Posted on: 30/04/2021
An important ‘knowing’ in the mind of the very young child is the realisation that the world is bigger than they themselves are. Helping children to develop not just self-awareness but also empathy, the ability to self-regulate and the resilience to cope with difficult times are all emotional skills that careful choices in literature can support with. But so too can a text that reminds us all that we sometimes simply need a bit of perspective and to realise that there are means and ways of dealing with upsets and disappointments and more complex feelings and experiences such as grief. This month’s selection of new children’s books very much reflects this theme of emotional awareness by helping children and young people observe the experiences of others – in both human and creature form. In fact, research suggests that protagonists who are animals are sometimes easier for children to identify with than humans. In Matthew Hodson’s At This Very Moment, perspective and our place in the world is explored. In Barbara Throws a Wobbler by Nadia Shireen, Barbara (as the title would suggest) loses her cool and then learns how to regain it. Jess Butterworth’s poignant and bold new novel for older children – Into the Volcano – explores fear, grief and – ultimately – healing. Finally, trio Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Laura Mucha together with illustrator Victoria Jane Wheeler bring us an anthology of insightful and very real poems in Being Me: Poems About Thoughts, Worries and Feelings.
This gentle picture book, which is just as perfect for when a quiet moment is needed during the day as it is for a bedtime story, has a timeless quality to it. Artist and poet Hodson has an extensive client list ranging from Converse to Fortnum & Mason and as well as having won several awards and creating many successful exhibitions, teaches illustration at Leeds Arts University. Reminiscent of Robert Browning’s Song from Pippa Passes (a verse drama which has far more complex themes than the innocent ones in this most famous of verses from the work), there is every sense of all being right with the world: we meet a mouse who, At this very moment… is waking up in the morning sun. There’s a huge whale singing whale song, deep beneath the sea. And as you sit and read this book somewhere there’s a swarm of bees. Rubbing pollen on their knees, there’s a swarm of bees. But not only are animals featured; so too is a mountain, quite deserted and just ‘being’. There are potatoes too, underground growing in the dirt. And in readiness for the final page, As you sit and read this book there is singing in the jungle. Chirps and honks and knocks and hoots as the light fades low. We turn the page to see the sweetest of illustrations that depicts a mother bear with her cub and the words, And as you sit and read this book somewhere there’s a baby. There are babies everywhere drifting off to sleep. A lullaby of a book that would be perfect for young children at bedtime or a good message to give young children around how to self-soothe.
There’s no gentle preamble to the ‘problem’ in this hilarious yet important new picture book from Nadia Shireen: Barbara is in a very bad mood. And it would seem that several small incidents have led Barbara to lose all sense of perspective: a sock problem; …at lunchtime there had been a strange pea. Barbara (who is, incidentally, a cat) is properly glum so when her ice-cream topples off her cone, poor Barbara throws a GREAT BIG wobbler. And it is at this point that the Wobbler takes on its own shape – visible to others and not just Barbara: The Wobbler hovered in the air. Gloopy and heavy, like an angry jelly. (which is surely one of the most perfect similes there could be…) Quite literally consumed and swamped by the Wobbler, Barbara struggles to stay in control then decides she needs ‘out’. But how? Whatever the furious, and by now weary mog does, the Wobbler copies. So Barbara resorts to shouting the rudest of insults in an attempt to get her tormentor to stop: Stinky bumhead…A funny and insightful book that would be perfect for children prone to sulks or those moments where moods spiral out of control. It’d also be a great read to support with PSHCE, not least because there’s a handy guide at the end of the book to other bad moods, including fig. 2: The Tizzy which is Usually noticed around bedtime or when a precious item has been lost. and fig. 4: The Huff When something is definitely not your fault but everyone is saying that it’s your fault.
When Butterworth made her debut with Himalayan-set Running on the Roof of the World, we loved the window to the world her gripping yet tender narrative gave us. Often grisly, a tale of life in Chinese-militia occupied Tibet and the lengths a child goes to in order to secure help and achieve justice for her people, the overarching theme is one of hope. Several publications later, in keeping with all of her other narratives and their strong links with the natural world and its emotional healing properties, comes Into the Volcano. Initially, this is told as two stories – that of Seb, American school pupil whose best friend Clay is caught up in a robbery gone wrong whilst the children are on a school-trip and Vivi – Londoner and aspiring actress who loses her stateside grandmother in the same incident. Then the two young people meet en route to the memorial service for the killed and injured. Alive but still in hospital having sustained severe gun-shot wounds is Clay, and Seb thinks that if he can just make it to the special rainbow pool in the national park, then he can wish for his friend’s recovery. But there are obstacles in the way, not least the panic attacks that Seb is experiencing as a result of the trauma of being able to hear the gunshots as they were fired, knowing his friend was in harm’s way. Will the two new friends, united in their fear and grief and desire to heal, make it to the wilderness? And if they do, will making a wish make the difference they so desire? With accurate depictions of panic attacks and insight into trauma recovery, this is a powerful read but one that is exceptionally well-judged. Fantastic for children in upper key stage 2.
Sometimes, less is more and in this collection, a range of feelings and emotions are covered in a way that we feel will engage children and also give pause for thought. There are poems on children needing ‘downtime’ as in Back to Me after a busy day at school. In If Only, the intense confusion and grief (and guilt) experienced when a loved one dies is explored. The message is clear throughout the collection: talk about feelings; name them and give ourselves permission to feel what we need to feel. But the poem that is utterly heart-breaking yet still an important inclusion is named, Michael. The eponymous subject appears very lucky: he doesn't get told off for falling asleep in class, yet the children are chided for laughing; cook gives him free lunches; he seems to receive more stickers and certificates than anyone else… yet beyond what seems to be a charmed existence from a peer’s viewpoint, the subject of a child experiencing poverty and possibly neglect, possibly caring/earning responsibilities is broached, with the potential to engender conversation around a child who is likely to feel ‘othered’ and need some care and consideration by his peers. With emotive subjects throughout (as well as some lighter matter), this would be such a useful anthology to have in class to spark discussion and raise awareness of the lived experiences of others as well as support children’s development of emotional literacy and empathy. Perfect for children throughout key stage 2.
Posted in: Literature Review