be taught that acceptance, kindness, unity and love are all important to making this work. Our lives are all intertwined. As the book says, “When voices come together there’s nothing better! Inside everybody’s got One Heart!” I do believe we are all alike more than we are different.
What’s next for you? Have you written any other books?
Before the pandemic started, we were getting ready to go back into the studio to record some new songs with the band. We haven’t put out an album since 2015. We just got the green light to come in whenever we’re ready, so that’s exciting. I also have two children’s book ideas in the works — one is about my parent’s house in the Catskills, called Red Rock Road, and the other is based on a lullaby.
“One Heart” is available to purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To keep up on what’s new with One Heart, follow @1heartofficial on Instagram. The song “One Heart” is available wherever you stream music, and a free download is available at www.iridesense.com.