For Ernst, you either like working with children or you don’t, and it has always come easily to him.
“It’s very black and white. You know you don’t appreciate it and you have no patience for it, it’s incredibly frustrating – or you’re a big kid yourself, you don’t mind having fun, you enjoy this interaction with them,” she said. “And I think that’s just the foundation of it. I really like working with children. I love interacting with them. And I think we share a mutual love of play and laughter and also learning.
It has always been part of who Ernst is, both as a child and now at 42 living in Forest
“I love to laugh, I love being a ham and a goofball with them. I love playing with them and I love learning everything in nature,” she said.
As a child, art was her outlet and she would write short stories and add illustrations to accompany them.
In 2017, she wrote a short poem/story called “Dragons Really Do Love Tea”, and it was just a little rhyme on her phone for a while.
She had always wanted to publish her own book when she was younger and didn’t want to look back and wonder why she never did.
Initially, she didn’t even intend to sell the book – she just wanted to write it, illustrate it, and put it all together for herself.
“I just want to have a choice and if I end up with a box of books in the attic that no one has ever read, then so be it,” she said. “But I know I kind of crossed that off my little childhood dream list and that’s how it all started.”
Her books are sold on her website, Amazon and at Givens Books on Lakeside Drive.
From the book, his company Wild Pickle Press was born, which now includes three other books: “Tomboy”, “The Small Gray Goat” and most recently, “Shout No!” which she released in January 2021.
His career took an unexpected turn leading a small grassroots nature group with children aged 3 to 7 in 2018.
Ernst said she was fascinated by insects and snakes and was never bothered by them. So she wanted to teach kids about poisonous snakes through a song after buying her first ukulele.
“I just picked one because I really wanted to learn it. That’s it. And even though I really wasn’t very good at the time, I couldn’t understand how anyone could singing and strumming at the same time and it was impossible,” she said. “I thought it was such a fun little instrument and I could barely put it down.”
She wanted to create a song to help them identify snakes and what to do if they saw a bear.
From those songs came another song, and another, and another — until she had enough to make a 20-song album, which she titled “Imagine, Feel, Wander.”
She now has four albums which can be found on major audio platforms and are played worldwide.
“It all happened organically and unexpectedly, but wonderfully the same way,” Ernst said. “It was a very beautiful and unexpected trip.”
When she looks back on the past few years, she says it’s been surreal. One of her songs is up for an Independent Music Award nomination, she was invited and performed at FloydFest music festival last year and recently won a national songwriting competition with California Strawberries.
“Music is a powerful tool. If it’s catchy, they’ll learn from it,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching through it and also trying to build emotions and using my songs to talk about feelings, using my songs to build confidence to encourage love of nature and inspire imagination.”
It was this thought that inspired his most recent book and song, “Shout No!” – a book teaching children how to react to an awkward or potentially scary situation with strangers or even friends and family members.
She had to be careful when she wrote it. She didn’t want to scare the kids, but she wanted something they could remember and not only understand tricky situations better, but also how kids could react if they recognized such situations.
The song is simple but for Ernst, if just one child is saved from a potentially dangerous situation, it’s worth it.
To ensure that every child has access to it, the song is free to download from their website.
“I’m not the best singer in the world and I’m not the best ukulele player. I never claimed to be those things, but I have the opportunity to have a positive and possibly valuable impact on a child or a family in some way, and not just in America but in different parts of the world,” she said. “And that’s a very rewarding opportunity to offer and I’m trying really not to take it for granted.”
Ernst hopes that everything she shares in the community will bring value, smiles and some education.
“I hope people see what I do as just positive and real and hopefully helpful and also fun,” she said.
Ernst reads her books and plays songs at area libraries, including the Campbell County Library System, where she frequently worked with events and experiences manager Katie Lane.
Lane met Ernst after he hosted a Dragons and Tea party for kids at one of the Campbell County libraries in 2017.
“The fact that she did it all on her own is very powerful for the kids,” Lane said. “And knowing that one of your neighbors in the community was able to get a book published and sell a book and share their incredible art – I want to share these stories of people who live here.”
Ernst donates some of his books to the library so kids can read them right off the shelves, Lane said, which is helpful for low-income families.
“I just think it’s very noble of him to make sure that no matter the situation, children have access to his books whether they pay for them or not,” she said. “And then his music, they’re so much fun to play and sing along to.”
Lane described Ernst as an “extremely lovely human” who cares about nature and people.
“And whether it’s through the books or her photography, she wants to savor every moment, whether it’s protecting the earth or cherishing those family moments. She’s just a quality person in every way” , she said.