Carnegie Mellon University
August 02, 2023

INI Alumna Inês Oliveira (MS18) Publishes Her First Children’s Book, Calvin and the Sugar Apples

By Evan Lybrand

INI Communications Team

Everyone’s journey after graduation is unique and INI students are well equipped with skills and experience that can be applied anywhere. Inês Oliveira (’08, MSIN) has drawn from her experience in a surprising way. After spending some time in the tech industry, Inês decided to write a children’s book to impart some valuable life lessons about life and loss. With her first book about to be published, Inês took some time to share her journey and filled us in on how her time at CMU and the INI inspired her to pursue writing.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for sharing your story with us.

Thank you, Evan and the INI, for having me. I do miss Dena and the INI community.

Could you share with us what you’re doing now?

I currently work as a freelance writer in the tech industry. As I invest in my career as an author, I am dedicating more time to creative writing.

Where are you living right now?

I live in Aveiro, a beautiful city on the Portuguese coastline south of Porto.

Could you share with us a little bit about your new book?

Calvin And The Sugar Apples by The Collective Book Studio will be out by the end of August, but is currently available for pre-order. The book taps into important life lessons about friendship, grief and talking through feelings.

Calvin is a twenty-one-year-old chinchilla and has always been there for ten-year-old Amelia whenever she needed to talk about her problems—but he is no longer in his cage, and her parents say he’s in a “better place.” Everything feels wrong without Calvin. Who does Amelia talk to about her disappointments at school? Who does she talk to about missing Calvin? And just when Amelia thinks she’s alone, a new student, Iris, arrives. Amelia learns that expressing oneself can happen in different ways, but it always starts with talking it out.calvin_picture.jpg

We’ve received wonderful feedback about the book. Publishers Weekly's recent review says it “brings Portugal’s setting to life and portrays Amelia’s grief with realism."

Vanessa Balleza, a Venezuelan author and illustrator of children’s books, illustrated the book.

Calvin And The Sugar Apples is for children ages 7 to 10. But it’s also for librarians, teachers, educators and parents. It’s for everyone who enjoys reading various genres, but speaks to elementary age children looking for heartfelt stories with depth and a relatable voice, and stories about solid friendship and family themes that teach something about life.

 What inspired the book?

My inspiration was a real-life event. The chinchilla in the book is our chinchilla, Calvin. Calvin lived for 21 years, and despite his long life, we weren’t expecting him to leave us. It made me think about how we take family for granted when no human or animal will live forever. Our children miss Calvin the most. But our son opened up after a few weeks, as he couldn’t stop crying about losing his pet friend. It took time, and it took our help. We learned from the process that different children (and people) grieve differently for various reasons.

We expect our children to learn from us but we stay open-minded to learn from them too. We as parents have a lot to learn.

Did anything about your experience at the INI contribute to you wanting to write a book?

An episode at the INI that caused me to reactivate and recognize my love for writing was when I wrote a short essay and won the Silver scholarship for Grace Hopper Conference.

It took me a few more years to embrace writing as a career, but every recognition sets our way. It’s kind of the same as raising a child. You don’t work to change the mindset but plant the seeds for them to find their way on their terms. INI worked like that for me.

How did your CMU degree influence your career path?

I wouldn’t say my CMU degree influenced my career, but my CMU course choices certainly did.

After graduating, I was sure I wanted to work in innovation management. CMU professor Erica Fuchs inspired me. I had to wait two years before accomplishing this goal. I finally started on a team to explore and apply innovation-related topics. We fueled innovation within a telecommunications company in Portugal. By doing so, I researched and learned about user-centered methodologies and design processes.

The work in the innovation field led to a nomination to lead on a Product Design and User Experience (UX) team. One of the skills the team needed to improve was UX writing capabilities. By creating a product persona, we wanted it to have a voice besides its image. It’s an important part of the personality. Unfortunately, there was no education available in the Portuguese market for such skills. I decided to teach myself.

It was one of the triggers for my writing path. If for no other reason, CMU inspired me to embrace new fields, change my career, and add new skills. It challenged me to challenge myself.

What did you learn at CMU that you still apply today?

I learned a lot from my CMU experience. Besides the course work, I learned the power of community. I learned the importance of keeping strong links between universities and companies. And I learned how studying different fields and keeping an open mind adds to our skills. CMU gave me the resources to route my path.

How has your experience at CMU made a difference in your life?

How could my experience at CMU not make a difference in my life? You don’t make it easy, but you sure make it memorable.

From everything I learned at CMU, I mostly learned about myself. I’m capable of overcoming any obstacle when I set my mind to it. I believe everybody can, and I try to pass this message along to my children. I love studying and learning, and CMU provided the opportunity to awaken that within myself after a couple of years in the work field. Finally, I am the only person to set my path and surround myself with the ones that add value and to whom I add value.