Sharing stories about new and challenging situations can help children navigate their own way through them, says Donna David…
As children grow older and acquire more language, it becomes easier for us to determine their needs. Too cold? Here, have this jumper. Hungry? Snack is on its way. You want to go outside? Sure, let’s go! So far, so good.
But when a child experiences something for the very first time, they often don’t have the vocabulary to explore their worries and concerns. They might not even recognise their feelings of anxiety, stress or sadness.
Perhaps they are about to start a new school, maybe their parents are separating or a much-loved relative has died.
As adults, many of us struggle to talk about our feelings in these ‘big moments’, even with our years of experience and extensive vocabulary. How do we even begin to have these conversations with pre-schoolers?
We know that children love story time. It could come in the form of a one-on-one reading session or it could be a big group activity. Our children feel safe, secure and valued when we all gather to share a book.
It’s the perfect time to share a ‘big moment’ - and when you start looking, you realise there is a picture book out there for every one of them…
Daddy’s Rainbow (Lucy Rowland & Becky Cameron)
Erin’s daddy sees the beauty in everything. We need the darkness of night to see the sparkling stars, he tells Erin, and weeds are flowers too if we look at them in the right way. Even a rainy day is the perfect opportunity to pull on our wellies and get outside!
Erin’s daddy sees joy and happiness and colour everywhere he looks, but what happens why daddy isn’t there anymore? How can Erin see colour when the greyest of days has arrived?
The topic of loss and grief is tackled with care and sensitivity in ‘Daddy’s Rainbow’. Becky Cameron’s illustrations are gentle and tender and love radiates off the page.
With the concluding message that after the rain comes the rainbow, this picture book is the perfect, gentle conversation-opener when someone special dies.
My Daddy’s Going Away (Christopher MacGregor & Emma Yarlett)
With over 100,000 military children in the UK, most educational settings will be teaching at least a handful of them. Military children face their own unique challenges: regular school moves, living away from their extended families and parents who work away for extended periods of time.
This last one can lead to a difficult and anxious time for children of any age. But, for a three or four year old, a six-month posting can feel like a lifetime.
My Daddy’s Going Away offers practical solutions to being apart from their parents; children can write letters, send videos, make phone calls and utilise a countdown calendar until their loved one returns.
With the main characters depicted as aliens and with Daddy working away in a non-specific job, this book can equally be used outside of military families.
Ruby’s Worry (Tom Percival)
Everything is good in Ruby’s world. She’s perfectly happy being herself. Until, one day, a worry turns up. To begin with, it’s not a huge worry; Ruby barely even notices it. But as time goes on, it gets bigger and bigger.
No one else can see Ruby’s worry, so Ruby pretends that it’s not there. When the worry turns up on the bus or at school, though, Ruby can’t ignore it anymore. It’s all she can think about.
When Ruby spots a friend on the park bench and he has a worry too, Ruby feels less alone. She sits with him and asks him what’s wrong. When Ruby and her friend share their worries, something amazing happens – their worries start to shrink!
The beauty of this picture book is that the worry is never specified, so it is relevant to every child. Every worry is different (Ruby’s is yellow, her friend’s is blue) but they are all important.
With the characters in colour and the background in grey, Tom Percival centres the child at the heart of this picture book. No matter how big or how small your worry is, the best thing you can do is to share it with someone else.
The Littlest Yak – The New Arrival (Lu Fraser & Kate Hindley)
After the huge success of The Littlest Yak, Fraser and Hindley are back with their equally adorable follow-up. As established in book one, Gertie’s place in the herd is by her mum’s side but, in book two, there’s a new arrival on the way.
Gertie is excited and thrilled at the thought of being a big sister and she’s determined to show Gran her big-sister sharing skills. That is, until she realises that she might have to share Mum’s love too.
How is Mum going to have space in her heart for two little yaklings? Where will Gertie find a place in the herd if it’s not right by Mum’s side?
Through beautiful, skipping rhyme and bold yet touching illustrations, The New Arrival will ease even the most apprehensive of pre-schoolers expecting a new sibling.
Everything Changes (Clare Helen Welsh & Asa Gilland)
Sometimes parents separate and this can often be the biggest and most challenging time in a pre-schooler’s life. A child might feel like they are to blame. They might feel sad, scared, alone or angry. In fact, they will probably feel all of these and more.
Everything Changes is a beautiful, lyrical text which uses swirling leaves, crashing waves and stormy weather as a metaphor for the emotions a young child might feel.
Asa Giland’s stunning illustrations take us through the changing seasons and remind us that, in life, sometimes everything changes.
The takeaway message, and the one that we want all children to know, is that even when their whole world is turned upside down, parents’ separation is never the child’s fault and their parents will love them forever.
Barbara Throws A Wobbler (Nadia Shireen)
Barbara is in a very bad mood. Her sock is annoying, she doesn’t like one particular pea and now, to top it all off, she’s dropped her ice-cream. The anger is so intense that there is only one thing for it – she throws a ‘wobbler’.
So spectacular is the wobbler, that a huge, red jelly-like character appears. The wobbler is personified and it won’t leave Barbara alone! Talking doesn’t help, she definitely doesn’t want a cuddle and even the offer of shared ice-cream doesn’t appeal.
Barbara Throws A Wobbler teaches us that, sometimes, when a really bad mood follows us around, we just have to let it sit with us for a while. But, when we’re ready, we can get it rid of it, just like Barbara does. The power is in her hands all the time.
The wobbler will (of course) be back, but that’s OK. Take some time out, go for a walk, practise your breathing and, when you’re ready, squish that wobbler down and send it away.
Donna David is a children’s author and freelance writer.