‘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.
Kristen Schroeder (author) and Hilary Jean Tapper (illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
Review by Viv Young
Jonah’s soft toy is a Freddy, not a teddy, so, when Jonah’s teacher announces a teddy bear’s picnic at school Jonah must decide whether or not to take his beloved friend.
Freddy the Not-Teddy is a gentle and fun story that provides many opportunities to talk with young children about difference, belonging and being true to yourself. Jonah ultimately chooses to include Freddy in his school picnic, but he does struggle with Freddy’s difference. As Jonah seeks to make Freddy like a teddy bear, enlists the support of a ‘real’ bear and confronts the confusion of his school friends, readers can explore what the ‘risks’ are in doing something different and also appreciate Jonah’s bravery as he decides what is right for him. The subtle teasing of the children also enables Jonah’s character to model good techniques for dealing with hurtful remarks; a quick-thinking kid, Jonah uses humour to disarm Freddy’s critics. The uncertainty of Freddy’s identity (is he a funky duck, a peculiar platypus or something else?) provides lots of laughs and, through the illustrations, insight into the adventures Freddy and Jonah have had together. The reader feels genuinely worried about whether Jonah will be able to stand by his peculiar and loveable soft toy.
The artwork for Freddy the Not-teddy uses pastel colours with lots of warm yellows and oranges that convey the warmth of Jonah’s relationship with Freddy beautifully. These colours and the watercolour medium give the story a timeless quality that suits the themes of the book, given their perennial relevance. Don’t forget to draw your young reader’s attention to the beautiful endpapers that are filled with lots of different ‘not teddies’ (penguins, platypuses, chickens and ducks). These creatures all have a nursery feel and may be a reminder to many readers, young and old, of those toys that mean so much and are so often not teddies.
“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.
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 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”.
Dimity Powell (author) and Nicky Johnston (illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
Reviewed by Viv Young
Leo is worried about the new show and tell topic about dads at school because he doesn’t know his father, but there is someone else who is cool and courageous to talk about.
Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston tackle a difficult but important topic with this picture book, namely kids who have no significant contact with a father figure. The resolution of the story affirms the role of mums who are both mother and father, loving, supporting and inspiring their children. The latter is playfully conveyed through the occupation of Leo’s mum who is a writer of wild fantasies but also the kind of mum who makes his favourite pizza. There are poignant moments in the story. For example, when Leo imagines what his father might do for a living and when he asks the next-door neighbour to stand in for his dad. These moments add authenticity to what is a challenging topic and opportunities to discuss the broader topic of parenthood without identifying any one situation that may or may not be relevant to particular families.
The artwork for This is my dad uses a broad pallet of muted bright colours that bring out the fun of Leo’s home, which is full of books, pets and artworks. These details and the pink, purple and orange backgrounds at home give the appearance of warmth and safety. The use of thought bubbles and symbols also helps explore some of Leo’s feelings and those of his school mates around the topic of dads, giving due weight to the importance of fathers for many kids and providing opportunities to extend discussion of the book to all children.
This is my dad is an important book for families that may not find themselves represented in picture books often. It is also a useful resource for any family wishing to explore different family structures. The topic is sensitively negotiated by the picture book creators who craft a space in which many different families could fit and feel comfortable while telling a story that is both realistic and positive.
Teachers notes and also fun activities can be downloaded from the publisher.
Sapling Green feels uncomfortable sharing her unique green thumbs and as a result is unable to connect with other kids at school. When a storm breaks branches off the schoolyard climbing tree, Sapling finally shares her gift in a way that enables her, and also someone quite different to her, to belong in the school environment.
This gentle book about belonging tackles important issues that affect many children, namely feelings of difference and exclusion that are not the result of teasing and bullying. Sapling is a girl who longs for someone to play with but only watches her schoolmates enjoying their boisterous play. The story does not explain or judge her reticence. Rather, it explores Sapling’s unique difference (her literal green thumbs) as she uses it to assist Wynn, one of the boisterous tree climbers at school, who is negatively affected by the potential loss of the schoolyard tree. The intriguing presentation of Sapling and Wynn’s own faltering sense of happiness at school are useful for caregivers seeking to raise issues of belonging and difference. The contrasting personalities and experiences of Sapling and Wynn are a great reminder that we all need to be ourselves to feel like we belong and that being ourselves may look different for different people.
