Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry
by Kitty Black
Illustrated by Jess Rose
Affirm Press 2021
Age range 4-6years
“Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry” by Kitty Black is a story about a little boy, Max, who is very anxious about his Maths work. In the story Max’s worry and self-talk is externalized and represented as an anxious Meercat, who interrupts Max’s thoughts and encourages him to avoid the situation which is causing him concern. Some bodily manifestations of anxiety are described, such as nail biting and stomach churning and, as pointed out in the notes at the end of the book, these could be good springboards for discussion about a child’s own physical experiences of anxiety. Although the topic is a serious one there are moments of levity in the book, such as when Max throws his work away having, folded it into a paper aeroplane, and both Worry and Max appear to think they’ve solved the problem only to have the paper plane fly back to them. Worry’s prioritizing about what might happen if Max makes a mistake are similarly humourous, seeming to escalate from “The world explodes-KaPow” to “people might look at you”.
As a result of the overwhelming presence and consequences of Worry, Max and his parents end up in the Principal’s office, which is a pivotal point in the story and underlines the importance of thoughtful caring adults, whose patience and wisdom encourage Max to just “try your best”. Though not explicitly stated in the book his parents have obviously given Max a few strategies to try along with a hug, as the next day we see Max “take a deep breath”, ask for help and counteract some of Worry’s thoughts with his own such as “Other kids get things wrong…I’ve seen it”.
As Max faces his anxiety he transforms it. The character of Worry disappears and is replaced with a calm looking housecat called “Resilience”, thus supporting the main theme of the book; that in facing our worries, and with appropriate scaffolding and support, we develop resilience.
The full-colour Illustrations by Jess Rose are bold and colourful. Max has an oversized cartoon-like head which draws attention to his facial expressions. The Meerkat and Housecat are both a fanciful purple colour, contrasting nicely with Max’s orange hair, and supporting the notion that “Worry the Meerkat”, although very real to Max, exists inside his experience rather than belonging to the “real” world. Apart from a couple of other children, we see only the legs of other characters such as the teacher and parents. This highlights the fact that the story is entirely from Max’s point of view and illustrates how isolating his experience is. We never know what his classmates or Teacher might make of Max’s plight, or even if they are aware of it.
The book contains a parent’s page outlining the author’s underpinning ideas about worry and anxiety and may be a useful guide to parents or carers wishing to discuss the story with their children. There is another “Follow your Feelings” book titled “Lucy and Sad” and you can find out more about the author on her website.