Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry by Kitty Black and Jess Rose

Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry

Kitty Black (author) and Jess Rose (illustrator)
Affirm Press: 2021
ISBN: 9781922419729
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Max is worried about maths and Worry, his stressed-out meerkat self, is so agitated that Max has to step in and help him out.

Max and Worry has just become one of my favourite picture books for kids dealing with anxiety. It is a clever and funny story that contains some practical advice but more importantly presents a heart-warming and healthy way of viewing anxiety.  By making anxiety an external and extremely cute meerkat that Max feels able to help, Kitty Black and Jess Rose encourage readers to understand the importance of listening to and talking to their anxiety rather than simply trying to get rid of it. The meerkat’s dialogue is hysterically hyperbolic and the dramatic poses and expressions it adopts create a humour all of their own; you genuinely want to help this Worry not surpress it. When Max comforts his Worry and helps him with practical tasks like asking for help, breathing and noticing how other kids make mistakes, you are rooting for Max and his Worry. When the meerkat disappears toward the end of the story, he is replaced by another calmer, more confident creature suggesting the rewards of caring for one’s emotions, whatever they might be. This healthy approach to anxiety is a gift to parents and kids alike.

The artwork for Max and Worry uses a limited palette skilfully. There is a base grey contrasted with bright green, purple and orange. The grey is particularly dominant in the classroom scenes (rather than at home) and was, for this reader, reminiscent of that stomach-churning tunnel vision you can feel when stressed. This made the presentation of anxiety feel particularly authentic, especially when combined with the insightful text. The contrasting grey, green, orange and purple help highlight the central characters, Max and Worry, and the way their responses to stress relate to each other. Different coloured fonts will also help caregivers distinguish between Max and Worry’s dialogue when reading aloud.  

Max and Worry is a genuinely funny story that will entertain young readers while providing caregivers with lots of cues for discussion about anxiety and some hints about practical ways to address it. Don’t forget to read the author’s blurb at the end of the story which contains some sage advice for approaching anxiety and using the book with young readers.

Frizzle and Me by Ellie Royce and Andrew McLean

Frizzle and Me

Ellie Royce (author) and Andrew McLean (Illustrator)
Ford St: 2021
ISBN: 9781925804744
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

As one child’s blended rainbow family grows and grows, the roles that make everyone important for that child stay the same.

Frizzle and Me is a heart-warming, humorous story that balances its emphasis on change and stability perfectly. It is told in the first person by the child protagonist; as the family grows year by year the child unsurprisingly seeks reassurance and at every turn is met with positivity and love. This process of seeking and receiving comfort creates a familiar rhythmic refrain that means the story’s emphasis on reassurance is right at its core in the very words as you speak them, and your child anticipates them. The artworks also show the development of the family members’ roles over time which creates a subtle sense of change not only in the family make-up but also how each adult relates to the child. These layers of change and stability mean that this story always feels authentic even though the adult relationships may seem idyllic to some readers.

The artworks are a treat in many different ways. They are full of colour, action, and affection with spreads that explore the whole family’s interaction as well as the way the child relates to specific adults. The artworks also allow kids the opportunity to follow the exploits of favourite toys and furry members of the family not mentioned in the text. These extra details are sure to delight curious readers, adding humour, heart and interest.

Frizzle and Me is a beautiful story for any family wanting to emphasise connection and explore what changes and what stays the same in a family filled with love.

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch

Brian Lies

Harper Collins: 2018

ISBN: 9780062671271

Age: 4+

Reviewed Viv Young

Evan (a fox) and his pet dog enjoy music, adventures, and working in their prize-winning garden. When Evan’s dog dies, he allows their much-loved garden to be overrun by weeds until something grows that helps him come to terms with his grief.

The Rough Patch is a Caldecott Honor book and deeply moving. The term of intense grief that the story focuses on follows the seasons and with great sensitivity alludes to the time it can take to process loss. Through Evan’s different responses to the garden Brian Lies explores various emotions associated with grief such as anger, sadness and acceptance. Ultimately, the book is full of hope and gently reminds the reader that there will come a time when the grief is not so acute. 

Evan is portrayed as a fox and an old-fashioned farmer; the illustrations have an old world, country charm that includes illusions to the food and entertainment of country life. The colours range from rich, warm earthy tones to dirty greys and greens, mirroring the many emotions explored in the book. The decision to portray Evan as a fox—in some cultures associated with ferocity—heightens both Evan’s tenderness towards his dog and also the intensity of his grief. The fierce fox brought low by the death of his pet may help children perceive the difficulty of loss for all people—big, small, tough or sensitive.

The Rough Patch does not talk down to young children; it treats grief as a serious and time-consuming emotion. Many children experiencing loss will no doubt appreciate the honesty with which the subject is tackled.  

For other picture books dealing with the death of a loved one see our Review List.