Anxiety

Don’t Feed the Worry Bug

Andi Green
Monsters in my head: 2011
ISBN: 9780979286049
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Wince starts to worry about his homework, then the laundry, then baking cookies for a dance! A worry bug appears and before Wince knows it the bug has grown so big it fills the room and will not let him sleep. After seeking expert help, and while occupied with plans to capture the worry bug, Wince notices the worry bug shrinking. Eventually, it is so small Wince can ask it to leave successfully.

This upbeat rhyming tale is a fun and reassuring introduction to anxiety. The broad range of worries Wince experiences may well resonate with a wide range of children and there’s practical advice for managing anxiety built into the narrative, such as seeking help from experts and keeping up ordinary activities (i.e. play). The illustrations present the worry bug as a purple mosquito-like monster; it is an annoying creature rather than a scary one helping to set the comforting tone which is further enhanced by the use of light, bright colours throughout.

Copies of this book can be purchased through the Worry Woos Website where further resources can be found for parents and teachers.

Don’t Worry Little Crab

Chris Haughton
Walker Books: 2019
ISBN: 9781406385519
Age: 3+
Reviewed by Viv Young

Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny rock pool. They are off to the sea, but when they get close to the water’s edge, the waves are so big that Little Crab wants to go home.

Don’t Worry Little Crab provides a sensitive exploration of anxiety about new experiences. Very Big Crab patiently encourages Little Crab—not allowing Little Crab to miss out, but equally not pushing Little Crab too hard. Patience and kindness pay off. Little Crab eventually dives under the waves holding onto Very Big Crab and discovers a world of warm colours and vibrant new friends. Indeed, the warm oranges, reds and pinks that lie beneath the surface are reminiscent of their tiny rock pool home only on a larger scale, providing a wonderfully subtle message about the potential comfort and joy we might find if only we could push past our fears. The contrast between the big blue and white foaming waves and the warmth of the rock pool and underwater world also gives due weight to fears — you feel Little Crab’s fear as he faces those towering waves!

The emphasis on exploration in this story and the exciting stylised representations of the natural world make Don’t Worry Little Crab an entertaining and thought-provoking experience for any child.

Hector’s Favorite Place

Jo Rooks
Magination Press: Washinton, 2018
ISBN: 9781433828683
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Hector the hedgehog is comfortable at home; it’s his favourite place; his friends call to ask him out, but he always decides to stay home. When an invitation arrives to a winter forest party, Hector wants to go and starts to worry—will the music be too loud, the hot chocolate too hot? But this time Hector knows he’s missing out.

Hector’s Favorite Place is a thought-provoking book about anxiety for children who tend to worry. It is filled with pertinent details, such as Hector’s excuses and his concern for his friends, that may help kids think about their own situation. Moreover, there are some subtle suggestions for managing anxiety woven into the narrative—Hector dresses smartly and feels confident, he talks positively to himself, and uses visualisation to imagine himself in the midst of the party. For parents there is also advice from a psychologist about how to help kids with anxiety.

The illustrations in Hector’s Favorite Place have wonderful child-appeal; there are lots of details to mull over (look out especially for the slugs, snails, and worms) and then there’s the hedgehog central character. As a real-life hibernating critter, the hedgehog provides an appropriate and provocative way to talk about home as a comfort zone and getting out of it too.

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.

Go Away, Worry Monster!

Brooke Graham & Robin Tatlow-Lord
EK Books: 2020
ISBN: 9781925820393
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Worry Monster is growing bigger and bigger, keeping Archie awake with worries about starting at a new school. Archie remembers what Mum did last time and he’s going to give it a try, but will it work without Mum there?  

Go away, Worry Monster! is a great story for kids who are ready to take a more independent approach to anxious feelings. Archie remembers previous anxious episodes when Mum helped him banish the worry monster, but now he’s a ‘big boy’ he wants to tackle his Worry Monster all by himself. This is a particularly apt approach for a story which involves fears surrounding starting at a new school where kids do have to tackle uncomfortable feelings without key support people physically present. The text also provides some good practical tips for tackling anxious thoughts, namely breathing and using factual information to combat spiralling anxious thoughts, which are appropriate for young people to practise on their own.

The illustrations for Go away, Worry Monster! give due weight to the fear that anxiety can entail—the Worry Monster’s expanding presence and somewhat reptilian features are just the teeniest bit scary but the monster’s sock-like appearance, highlighted by frenetic squiggly marks, always keeps the mood light and fun. Night-time anxieties with their capacity to become distorted and more worrying are given superb expression in the illustrations, which underscore the bedtime setting with a deep purple background that glows a little in the lamplight. A cast of silent, comforting characters—an owl lamp, a dog, and a teddy bear—remain unidentified in the text, but provide Archie with some moral support and the readers with lots of laughs.

Go away, Worry Monster! is a fun story about a not-too-scary worry monster that also provides practical resources for growing-up kids to manage their anxiety independently. 

