The emotional lives of children can be as complicated as those of adults. They worry and fret, experience loss, and have big, big questions. Naturally, they turn to adults to help, but it can be challenging for adults to know how to help children understand their emotions or to answer those tough questions. Sometimes, it can be hard simply to know how to start the conversation. Children’s books offer a way to ease into talking about these topics by providing a story around which to base the conversations. After sharing a book with a child, the natural next thing to do is to ask them what they thought of the story. This opens the door to talking about not only the story but the child’s own emotions about the subject.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela thinks her name is too long. But when her father tells where each part of her name came from, Alma comes to see how her name tells a story. Sofia was her grandmother who loved reading and flowers, just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who had dreams of traveling around the world, just like Alma. Jose was her grandfather who liked to create art, just like Alma. And "Alma" is all hers. Her father tells her that no one in her family has ever been called "Alma;" it is up to her to create the story of her life. A sweet way to start a conversation with a child about the story of their name.
Perfect by Max Amato: Eraser is very proud of the pristine white pages of the book and is determined to keep them that way. This becomes problematic when a pencil appears, with a clear goal of undermining and frustrating eraser's desire for perfection. After working furiously to erase all of pencil’s marks, eraser is exhausted and frustrated. Rather than continue the futile goal of perfection, eraser adopts a glass half full attitude and, with a change of mindset, begins seeing pencil’s graphite marks as opportunities to create art. A humorous entry point to talk with a child about unrealistic expectations, anxiety, and the importance of flexibility.
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies: Evan's best friend is his dog. They go for rides in the car, share ice cream cones, go on hikes, and play outside. Their favorite thing to do together is to work in Evan's garden, where everything grows lush and green. When Evan's dog dies, he is filled with sadness. He doesn't want to do any of the things he used to enjoy and being in the garden, which he used to love, now fills him with anger. Very gradually, Evan begins to again take interest in the garden, renews his friendships, and is clearly looking forward to the future. Dealing with emotions can be difficult for children, and this story does a wonderful job of showing that loss is hard, feeling strong emotions is normal, and that, eventually, things get better.
Tiger Vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri: Tiger has a monster under the bed. It’s not a scary monster, though. It is a helpful monster. Tiger’s monster plays games and then stays up all night to scare away Tiger’s nightmares. But after years of protecting Tiger, one night a nightmare proves too powerful for Monster. Tiger wakes up scared and confused and starts losing faith in Monster. Monster is also scared and confused and doesn’t understand what is going on. Soon, Tiger realizes it may be her turn to stand up to the nightmares and, in doing so, realizes they aren’t real. Both Tetri’s story and illustrations are creative in portraying nightmares as they may appear to children, and the story offers a way to talk about coping strategies.
Darcie Caswell is Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
This column was first published in The Free Lance-Star newspaper and is reprinted here with their permission.