The artwork for The Secret of Sapling Green uses a lot of white space which usefully foregrounds the action, body language and expressions of the human protagonists. This is fantastic for caregivers wishing to explore emotions with their children. The white space also helps highlight Sapling’s green thumbs which complement her pink hair and pink shoes. These unusual character features bring out the liveliness of Sapling which we see in those spreads where she is surrounded by her plants, but which is not so obvious in her initial interactions at school. This savvy characterisation of Sapling hints at the vibrant personality Sapling embodies and will be able to express, if only she is given the chance to be herself. Lastly, the fantastic elements in the story and artwork are sure to fascinate young readers as we follow Sapling into the roots of a tree!
The Secret of Sapling Green is a beautifully illustrated and imaginative story about belonging, appropriate for any child who may feel different at times. It may be particularly useful for neurodiverse children who are finding school a challenge, because it doesn’t medicalise difference or focus on a set of ‘symptoms’ that don’t necessarily, or even often, relate to all kids ‘on the spectrum’. Sapling, whose experience is unlike anyone else’s, is a character we can all connect with.
Addressed to your own wildling, this laugh-out-loud picture book takes you through a wild first day of school from waking up to home time. It contains loads of hilarious dos and don’ts with some very sage advice as well.
The Wild Guide to Starting School has a grown-up, modern feel; it treats kids like the growing-up people they are becoming and will soon need to be. The jokes are age appropriate and quite sophisticated; they make kids work for the laughs by investigating the illustrations. Great practice for school! There is some plain, good advice like smile and ask questions when trying to make friends. Most page spreads also provide great conversation starters for discussing how kids might handle aspects of their own first days at school. For example, the drop-off spread shows a cast of Australian animals giving their characteristic goodbyes. Dingoes do the ‘smell you later’, Bilbies do the ‘Bil-Bye’. While this is obviously intended to provoke laughter, there’s a real conversation to be had here about how families should approach those anxious moments before the bell rings and this book is excellent at facilitating those conversations.
The artwork for The Wild Guide to Starting School is, as indicated above, a key component of the humour that is on every page. The wildlings are a group of colourful Australian animals that you follow throughout the course of the book as they navigate different aspects of the first day differently. The animal characters are set against a fairly beige background—often brown, sometimes lined. This feels appropriate; schools are institutions and while they can be colourful, students often bring that colour.
The Wild Guide to Starting School is designed for kids; it’s focused on the belly laughs with the occasional piece of advice you really do need. It should tick all the caregiver boxes because every page is a conversation starter that can help you figure out what your little wildling needs to know or needs to plan with you.
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.
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.
Georgiana Deutsch (author) and Ekaterina Trukhan (illustrator)
Little Tiger Press: 2019
Reviewed by Viv Young
Penguins are all perfectly polite, but not Polly; she thinks being polite is boring and so she’s going to make everything a little more interesting.
This cheeky tale about one penguin who won’t follow the rules of politeness makes a clear but subtle connection between politeness and feelings. While it identifies Polly’s impoliteness as misbehaving, it also allows Polly to be the hero; she voluntarily adopts more polite behaviours when she realises her actions are causing harm to a younger penguin friend. By exploring Polly’s resistance to politeness and the reasons why she decides to change her behaviour, Deutsch and Trukhan pose a question for readers about politeness— is politeness all about the rules or about our respect and care for other people? We might all have different answers—or at least different rules— but the question is undoubtedly worth raising with young kids. While the idea is serious the story is always fun from the penguin who loves the clean-up song to the fishy snack attack food fight.
The artwork for Perfectly Polite Penguins is as clever and funny as the text. The block colour backgrounds encourage readers to focus on the penguins’ responses and minimal but repetitive clothing helps readers keep track of individual penguins and their different behaviours. The penguins themselves are hilarious; drawn slightly askew they almost appear to be waddling around the page!
This is a great book to share with kids in order to help them reflect on the very human reasons for politeness—respect and kindness.
This review has been added to our list of books about politeness.