Ruby’s Worry

Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Book: Bloomsbury Publishing, London: 2018
ISBN: 9781408892138 (HB)
ISBN: 9781408892152 (PB)
ISBN: 9781408892145 (ebook)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Ruby is a happy girl, until she discovers a Worry. It is a small worry at first, but it grows and grows until it takes up half the school bus! Just when Ruby thinks she’ll never be happy again, she meets a boy in the park with his own Worry and they start to talk.

Ruby’s Worry is a powerful picture book for kids about the importance of sharing anxieties. Part of that power comes from the astute portrayal of a Worry. Imagined as indistinct creatures (brightly coloured scribbles, as seen on the cover), they make a striking presence on the page, especially as they grow. They are monstrous in a way, giving due weight to the potential for childhood worries to be overwhelming, yet they are unlikely to scare most young people. These clever illustrations combined with a careful text, which never articulates Ruby’s particular concern, make this a suitable picture book for any young child with any particular worry.

Silly Billy

Anthony Browne
Walker Books: 2006
ISBN: 9781406305760
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Billy is a worrier who worries about all kinds of things—shoes, clouds, rain, even giant birds. When Billy’s Mum and Dad rationalise his concerns and try to comfort him, he worries more. It is only when his grandmother accepts his worrying and gives him something to help absorb the worries (Guatemalan worry dolls) that he can let go of his own concerns and also help others.

Silly Billy is a great story that provides a sensitive and convincing portrayal of anxiety as well as some practical tools to deal with it, such as the use of Guatemalan worry dolls. Even if the dolls don’t appeal to you or your child there’s a reassuring message in this story that anxiety is real and that talking to a trusted adult about it can help.

The artwork for Silly Billy is fascinating. The monochrome images of Billy’s worries convey the stark and sometimes overwhelming nature of anxiety; they are even unsettling. Yet the warm, bright colours and patterns of the worry dolls, the scenes of Billy’s home life and the book’s design make such a contrast with the monochrome images of anxiety that the overall tone of this picture book is undoubtedly optimistic and uplifting.

Note: Guatamalan worry dolls can be purchased online or there are plenty of websites with information about how to make your own.

The Worry Box

Suzanne Chiew and Sean Julian
Little Tiger Press: London 2018
ISBN: 9781848698307
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Murray bear and his sister Milly are due to meet their friend at the waterfall, but Murray has some worries—waterfalls are big and loud. He tells Milly how he feels and she talks to her brother about the worry box and how it works. Murray tries out the worry box right away and it works so well that he’s able to help a new friend before the day’s end.

The Worry Box is a gentle story with a practical suggestion for dealing with everyday worries that can be implemented easily at home. It also reinforces the idea that sharing one’s worries by talking to an empathic loved one is a key part of dealing with anxiety. The worries explored are typical for small children—overwhelming experiences like a waterfall, concerns about making friends and about not being good enough at an activity. Murray’s worries are never diminished in the text, yet the scenes of happy critters sitting by sparkling rivers and lush fields sends an encouraging message; Murray’s worries are anxieties that can be managed with the help of those around him. 

Pilar’s Worries

by Victoria M. Sanchez

Pictures by Jess Golden

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company 2018

ISBN: 9780807565469

Age range 4-6 years.

Reviewed by Cath Young

Pilar’s worries by Victoria M. Sanchez is the story of a young girl who learns how to deal with her anxiety as she auditions for a Ballet.  It presents the complex character of Pilar with empathy and deals with her anxiety in a realistic way.  Pilar does not suddenly learn how to feel less anxious, even about Ballet, which she loves.  However, with support from her Mother and friend, Sebastian, she auditions despite her worries and allows her dancing to assume the important role it plays in her life.   Other than an occasional reminder to “breathe”, Pilar’s Mother, her Teacher and Sebastian, accept Pilar as she is.  They allow her to make her own decisions about whether or not to audition and do not teach techniques for dealing with anxiety but rather offer some validation and reflections along the way such as, “If you decide to audition you will feel scared. But usually when you are doing what you love the good feelings are so big that the bad feelings become small.” 

The book describes the physical manifestations of anxiety which children and parents may be able to discuss, such as butterflies in the stomach, tension, heart racing and hot, prickly skin.  There is some humour in the book, courtesy of the character of Sabastian, who also feels nervous before the auditions and shares with Pilar that he “want(s) to barf!”  Pilar’s classmates react positively to Sebastian’s announcement that both he and Pilar are going to be snowflakes in the upcoming production.  The acceptance of a male ballet dancer in the class is a subtle, but important device in underscoring the idea of societal acceptance of varying expressions of individuality and gender.  

The full-page illustrations by Jess Golden are rendered in mostly pastel colours, which supports the gentle tone of the text. The figures are simply drawn, with a pencil like outline. Attention is paid to the expressions on Pilar’s face which would allow for discussion between reader and listener.

The book includes a short list of selected resources about childhood anxiety.

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