Glen Park’s Chandra Ghosh Ippen is a best-selling author whose books parents hope their child will never need to read.
But if they do, they’ll be a huge help.
Take Once I Was Very Very Scared, which has sold over 50,000 copies and been downloaded over 100,000 times. In it, animals share with each other about times they’ve been scared and and things that help them feel safe and calm.
Another of her works is Holdin Pott (2019), about a kitchen pot called Little Pot who keeps in his feelings of sadness and anger after being teased and bullied and You Weren’t With Me (2019) about the sadness, confusion, anger and pain when a parent figure goes away.
Ippen is a long-time expert in child trauma whose books are meant to help children cope with experiences no child should have to go through but too many do.
Her expertise in the area is deep. She is associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco and has practiced for over 20 years with families who have experienced mental health or addiction challenges and the author or co-author of over 20 publications and manuals related to trauma and diversity-informed practice, including Don’t Hit My Mommy (2005). Ippen has worked with over 500 therapists across the globe.
“I work with children impacted from trauma related to natural disasters, as well as children facing anxiety due to parental separation and parental substance abuse,” she told the Glen Park News about her clinical work at San Francisco General Hospital that supports families who have undergone multiple traumatic events.
Her works are not meant for bedtime reading without the imprimatur of parental and professional oversight.
“As a clinician I would not read a book without first receiving parental consent,” she said, about her books.
They’re also a far cry from the familiar children’s canon. Something she’s the first to concede. Their subject matter, word count and use of multiple characters transgress on publishing standards. But reading their reviews online make it clear how perfect they are for kids who need them.
A native San Franciscan, Ippen is a first-generation East Indian/Japanese-American who graduated from Lick Wilmerding High School in 1985 and earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and French from the University of California, Berkeley in 1990. She then received a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Southern California in 1999 and completed pre- and postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California, San Francisco.
The books are a family affair. The illustrations come from her husband, Erich Ippen. Originally from Boston, he grew up watching Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies and has spent 22 years working for Lucas Films, crafting special effects for films such as “Space Jam 2.” He has credits working on the Harry Potter films, as well as “Dr. Doolittle,” a vehicle for Eddie Murphy, and when he’s not illustrating his wife’s books he is a singer, songwriter, music producer and founding member of the local San Francisco band, District 8, that performed at the Glen Park Festival in 2012 and 2019.
The couple met in 1992 at USC, married in 1998 and their son, Raiden, born in 2003, is off to college this year.
The works are for very specific traumas in children’s lives. Once I Was Very, Very Scared (2018) helps kids think about how to breathe as a coping mechanism if ever startled by a barking dog, or how it’s good to talk about things that make you sad, angry or frustrated, or when you worry someone may go away.
It’s available for download on her website, https://piploproductions.com and can be found on Amazon and other online sites.
Ippen’s stories present realistic story threads that seamlessly transition to strategies designed to soothe stress, such as having a character say, “It seems like you’re upset. Let’s think together about what might help you.”
Holdin Pott tells the story of Little Pot, whose “heartbeat quickens and his belly sickens” when he gets sad and angry. The outcome, after consultation with a trusted adult, is that he doesn’t need to scream or blow his top, simply find relief by lifting his lid and letting off steam.
Each Ippen storyboard panel is accompanied by Erich Ippen’s illustrations, several of which picture Little Pot buffered by his protector, Holdin Pott. One is captioned, “In Holdin’s loving embrace Little Pott felt loved and not alone and felt safety and home.”
You Weren’t With Me (2019) tells the story of a little rabbit experiencing sadness, confusion, anger or pain as a result of a difficult custodian separation, then finally finding solace in reunification and reconnection. When the absent adult reappears, Ippen has the grown up tell the troubled bunny, “I want to give you hugs and kisses. I wasn’t with you then, but I am now.”
Then there’s Mama’s Waves (2020) which picks up where You Weren’t With Me, leaves off. This time it’s mental illness, the centrifugal chaos responsible for a gaping chasm. Mama is gone and Ellie is comforted by fiduciary Finn, her uncle, who with avuncular concern tells her, “Your Mama is tossed around in big waves. We all have our wavy days, our highs and lows, but your Mama’s are higher and lower than most and sometimes they carry her farther from people she loves.”
Mama’s Waves won a Spark Award, a prestigious award bestowed by the Society and Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) that honored the book with the 2021 best independent published illustrated children’s book. The award was accompanied by a $1,000 prize.
Ippen hopes Mama’s Waves starts conversations so that young children do not have to keep painful feelings and memories to themselves, that children can come to know that grown-ups inside and outside their families are there to talk during difficult times.
And then there are pies, which have nothing to do with trauma and everything to do with creating community among her colleagues. When Ippen is not in her hospital office she spends a lion’s share of her time in her kitchen where she bakes pies.
“Pie making is a community-building experience,” she said, about making a routine practice to bake pies with colleagues. “You collaborate or it doesn’t work.”
She’s on a mission to bake 1,000 pies and a pie in all 50 states, she told the Glen Park News about her pastry passion. “I’ve baked 500 pies and I am halfway there,” she said.
Traveling to Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Connecticut where she’s trained therapists allows her “to make pies, share pies and eat pies.”
Her Chenery Street home offers fertile grounds for even familial connectivity, as she and her son, Raiden, are floury kitchen mates.
“Glen Park is an absolute wonder for growing fruit,” she said, when she not heading for the Alemany Farmer’s Market to sample its bounty.
Her backyard abounds with three apple trees, blueberry bushes, strawberries (when the snails don’t make a feast of them), and lemon trees, all of which become ingredients in pies she’s donated to schools, teachers and auctions.
“Years ago, I read a book called Humble Pie, she said, about an Anne Dimock non-fiction subtitled Musings on what lies beneath the crust.”
Dimock wrote that pie making has does more than make a tasty dessert.
“I’ve never forgotten that Dimock wrote that baking pies guaranteed one a place in heaven,” said Ippen.
So, Dr. Chandra Ghosh Ippen — when she’s not thinking about another therapy session entry in a patient’s medical history notes or penning a rhyme in her next children’s book — is aproned up, roller pin-ready and envisioning baking her freshest ever lemon meringue, blueberry, or apple pie.
It’ll be her 501st.