Most TikTokkers want to go viral, join a content house, and sell some merch. But 37-year-old Emmaline Carroll Southwell had different plans. The Melbourne, Australia native, who has spent lockdown homeschooling her three children and making art murals with them on Instagram, may have just accomplished a first for TikTok: landing a book deal via the app. While popular creators like Charli D’Amelio and Avanni Gregg have their own forthcoming books thanks to their overall status as internet stars, Southwell’s deal sprang from a single TikTok video of hers that caught the attention of Affirm Press, an independent publishing company based in Melbourne.

“If you look or sound different, trans or gay, I love and respect you every single day,” Southwell’s four-year-old son Levi reads in an August 31 video about their “Family Mission Statement.” “I speak up for what’s right, and help those when they need. I follow my instincts, they’re the path that I lead."

The charming verses encourage love, acceptance, and kindness, both to others and to ourselves. Over four million people have watched the video, and a little over a week after she posted it, Southwell shared the news that the poem would be turned into a children’s book titled Our Family Pledge. It was a whirlwind 10 days for Southwell, especially when it feels like the rest of life has come to a standstill. Our Family Pledge is expected to be published in November 2021, but that’s just the beginning of Southwell’s writing plans.

What kinds of videos do you normally make on TikTok? 

As an acting graduate from the [Victorian College of the Arts] I initially downloaded TikTok to pass the time and do lip-sync videos, as well as post videos of my large scale floor murals that I do with the kids. That transitioned into what we refer to as the #asklevi series in which people send in questions for my four-year-old son to answer, like “How do I know if I’m in love”’ or “Should I quit my job.”’ Like most kids his age, Levi has a certain knack for getting to the heart of topics like these and responding in such an honest, unfiltered way. Another question was “What is Levi’s favourite quote?"—and thus our Family Mission Statement became a viral TikTok video.

How did you feel when the poem went viral?

My reaction was shock followed by pride. I felt so honored that people were resonating with it, and wanted to make it their own. It was also personally reassuring as a parent, to have people let me know that they thought I was doing a good job as a mum. I think we as parents need to hear that more often, especially now. I live in Melbourne and I’ve spent the majority of the last 6 months (like so many others) in a lockdown, with three children, where I’ve also had to become their school and kindergarten teacher. The demands of this year have been challenging to say the least, and at times I have felt as though there is so much multitasking required that nothing gets done to a satisfactory level. So to receive so much support in response to our Family Mission Statement was very touching and came at a moment when perhaps I needed it the most.  

 Why do you think it went viral?

I think because it touches on important universal themes, and they’re formulated in such a simplistic way that children can understand and say them. I think it’s reassuring for a lot of people that many of us are trying to raise little humans that are kind, loving, and tolerant. The current world climate has probably contributed too; politically and racially etc. 2020 has been a difficult year for so many and for so many reasons, perhaps this video offers a little comfort?  

How did it wind up turning into a book deal?

Two days after I posted the video I was approached by Melbourne publisher Affirm Press. I think their ethos of “Influence by delight” resonates with the message of this poem. 

Is writing something you've always been interested in?

Not until recently. I never thought of myself as a “writer,” but I have however always considered myself a creative being. The reason for writing the Mission Statement was to have a piece of text that my children (and myself) could continue to come back to, so as to remind ourselves of what we think is most important in life, as well as reaffirm that we are all loved and there’s no space for discrimination. 

Do you plan to write more after this book?

Definitely! I have already started. 

If other people on TikTok are interested in writing a book, do you have any tips or suggestions for them?

The words I wrote came from the heart (as cliché as that sounds), so just write what you’re passionate about, what interests you, what you love. When you do that, magic can happen.