Emotions: general

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Judith Viorst (author) Ray Cruz (illustrator)
Little Simon: 2014
ISBN: 9781481414128
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

From the moment he wakes up Alexander feels that he is having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. He decides he’ll go to Australia. Alexander’s day progresses, and he experiences moments of perceived unfairness, times when his complaints are ignored, friends who are a little too truthful, and just plain bad luck. It is indeed a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. But mum has some good advice.

This classic picture book, first published in 1974, remains a funny, poignant and cathartic look at a universal problem for young and old. Viorst is always age-appropriate but also uncompromising—Alexander is allowed to be a grumpy not always very nice kid and the things that happen to him range from annoying commonplaces (e.g. getting gum in your hair) to truly hurtful moments (e.g. when your best friend decides you are not his best friend). There is a wonderful sense of bad things piling one on top of the other and the constant refrain ‘terrible, horrible…day’ accompanied with repeated references to Australia reinforce both the humour and the frustration of a difficult day. The ending is satisfying and honest—some days are just bad days! This is a great story with which to explore a range of difficult emotions.

Happy: A Children’s book of Mindfulness

Nicola Edwards (author) and Katie Hickey (illustrator)
Caterpillar Books: 2018
ISBN: 9781848578883
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Happy begins with a simple definition of mindfulness and its relationship to happiness. Each double-page spread then provides an age-appropriate explanation of how children might practice mindfulness through listening, feeling, relaxing, tasting, touching, discovering, smelling, loving, appreciating, and breathing.

Happy is an instructional book for children, providing a practical guide to mindfulness for young people that may help children and parents tackle strong emotions, especially anxiety and anger. The section on ‘feeling’ is obviously useful for discussing strong emotions, but all the sections can be employed to explore how people manage emotions by staying grounded and connected to themselves and their loved ones.  

The text is clear and concise yet also evocative— ‘we breathe deep and expand like the galaxy’ is sure to encourage any reader to learn a new breathing technique! The illustrations tend to focus on one or two scenes for each sub-topic (i.e. listening, feeling etc.) and depict children in nature or at home. They are relaxed warm images, full of pattern, colour, and detail, well suited to capturing interest in the ideas and concepts presented in the text.  

How are you peeling? Foods with moods
Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
Scholastic: 1999
ISBN: 9780439598415
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

How are you peeling? employs pithy questions, simple rhyme, and photographs of expressive produce to explore a range of emotions. Each page presents one or more fruits or vegetables with expressions that complement the text. Sometimes the text prompts discussion of the expressions depicted (e.g. ‘Happy? Sad? Feeling blue? Feeling bad?’) or makes a statement that reflects on the image provided (e.g. ‘When how you feel is understood you have a Friend, and that feels good’). One persistent theme concerns friendship and touches on feelings of shyness and exclusion, and the comfort derived from friends, another theme concerns conflict and how one responds to it.

This quirky book about emotions is a great conversation starter for pre-primary and early primary school kids! The fruit—mildly enhanced with natural products such as black-eyed peas for eyes —provides an exaggerated but thoroughly recognisable and varied set of human facial expressions. The text is thoughtful and open-ended. It also recognises implicitly that people respond differently to the same stimuli (e.g. How do you feel when someone is mean? Timid? Bold? Or in-between? When you’re angry, do you pout? Cry? Scream? Shout?). It’s no wonder that 20 years after its original publication How are you peeling? is still widely available.

How do you feel?

Anthony Browne
Walker Books: 2011, 2013
ISBN: 9781406338515
Age: 0+

Reviewed by Viv Young

This feelings book for young children begins with the title question: ‘How do you feel?’. It quickly changes to a simple statement about different feelings, linked through the illustrations to a pre-schooler-sized monkey dressed in overalls (e.g. ‘Well, sometimes I feel bored’). Each emotion is accompanied by a different image of the monkey that conceptualises that emotion.  A wide spectrum of emotions is covered (e.g. bored, angry, guilty, happy, sad, silly in the sense of goofy). The last set of feelings may be described more accurately as sensations (e.g. ‘…I feel hungry… full…sleepy’). The book concludes as it begins with the question, ‘How do you feel?’. A collection of miniature illustrations recalls the images that accompany the emotions discussed throughout the book.  

