It’s Okay to Feel this Way by Sara Biviano

It’s Okay to Feel this Way

Sara Biviano

Starfish Bay Publishing: 2021

ISBN: 9781760361105

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

‘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.

Return of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald

Return of the Underwear Dragon

Scott Rothman (text) and Pete Oswald (illustrations)

Random House: 2021

ISBN: 9780593119921

Age: 4+

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.

Follow Your Feelings: Max And Worry by Kitty Black

Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry

 by Kitty Black

Illustrated by Jess Rose

Affirm Press 2021

Victoria. Australia

ISBN:9781922419729

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.

Get Ready, Mama! by Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li

Get Ready, Mama!

Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539083

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young girl provides instructions for getting a reluctant mum out of bed and ready for work in the morning.

This humorous story will have both kids and parents laughing out loud as it parodies the many strategies parents use to hurry their kids along in the morning. The role reversal is perfect for discussing routines with school age children as it gives them insight into the stages of getting ready that parents need to think about while keeping the mood light and entertaining. It’s also a great reminder for parents not to sweat the small stuff. The child in this story is parenting in the way we’d all like to on our best days—calmly waiting for her mum to finish on the toilet, turning the tv off when it distracts, allowing mum to wear her dancing shoes with just a little sigh. Parents can learn a lot from the wise child-parent in this story.

With its rich muted browns, oranges and purples, the artwork for Get Ready, Mama! feels like a great big morning hug when the sun isn’t quite up. The warm colours draw attention to the love and caring that lies behind the getting ready routine, even in its tricky moments. The illustrations use body language and facial expressions to capture the different pre-occupations of Mama and child. For example, Mama is smelling a flower while the child is busy shooing the puppy out the back door.  These details work seamlessly with the text to create wonderful humour but are also useful to discuss with kids who may not always be aware of what parents are doing in the morning.

Get Ready, Mama! is an entertaining way to think about routines from a different perspective and may help both parents and kids see the morning hustle and bustle in a new light.

The Seed of Doubt by Irena Brignull and Richard Jones

The Seed of Doubt

Irena Brignull and Richard Jones

Walker Books: 2021

ISBN: 9781406389425

Age: 4+

Review by Viv Young

A young boy dreams big dreams about what he will do when he grows up. When he plants a seed that grows into an unusually tall tree, climbing the tree becomes one of those dreams until the boy loses confidence.

The Seed of Doubt is suitable for a wide range of ages to mull over and there is plenty to think about with this fascinating picture book. The story deals most clearly with feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. The boy’s changing interaction with the seed he plants —from initial excitement to disappointment and lack of confidence—may mirror the experience of many children who find tree climbing alluring yet also challenging. The only overt advice for managing self-doubt is to believe in oneself and not give up. This advice is articulated by the father who encourages the child but is also taken on board by the child who reiterates his father’s words at a key juncture. There is perhaps though some implicit advice in the child’s physical contact with the tree, namely the potential role nature can play in restoring and healing.

Indeed, while the story is focused on emotions and overcoming fears, it raises interesting questions about nature and its capacity to both overwhelm and inspire. The boy’s physical contact with the tree ultimately leads to healing and inspiration but for older children who frequently encounter information about environmental crises the tree’s unsettling size and impact on the boy may be especially interesting to explore.

The artwork for The Seed of Doubt is stunning. Sprawling landscapes convey a sense of the wonder of nature, as do the many scenes in which the tree doesn’t quite fit on the page. The background colours are often muted greens, blues, greys and browns, which feel authentic for the natural settings, while touches of very bright colour draw attention to the brilliance of the tree and the exciting views the boy sees from it.

The Seed of Doubt is a book for all ages that is slightly unsettling at times but rewarding in its hopeful and awe-inspiring presentation of nature. The fact that tree climbing is often something of a rite of passage into older childhood and greater physical capacity may make this book particularly relatable for many children.

When I’m Feeling Happy by Trace Maroney

When I’m Feeling Happy

By Trace Moroney

The Five Mile Press

Australia 2005

ISBN 9781741245035

ages 0-4

“When I’m Feeling Happy” by Trace Moroney, describes the feeling of happiness, and the experiences associated with it, as it pertains to one cute, non-gender specific, rabbit character.  It is written in first person with the rabbit’s experience front and centre of the story. The rabbit describes what happens in his body when he feels happy, for example, “I feel bouncy” and “My face feels smiley”. This could be a significant talking point for the reader/listener as they consider what various emotions feel like in their own body. The occasions which the rabbit associates with feelings of happiness mostly stem from experiences of connection with family and friends, such as baking cookies with Grandma or camping and talking with Dad. Towards the end of the story the rabbit identifies how the experience of happiness is beneficial to their life, such as helping them have more patience and being able to feel kind and caring towards others.   It finishes with the rabbit’s gaze directed toward the reader, stating confidently that they feel good about themselves, and in doing so the feeling of happiness is directly related to this positive self-concept.  The prose is simple and direct, with occasional repetition and exaggerated words and sounds, giving ample clues as to how the text could be spoken aloud in order to convey the energy and positivity of the rabbit character.

