"She's got a great left hook," the actress and author says about her daughter Kaavia James. The goal is to teach her "to identify her feelings and use her words."
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Throwing shade has never been this adorable, or inspiring. Gabrielle Union-Wade and her husband Dwyane Wade are teaming up again for their second children's picture book Shady Baby Feels, the follow up to last year's bestselling Shady Baby, out tomorrow. The title comes from the Wades' own Shady Baby, three-year-old Kaavia James, who got the nickname after she started making quirky faces and throwing toddler shade at others. Her facial expressions get lots of love online: Kaavia has almost two million followers on her Instagram account, where her parents post her shadiest moments, as well as heartwarming family memories.  

In Shady Baby Feels, Shady Baby and her family, vibrantly illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker, are having a fabulous day baking strawberry cupcakes. But an adventure in the kitchen brings on a rollercoaster of emotions for Shady: happiness, sadness, bravery and boredom. Now, she must figure out how to recognize and deal with her new emotions in a healthy way, and her exploration can inspire readers to do the same.

Union spoke to EW about the inspiration behind the book, her writing process with Dwayne (hint: it's similar to their marriage which Union says has "a lot of collaboration, cooperation and compromise"), and why she says it's so important to teach children to express their emotions from an early age. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Shady Baby is inspired by your daughter, Kaavia James and her nickname, Shady Baby. What inspired you to write this specific story Shady Baby Feels?

GABRIELLE UNION: In a nutshell, her tantrums inspired it. The fact that we just kept saying, use your words, use your words, use your words. And it was just screaming, biting, kicking. Turns out she's got a great left hook. But [it's about] her understanding how to identify what she's feeling so she can communicate to us what she's feeling versus just these displays of her frustration and rage. Use your words: Are you scared? Are you tired? Are you bored? Are you frustrated? Just trying to help her understand what she is actually feeling so she can share with adults, so we can know how to help her. I never thought I would be the person who would cry with my child through a tantrum, but I cry all the time. Because it's the most helpless feeling there is, that there's something wrong with your kid. You have no idea how to help or what specifically it is. So this book is for both of us. I know that there's a lot of parents and kids going through this who need all of the help that they can get.

What is different or new about this Shady Baby story versus your first picture book, Shady Baby?

This is for slightly younger children. Shady Baby was more a, if you will, more action-adventure, day-in-the-life of Shady Baby and how she problem solves, how she uses her words and how collectively, if everyone works together, there can be harmony. Whether that be on a playground or in your home. This is really more for younger toddlers who are just now learning who they are and that they have big feelings. This book is just to give those additional tools as they are learning language and identifying emotions.

Tell me about your writing and collaboration process with your husband, Dwyane Wade, what was that like?

Kind of like our marriage. There are certain things that he leads on and certain things I lead on and certain things that we walk side by side and we muddle our way through because neither one of us has a clue. It's a lot of collaboration, cooperation and compromise. I'm not much of a big baker. But that was one of the things, it's an homage to his grandma. He learned his way around the kitchen and baking through his grandmother and older female relatives. And that's where he learned his voice. The book is centered around the family baking and all of the emotions that can come with that.

Is baking something you all like to do as a family?

No, we like to eat baked goods together. The story is more of a nod to his history, and his relationship with his grandmother who passed a couple of years ago.

Do you have any advice for parents who are navigating their child's big emotions for the first time?

Yes, it's always interesting and funny as parents because we're like, be articulate, tell what you're feeling, but we don't actually do that ourselves. So my advice would be to get in touch with your own emotions first. Do you lash out when you're frustrated? Do you tend to go quiet when you're overwhelmed? We as adults are learning, sometimes a little later than we'd like, how to get in touch with our own emotions first. Then we are better equipped to lead our children. So many of us have been stifled, growing up and through adulthood, we don't feel like we're entitled to have big emotions or any emotions at all. So we can start to identify what are we really trying to say, what are we really feeling? I know how I'm acting out but let's get to the root of what I'm actually feeling. So we can be a little bit more articulate in coming from an organic place, a sympathetic place when we're teaching our children these valuable lessons.

You've spoken about "shifting the shade" with your previous book and encouraging kids to be leaders and use their voices. How are those sentiments reflected in this book?

Well, it starts young, right? So many of our children are going into daycare and preschool. They're physically out of our care and our kids need to be armed with as much language and communication skills to be able to identify their basic needs and feelings. It's important that we arm our young children with that knowledge and especially our young black, brown and indigenous children, because they're up against so much starting out as babies. There's already preconceived notions about their level of intelligence, their ability to feel pain or ability to have empathy, and it starts as babies.

ShadyBaby

What do you hope parents and kids take away from this book?

That we all have big emotions and we are all entitled to have those emotions and that our pain and our joy and our fears, they are all unique to us. And you have every right to express yourself as uniquely and as articulately as you can.

What do you see next for Shady Baby? Is there another story on the horizon?

Yes, there are more adventures coming. We're always planning the next Shady Baby adventure and how we can get Shady Baby into more homes. You know Luda, Ludacris, or as Kaavia calls him Uncle Luca Cris, with Karma's World we're all building out a world based on our love of our daughters. Knowing that we can share our journeys and our adventures with the world and teach some pretty big life lessons, and we have some great mentors and some great friends to follow behind. So we're looking forward to the next Shady Baby adventure, which should be coming soon.

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