Britta Teckentrup
Orchard Books: London, 2020
ISBN: 9781408355947
ISBN: 9781408355961
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Blue lives all alone on the lowest branches of the Great Tree. He’s forgotten how to fly, how to play and soar and swoop. The other birds no longer visit because ‘Blue’s no fun anymore’, but one night Yellow arrives and Yellow is gentle, kind and patient.

Blue is a story about true friendship and how it can help overcome adverse circumstances. While Blue’s situation is never explained, the little bird’s loneliness, isolation from former friends and longing for the sun may well resonate with kids who are feeling sad, lonely or depressed for whatever reason. Yellow’s friendship is encouraging but also patient—the little bird makes its presence felt slowly and gently, through light, song and eventually touch until Blue is ready to leave the darkness of the lowest branches.

The transformation that takes place in Blue is echoed in the transformation of the forest the birds inhabit—at first it is full of dark foreboding but with the arrival of Yellow the forest starts to change until it is a mass of bright greens below Blue’s flying form. In the image of the forest and in Yellow’s approach to helping Blue there is a lot to engage readers on the broad subject of emotions. The writer’s decision to leave Blue’s sad predicament unexplained also allows readers to consider what circumstances may have led to Blue’s isolation in the forest and to explore their own feelings of distress.

Blue Whale Blues

Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing: 2017
ISBN: 9781925059687 (pbk)
ISBN: 9781925059410 (hbk)
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A whale is singing the blue whale blues; he’s having trouble with his bike. Penguin is full of suggestions to help Whale with his troubles and these do help but not as much a good laugh.

Blue Whale’s confusion about bikes and the paraphernalia that goes with them will provide loads of laughs that young kids can join in with. There is also a subtle message in this entertaining story about the role of friendship and laughter in softening the distress of sadness; perhaps even an underlying idea that the problems that make us sad aren’t always as big or important as they may at first appear.

Peter Carnavas’s artwork allows young readers to work out the laughs and there are some lovely despondent whale gestures and facial expressions to help spark discussion about emotions. The book’s blue tones draw attention to the whale’s propensity to sing the ‘blue whale blues’ when things don’t turn out and the ‘blue whale blues’ song is a wonderful way to get young readers involved in the reading.

Blue Whale Blues is a mischievously funny story and a wonderful way to start a conversation about sadness!

The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness

Colin Thompson
Random Hous: 2008
ISBN: 9781741662566 (Hbk)
ISBN: 9781741662573 (pbk)
Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

George, who lives with his grandmother, visits the dog shelter on Friday afternoons to be with the dogs no one wants; he feels at home there. One day he meets a three-legged dog named Jeremy, who is due to be put down the next day. After George explains the situation to his grandmother, they adopt Jeremy and begin to build a happy and not so lonely home together.

This heart-warming tale of a boy and his dog will have dog-loving parents crying tears of joy and children asking for that hundredth read! The writing is at times heart-wrenching, yet also tender and funny; indeed, there is a real Australian feel to the text with its periodic black humour. For this reason and the clear references to Jeremy’s impending death, it may be best for school age kids. Nevertheless, Thompson’s compassion and sensitivity to the depth of emotions felt by children and animals will doubtless speak to many readers. The illustrations are splendid, capturing George’s loneliness and joy with the use of shadow and colour. The body language of both George and Jeremy the dog provide a wonderful opportunity to explore emotion beyond facial expressions and humans.

Follow Your Feelings: Lucy and Sad

Kitty Black (author) and Jess Rose (illustrator)
Affirm Press: 2021
ISBN: 9781922419781
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

When Lucy is excluded at school, she is joined by Sad, a large blue bear. Lucy tries to make Sad go away, but she has to find ways to comfort him instead.

The second title in the Follow your Feelings series doesn’t disappoint. It follows the same overall approach to emotions as Max and Worry, similarly encouraging readers to accept and understand their feelings, but with insights and subtle advice appropriate to the particular feeling of sadness. For example, when Sad cannot be ignored, Lucy must find ways to ‘fill his bucket’. She does this by considering the things that make her feel better. These are all small everyday activities (sniffing a flower, eating yummy foods, reading) and often linked to interaction with a trusted adult.

The dialogue between Sad and Lucy is a treat and mirrors their growing sense of comradeship. At first Lucy tries to avoid Sad and even when she attempts to comfort him it is a little hit and miss, creating lovely moments of warm humour. Eventually, however, Lucy is a true friend to Sad and her tenderness is heart-warming. The resolution of the story also sends a subtle message that if we look after our own feelings, as Lucy looks after Sad, then we can be generous in our care of others.

The artwork for Sad uses contrasting block colours—Sad is big and blue but the sky is always yellow and there are dashes of pink and green too. This technique may help readers put sadness in perspective but it also acknowledges that sadness may occur in otherwise happy places. In short, the illustrations create lots of opportunities for discussion. Sad the bear initially towers over little Lucy in the illustrations. He is oppressive but never threatening. Indeed, he is huggable, if also a little pathetic both in his morose expressions and amusingly apathetic approach to Lucy’s attempts to cheer him up. This heavy big bear character is perfect for the gloomy emotion of sadness, yet even Sad is allowed to pep up and also grow smaller as the story unfolds.

The empathetic rendering of what are often seen as negative emotions is one of the great strengths of this series. Sad’s existence is understandable and reasonable; the bullying situation that announces his arrival is something to feel sad about and comfort is what we hope children will receive when they feel distressed by such an event. Lucy and Sad is a beautiful story to help kids feel comfortable with challenging emotions and find positive ways to seek comfort.

When I’m Feeling Sad

Trace Moroney
Five Mile Press, 2005
ISBN: 9781760680671
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

This book about feelings focuses on what sadness feels like, then moves on to what makes one sad, and then to what might make one feel better. A young bunny is the central character and the story, told in the first person, is from the bunny’s perspective.

Each title in the Feelings series focuses on a different emotion and is accompanied by a page for parents written by a psychologist talking about healthy self esteem and the importance of being able to understand and express one’s emotions. With this in mind the broad themes addressed in the current title help give parents concrete examples with which to discuss sadness. The illustrations reflect the text very closely and are subtly tactile which can help little hands explore the book. It may be useful for parents to note that this particular title in the series mentions the death of a loved one (accompanied by a picture of a grave) and parents fighting as triggers for feelings of sadness.

Books from the Feelings Series can usually be purchased through the author’s Website. Not all titles in the series are currently available but slipcases often contain When I’m Feeling Sad.

When sadness is at your door

Eva Eland
Penguin: 2019
ISBN: 9780525707189
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

When sadness is at your door is a practical yet whimsical guide to managing a common emotion. Sadness is personified as a translucent aqua-green globular figure who turns up as the unexpected house guest of a young girl. Sadness the-house-guest is mildly troublesome—it follows the girl around and sits too close; various options are raised for dealing with it, but the narrator strongly encourages getting to know sadness and finding out what it needs. It is in the discussion of how one might become acquainted with sadness—for example by having a hot chocolate with it or letting it out—that both the quiet humour and down-to-earth advice in this book shine.  

Eland’s use of a limited palate highlights the interaction and difference between sadness (aqua-green) and the girl (whose clothes are pinky-orange). The contrast between girl and emotion perhaps reflects the nature of sadness as a house guest—something that may come and go but is not there all the time and is distinct from its human companion. This aspect of the characterisation of sadness enhances the comforting tone of this book which nevertheless encourages readers to take sadness seriously.

When sadness is at your door is a practical guide with a story book feel that has all the necessary ingredients to help young readers explore a challenging emotion.

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