Is My Cup Empty? Review, research and an author interview

is my cup empty collage

Is My Cup Empty? is a heartfelt children’s book about being optimistic, helpful and mindful. What happens if your cup is empty? “Fill it with water, milk or juice that’s chilled. If your Grandma’s lap if empty and she needs love, “climb right up on it to give her kisses and a hug!” Is My Cup Empty? is the first book in the Lil Sherri series and shows that whether a cup, bowl, or a heart is empty, the most important thing is filling it with positive thoughts. I was inspired by Sherri Graves Smiths’ journey about becoming a children’s book author and how her optimism has helped her get through difficult times.

Being optimistic can be difficult for both children and adults. When life throws us challenges, it can be hard to always see the positive side of things. However, when I hear stories such as Sherri’s, I am inspired to be more optimistic and to teach this same optimism to my own children. This idea of optimism prompted me to find a research article on how to implement this optimism with young children.

Fake Dictionary, definition of the word research.

How can we encourage our children to be optimistic? I read an interesting article Teaching Preschoolers to Think Optimistically by Laura Colker (For the Preschool Professional, October 2010) which discusses the idea of optimism in preschoolers and how to encourage them to be more positive. Laura Colker states “Optimism and pessimism are known as explanatory styles: they are different ways of viewing the causes of events in our lives. We can adopt either outlook.” At what age is a child considered to be optimistic or pessimiic?  “According to “Dr. Martin Seligman (a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former president of the American Psychological Association), by age 8, most children have established an explanatory style. A child is either typically optimistic and feels empowered or often pessimistic and feels powerless. “It is [explanatory] style that determines resilience—more than genetics, more than intelligence, more than any other single factor” (Reivich & Shatté 2002).” The next question is, “If my child is pessimistic, can I change that?” According to this article written by Laura Colker, ” explanatory styles can change. Children can learn to think optimistically—even when they have used pessimistic thinking in the past. Once learned, optimistic thinking can make a permanent, positive difference in a child’s life.” How can I begin to get my child to be more optimistic? According to Laura Colker (2010), it is a two step process. Her two step process includes

1. Acknowledge children’s feelings.

2. Challenge their thinking about situations by gently helping them to develop flexible and accurate thinking.

With the suggested strategies, I like to think of various examples that can not only get my mind brainstorming but also the minds of my readers. For example, the other day my daughter was upset because a play date was cancelled. The first thing I did was ask her how to felt about it. After she said she was sad and frustrated, we talked about her view of the situation. The next thing I did was remind her of all of the play dates she had already had with this child and that she can now look forward to a play date in the future.

To learn more about this process and see examples of case studies, access the full article here.

Do you have an older child? I think this strategy can work with a variety of ages past the preschool age up to early elementary.

To follow up this review on optimism, I wanted to share an interview with Sherri Graves Smith, author of Is My Cup Empty? When emailing with Sherri, I found her story powerful and inspiring for both children and adults. She has taken a difficult situation and make positive changes in her life and others around her. To check out her website and purchase her books, click here.


1. What inspired you to write Is My Cup Empty?

My inspiration in writing Is My Cup Empty? stems from my eight-year battle in undergoing treatments for Stage IV colorectal cancer. To provide some background, I was an attorney at The Coca-Cola Company and was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36 in November, 2007. Since that time, I have been undergoing treatments, and my life has changed tremendously.

All of the things that I had worked for in my career vanished. I had barely any savings. I married during my first year of treatment, and my dreams of becoming a mother one day became an impossibility. I felt that my life was empty.

One of my mentors growing up in my small town of Tuscumbia, Alabama was Mr. Harold Floyd. He was a man of great faith and tremendous intelligence. He, too, was going through treatments for cancer, and he was a great source of support in my journey. When he started to decline, I commented to one of his daughters that Mr. Floyd’s faith is so strong that even if his cup were empty, he had the faith in God for the cup to be filled again.

That night, I started praying for Mr. Floyd. After my prayers, I thought about what I had said about him and about what all happened to me. At 2AM, the story just came to me.