This first book about feelings has some great inbuilt devices to help parents and children explore what feelings are all about. There are the intriguing conceptual interpretations of feelings that involve gestures, facial expressions, use of dark and light, as well as props (e.g. the ‘confident’ monkey is tight rope walking). The transition between classic feelings (sad, angry, happy) and sensations may also help parents and children consider just what feelings involve in mind and body.  Lastly, the text is open-ended at the beginning and at the end, allowing parents to prompt children to explore their own feelings and connect them with the images.

In my heart: a book of feelings

Jo Witek (author) and Christine Roussey (illustrator)
Abrams Appleseed: 2013
ISBN: 9781419713101
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

After likening the heart to a house full of different kinds of feelings, Jo Witek and Christine Roussey present a range of emotions in a first-person voice accompanied by images of a small girl. Each feeling is described in terms of how the heart feels. (e.g. “sometimes my heart feels like it is going to explode….’) and then the feeling is labelled (e.g. ‘this is when my heart is mad’). Happy, mad, calm, broken, sad, hopeful, scared, silly, and shy hearts are described before readers are asked how they feel.

The design of this feelings book is bound to elicit interest from young readers: a cut-out heart on each page—gradually increasing in size towards the front cover—provides an inviting rainbow effect, suits the topic and seamlessly mirrors the overarching portrayal of the heart as a home for many different emotions. The descriptions of emotions are short and focused on common ‘symptoms’ of specific emotions (e.g. my heart is ready to explode. Don’t come near me it says…’), which should help parents and children relate the emotions described to their lived experience. The juxtaposition of emotions traditionally seen as negative and positive (perhaps neutral too) gives the impression that emotions can be transient as well. The open-ended conclusion leaves room for exploring one’s own emotions. The illustrations are modern with lots of bright colours as well as white space; they leave the reader mental space to explore tricky concepts. They also provide cues for discussion and comprehension through the use of familiar symbols and symbolic colours.

One of those Days

John Heffernan (Author) Gwyn Perkins (Illustrator)
Scholastic: 2007
ISBN: 9781741693348
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A school-aged girl narrator talks the reader through ‘one of those days’ when you wake and the ‘air bubbles with excitement’. From bathroom, to breakfast, and the day at school, ‘one of those days’ is filled with thrills, excitement, and adventure. It is unlike ‘most’ days.

One of those days sets up a sophisticated contrast between the kind of day where everything feels fun, and days that are a bit more hum drum. It doesn’t discuss emotions directly, but the creative prose captures the feeling of a brilliant day perfectly while leaving ample room to discuss what the kids involved might be feeling. The illustrations have a bit of a Dr Seuss flavour—dream-like and full of fantasy. They work well with the text to provide clear and distinct facial expressions well suited to discussing feelings with primary aged children.

Tricky’s Bad Day

Alison Lester
Affirm Press Kids: 2018
ISBN: 9781925712513
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Tricky (Patrick) is the eldest of three feline siblings and he’s having a bad day. It all starts when he wakes everyone up early while trying to get milk like mumma would do. From triangle toast when he wants square to a favourite jumper with a loose thread, Tricky’s bad day goes from bad to worse. But Dad knows what Tricky needs: an adventure to the ‘cubby trees’.

This realistic story is packed with gentle humour and understanding. Patrick and his dad both get grumpy, but the caring father figure sees past behaviour he finds irritating to provide what his child needs—some one-on-one time and an outdoor adventure. There are references to popular parenting techniques that some kids may be familiar with, for example the ‘clear-thinking chair’. There are also opportunities to discuss anger, frustration, disappointment, and joy, even though the focus is not on emotions per se. The satisfying conclusion sends a clear message that parents are there to help and that unpleasant feelings do pass.

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