I have so many memories from my childhood that make more sense now.
I always walked around squinting because the sun was too bright. Loud noises were physically painful. I struggled with certain strangely textured foods (like hamburger) and strong smells (like coffee). I didn’t like itchy or tight clothing, but I loved velvet and corduroy because I could rub my hands back and forth over them.
I learned to work around some of the things I disliked by developing coping mechanisms like wearing sunglasses, spending most of my childhood barefoot, and asking my parents to leave me home when they went to car races. Even so, I always felt a little different, and comments about how picky I was or what a difficult child I was added to that feeling.
When my own children struggled in school, I took them for testing. As I was filling out paperwork for my children, I realized that so many of the questions around sensory sensitivities applied to me as well. So, with the help of occupational therapists, our family’s Sensory Processing Disorder journey of self-discovery began.
As a writer, I strive to write the books that I want to see in the world—the books I’ve searched for as a parent, as a librarian, or as a teacher of neurodivergent students. Before I wrote Too Much! An Overwhelming Day, a phrase that summed up my childhood came to me: “Too loud! Too bright! Too itchy! Too tight!” One of my first thoughts was, “Oh, nooooooo. This book wants to be written in rhyme.” But that’s what this story needed, so that’s what I did, even though rhyme is challenging for me and I relied heavily on my amazing critique partners’ feedback to polish the story.
If you asked me today if I write in rhyme, I’d probably say no, even though I wrote Too Much! in rhyme and my daughter and I wrote our upcoming book, The Ofrenda That We Built, in rhyme as well. On Too Much’s journey to publication, three editors were interested in this manuscript. They each requested changes, so that meant we had three different rhyming versions of Too Much -- plenty of chances for me to practice my rhyming skills, and I’m still telling you that I don’t write in rhyme, because I hope no other story calls me to do that!
Too Much! starts with an annoying alarm clock (side note: I despise the sound of my own alarm clock, but it works to get me out of bed, so I keep it) and walks us through our main character, Birdy’s, sensory highs and lows. Her sensory challenges keep stacking up until she reaches a point of overwhelm. With her caregiver’s help, she’s able to get back home and to a place that feels comforting to her:
What do I hope child readers will take away from this text?
1. Now I understand… If a reader has never experienced sensory overload, I’m hoping Birdy’s journey will help grow understanding and compassion. Illustrator Angel Chang has done an amazing job of creating art that help all readers “feel” Birdy’s overwhelm.
2. I see me! I hope that kids who are sensorily sensitive will see themselves mirrored in Birdy. Feeling seen and knowing you’re not the only person who is experiencing the world is this way is powerful.
What do I hope caregivers and teachers will take away from this text?
1. I hope adults will give kids more voice and choice. Allow kids a chance to share what their preferences are and honor those choices if possible. If I had been allowed to choose the foods I ate, the clothes I wore, or the activities I went to, I wouldn’t have been considered picky or difficult.
2. I hope adults will give kids grace and space. If a child is having a rough day, we can learn a lot by trying to put ourselves in that child’s shoes and helping other children to do the same. Saying things like, “I think that loud noise was just a little overwhelming for a lot of us,” or “Some of us might not like when others try to hug us, so let’s talk about other ways we can show we care,” can help normalize varying sensory preferences. Creating a calm-down space for kids is important as well—a quiet, safe place for kids to relax and regulate is helpful in homes and schools.
3. I hope adults will look and learn. Watch the young people around you. What seems to bother them? What seems to calm them? How can you best support them? You can find more information about sensory diet in the back matter of my book and an activity guide for teachers and caregivers on my website, www.jolenegutierrez.com.
Jolene Gutiérrez grew up on a farm and now lives with her family and a variety of animals in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. A teacher librarian since 1995, Jolene spends her days sharing children’s books and her nights writing them. She’s a contributor to If I Could Choose a Best Day: Poems of Possibility (Candlewick, 2025) and the author of Unbreakable: A Japanese American Family in an American Incarceration Camp (Abrams Childrens 2025, co-authored with Minoru Tonai), Mamiachi and Me (Abrams/Appleseed, 2024, co-authored with her son Dakota), The Ofrenda That We Built (Chronicle, 2024, co-authored with her daughter Shaian), Too Much! An Overwhelming Day (Abrams/Appleseed, 2023), the Stars of Latin Pop series (Rourke, 2021), Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks (Lerner, 2020), and Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (Clear Fork/Spork 2020). Find her online at www.jolenegutierrez.com or on social media @writerjolene.