The illustrations are bright and colourful with a slightly soft texture to their appearance.  The paper itself is embossed which makes it a multisensory reading experience, with the potential to run fingers over the outlines of the illustrations. The front cover features a delightfully furry texture on the face of the rabbit. There are a few beautiful full-colour pages within the book.  In line with the text, the rabbit is dressed in a non-gender specific green jumper and jeans

The final page of the book is dedicated to background notes for parents. On this page psychologists Bill Hallan and Dr Crag Olsson have outlined the link between self-esteem, self-knowledge and trust in one’s own emotional experience. They give hints for how parents can foster happiness and self-esteem.  There are ten “feelings books” created by Trace Moroney. The other books in the series are “Jealous”, “Disappointed”, “Love”, “Scared”, “Angry”, “Sad”, “Kind” and “Lonely”.

A boy, his bear and a bully by Katie Flannigan & P. J. Reece

A Boy, his Bear and a Bully

Katie Flannigan & P. J. Reece
EK Books: 2021
ISBN: 9781925820898
Age: 4+
Reviewed by Viv Young

Scott takes his bear, Buttons, to school to help him feel brave. When Buttons goes missing and the school bully strikes again, Scott must find his brave before he can find his bear.

A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a humorous and encouraging story about bullying which provides a good example of standing up for yourself in a positive way. Put to the test by Duncan’s bullying behaviour (e.g., name-calling, snatching treats, destroying class work), Scott struggles without his bear to help him feel brave. Scott does have allies—his friend Rosie and eventually his teacher — but ultimately it is the stirring of feelings caused by the loss of his bear that helps Scott use powerful words to put an end to the bullying without physical aggression. The key tips for managing a bully (e.g., using ‘I statements’, being aware of bodily feelings and sensations to manage emotions, telling a trusted adult) are all woven seamlessly into the story and provide great prompts for parents wishing to discuss how to manage bullies in real-life situations.

The artwork for A Boy, his Bear and a Bully makes the most of a hint in the text that the key drama all takes place on a dress-up day. The main protagonists are dressed in a dinosaur, karate and unicorn outfit; even the teacher has bunny ears and monster feet. These costumes lighten the mood and bring a lot of laughter to a subject that can be tricky to talk about. The costumes are also used astutely by the artist to enhance our understanding of the characters and the emotions involved with bullying and asserting oneself.

A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a wonderful addition for any kid’s library that can help parent-kid teams discuss a challenging topic while having a good laugh.

Lucy and Sad by Kitty Black and Jess Rose

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.

For other titles about sadness see our Review List.

Red Red Red by Polly Dunbar

Red Red Red

Polly Dunbar
Walker Books: 2019
ISBN: 9781406376968
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

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.   

For more books about Anger see our Anger Review List.

Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

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.

This review has been added to our list of titles about Anxiety.

The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi and Lorena Alvarez

The Magical Yet

Angela DiTerlizzi (author) and Lorena Alvarez (illustrator)
Hyperion: 2020
ISBN: 9781368025621
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

The Magical Yet is an imaginative introduction to ‘growth mindset’ (see here for a balanced explanation) for young kids.The rhyming text addresses the reader directly, introducing him or her to the personified Yet, a ‘most amazing thought re-arranger’. The Yet, portrayed as a pink fairy-like creature, helps kids (and grown-ups) achieve goals even when they find it hard to believe in themselves.

The creators of The Magical Yet manage the balance between didactic message and creativity masterfully. The story in which the magical Yet plays a part concerns learning to ride a bike. This story does double duty as the text imagines you (the reader) as the learner (‘Like that shiny, new bike you couldn’t ride, and it didn’t matter how hard you tried’) while the artwork invites the reader to identify with a young girl learning to ride too. The artworks also introduce additional characters—both boys and girls—who are portrayed receiving help from their own Yet in other challenging situations.  This focus on when you might need a Yet—when you experience challenges—means that this picture book is a great choice for parents wanting to discuss emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment. These kinds of feelings are shown in the illustrations and explored from the child’s perspective in those parts of the text that deal with times when success doesn’t come easily (‘…now you won’t ride. No way. Not never. No riding for you, you’ll walk…forever’). There are several useful prompts in the text to help parents scaffold the ‘yet’ concept such as the comment that the Yet doesn’t mind setbacks (‘Yet doesn’t mind warm-ups, fixes, and flops…’) and that the Yet has helped you before when you didn’t realise it was there (‘like when you babbled before you could talk or how you crawled before you could walk’).

The concept of Yet presented in the text is inspiring and the tone uplifting. The artwork not only meets the challenge of the text in these respects but elevates it further. The illustrations resemble our world but the magic is on every page, conveyed in the combination of bright strong colours, the striking use of dark and light tones, occasional but distinctive use of pattern and hyperbolic perspective (e.g. the young girl painting a huge picture of a bird from a trapeze-like swing). This book thinks big and that breadth of thinking is realised in the beautiful artworks.