It was not only an outlet for me, it is my way of trying to lend a helping hand to children who may be going through their own challenges or may have adversity later in life. It also has been touching to hear from adults who have found the message inspiring.

2. Can you talk about your journey in becoming a children’s book author?

This was very unintentional. First, I LOVE to read. Before my illness, I read a book a week. Now, I read about three or four books a week. Second, my parents instilled a strong sense of being of service to others. As a child, I would do different acts of service with them whether it was putting together Christmas gifts for children and delivering them, visiting the nursing home, making weekly visits to a person who was blind, etc. When I got older, my act of service was to read to children and volunteer at homeless shelters for children and their families or schools in underserved communities.

After I got sick, my manager at The Coca-Cola Company asked me about being a mystery reader at his children’s school. I started doing that, and I think that it did more for me than it did for the children!! It inspired me to want to write books.

I spent my time while infusing at the cancer center or recovering in bed from chemo to write, research, edit, and educate myself. It is a whole new life, and I absolutely love the direction my life has taken in becoming a children’s author.

3. Can you provide some tips for parents that can help their child to feel more positive and compassionate in today’s over-scheduled and busy world?

First, I think that parents have to set the example. I know that it is very hard to juggle so much, but I learned so much by my parents’ example and it is helping me in this cancer battle. Sometimes, my parents would help me clean my closet out to give clothes to those in need. I would help my mother make soup for someone sick, and then, go with my father to deliver it.

Second, I think teaching our children to be appreciative and grateful is important. Gratitude keeps things in perspective. It helps to see the bright side of things. To me, it teaches a sense of contentment and not feeling like the cup is half-empty. I think that starting from a positive place helps one grow to an even better place.

Third, I think that reading is important. One of the great things about reading is that it instills empathy. A child from a small town in the South may find himself having a whole lot in common with a child living in Asia. Books bring out our common humanity.

I used to read a lot of biographies as a child. I still read them now. What I have noticed is that a lot of people who achieved great things in life had to overcome adversity. I learned a lot about perseverance and optimism.

I believe in the 1st Amendment and Freedom of Religion. I am very respectful of others’ beliefs. Personally speaking, my faith in God has helped me to have faith, hope, show compassion and love. My faith feels me with gratitude because I endeavor to count my blessings every day. Religion and faith is very personal. In answering your question, my faith has been, and continues to be, instrumental in my life.

4. I would love to hear about your other children’s books and your future plans for a Lil Sherri series.

I have two other series, in addition to the Lil Sherri series. The first series is entitled “Game Day Rules.” In this series, a mascot takes a child on a game day adventure and teaches manners, civility and good sportsmanship in the context of a game day.

I started with the University of Alabama and Auburn University. I am a graduate of Alabama, and after Auburn one the Iron Bowl game some years ago, an Alabama fan poisoned 100 year-old oak trees on Auburn’s campus. I thought that this was a terrible and violent act. I also thought it set a bad example to children. So, I decided that having mascots teach good sportsmanship on a game day may be a light-hearted approach to set a good example. I have close to 50 schools now from Ohio State and Michigan to North Carolina and Duke. I have the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. There is even a Dallas Mavericks book.

I also have an alphabet and counting mascot series. I have taken school traditions and sports facts and made them rhyme to teach. The University of Texas is the latest school to be included in this series.

I have another Lil Sherri book that will be out this year. It is called Open Your Life to Happiness. It is about gratitude. In my cancer journey, I have lost my ability to eat and had to learn how to eat again. I even lost my sight temporarily due to a brain lesion. I have lost my job, my hair, etc. To get through this, I find something to be grateful for every day. It can be as little as I was able to get out of bed to I am pain-free. The book shows that happiness is all around a person so long as one has an open heart to see it.


Colker, Laura J. “Teaching Preschoolers to Think Optimistically.” TEACHING YOUNG CHILDREN 4.1 (October 2010): n. pag. Teaching Young Children. Web.

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  1. Maureen Schroeder says:

    Thank you for your interview with author and cancer survivor Sherri Graves Smith. She is a true inspiration!

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