We Feel Happy: A Fantastic First Book of Feelings!
Reviewed by Viv Young
We Feel Happy! encourages children to explore the rainbow of emotions we all feel by investigating the antics of a host of colourful, quirky critters.
The reassuring introduction to We Feel Happy! emphasises the wide range of potential emotions and asserts that it’s okay to feel them all. The whole-page spreads that follow begin with a statement alerting readers to the emotion the animals on that page are feeling and asks a question that prompts readers to investigate the illustrations (e.g.: ‘We feel calm. What are the animals doing to feel calm?’). Speech bubbles sometimes explain what the animals are doing or thinking or present dialogue between the animals that helps readers work out what’s going on. Occasionally, an animal states that they don’t know how they are feeling, which may help take the pressure off for kids who find identifying emotions challenging. A monkey in the right-hand corner always asks the reader about their own experience of that particular feeling and occasionally gives tips about how to manage emotions like fear (e.g.: by thinking of something happy instead). This approach gives children plenty to do while talking about a subject that can sometimes be fraught. There are also some helpful hints for parents and teachers to provide even more practical and fun ways to explore feelings (e.g. making a happy recipe or a worry jar).
The colour palette for We Feel Happy! is super bright and bold! The almost fluorescent front cover is sure to attract attention. Then there’s the thick icy-pole stripes on the end pages that invite you into the book and of course the animals. With a pink unicorn, a rainbow dog, a cat with a polka-dot tie and many more fabulous creatures, most kids should find at least one animal to identify with. The busyness of the spreads draws the reader in and encourages the reader to follow the animals around the page and throughout the book.
We Feel Happy! is a clever resource for families looking for a practical book about emotions that will engage children again and again.
‘It’s okay to feel this way’ is the reassuring refrain running through this upbeat, colourful book about the broad range of emotions everyone experiences. Most pages explore one feeling but each feeling is carefully paired, so that emotions generally seen as more positive or less positive are discussed one after the other. This clever approach helps to reinforce and elaborate the message, presented early on in the text, that emotions ‘visit’ us but don’t stay forever.
The artwork for It’s Okay to Feel this Way is full of bright, clean colours. Some pages also utilise plenty of white space to highlight the key recurring text that ‘it’s okay to feel this way’. The illustrations both mimic the naïve style of young children and at some points incorporate the finger-painting style and scratchy texta work of preschool children. This approach matches the upbeat tone of the book and also gives it a sense of familiarity for young readers, perhaps even encouraging them to explore how they might feel through their own drawings. The occasional incorporation of photographic images (e.g. grass, a crochet flower) into the mixed media artworks also provides wonderful opportunities for small children to practise pointing and to explore the images thoroughly.
It’s Okay to Feel this Way is a comforting first emotions book to enjoy with even very small children.
Scott Rothman (text) and Pete Oswald (illustrations)
Random House: 2021
Reviewed by Viv Young
Sir Cole is looking for an assistant. Luckily, she turns up just in time to help Cole with a frustrated Underwear Dragon who’s learning to read.
Return of the Underwear Dragon is a fun adventure-filled tale that engages with the theme of learning challenges. Sir Cole is a cool and clever knight whose teaching techniques put his reluctant scaly student at his ease; he accepts the underwear dragon’s attempts at subterfuge, takes it slowly, adapts learning to the dragon’s needs and adds in a special underwear reward. Young Sir Cole’s calm approach imagines kids in a position of authority and control which may help some early readers look at the experience of learning in a new light. The dragon’s sometimes explosive responses may also help readers explore the challenges of learning; the Underwear Dragon feels all the feelings you might expect—frustration, fatigue, anger and a desire to learn.
The artwork for Return of the Underwear Dragon is hilarious. The dragon is full of expression—cute and awkward one minute, ready to blow the next. For those kids already interested in castles and knights, the mingling of modern and medieval in text and illustrations is sure to provoke laughter. The dark muddy palette makes for a grim medieval setting overall and allows the touches of colour to highlight key characters, scenes and humour.
The Return of the Underwear Dragon is an entertaining read for any child but for kids struggling with expectations at school and especially with reading, it’s cathartic—full of fun to help the giggles bubble over while learning to learn.
A young child, narrating a quest for the cookie jar, quickly becomes enraged when the jar is hard to reach.
Red Red Red explores pre-schooler frustration and anger with great fun and empathy. The child narrator’s tone escalates quickly from indignation at her mother’s soothing words to outright anger, mirroring the strong and sudden emotions of many young people. The mother is always understanding and her suggestion—counting to ten—is gentle, respectful and, best of all, a sound practical measure that can be tried at home.
The artwork for Red Red Red focuses especially on the child and the physical nature of anger—the screaming, head banging, and stomping are conveyed with extra oomph. There is also the liberal use of red—frenzied crayon-like scribbles radiate from the child character, increasing and decreasing as the anger rises and falls. This creative use of red is fun to notice and provides a vivid illustration of the bigness of anger as well as the relief when it is resolved.
This is an entertaining and cathartic story that can help children register anger and learn some tools to manage it.