Bob tries and tries but he just can’t fly until Crow comes along and shows him how to … breathe!
Take a Breath is a quirky, humorous story about learning to manage anxiety. Bob is a small red bird who, although he tries hard, is struggling to fly and feeling down about it. When he meets Crow, who struggled to perch, Bob learns how to become more conscious of his breathing. At first Bob is sceptical about this new skill and even when he sees how good breathing makes him feel, he still doesn’t learn to fly immediately, but breathing does make it easier to keep trying. Bob’s slow progression, doubts and ultimate success may help young readers set realistic goals for their own challenges.
The artwork for Take a Breath is full of laughs. There are many humorous vignettes showing Bob’s doleful experience of dealing with failure. Lots of white space as well as a quite limited colour palette (black, white, and red in many spreads) help readers to focus on Bob’s challenges and also how he feels about them. Equally amusing and instructive are those scenes where Crow and Bob practise breathing. The effect is funny but also gives kids a real sense of what they are aiming for: a big breath in that pushes their belly out! There is a cartoon quality to the illustrations throughout that is likely to appeal to most kids (think Angry birds without the agro). The scene where Bob finds a certain amount of inner peace through breathing (though not yet success at flying) uses splashes of psychedelic colour and pattern to give a sense of just how good this breathing lark can be and in so doing provides a great advertisement for a technique that can be hard for young kids to learn and have patience with.
Take a Breath will be a great addition to any library but may be especially useful for kids who are dismissive of books about emotions or are just finding it hard to get started with managing their anxiety. Bookstores are filled with books about anxiety and many of these do contain instructions about breathing. It is great to see this example that teaches but does not take itself too seriously and allows kids to see the funny side of their worries, if not this whole breathing business that adults go on about!
When Ruby is given shiny, red roller-skates for her birthday she is sure that learning to skate will be easy peasy, but it’s not!
Easy Peasy is an upbeat, high-energy story that conveys the thrill of roller-skating while also touching on some important themes like persistence, resilience and learning to learn. The author has a gentle and genuine voice. The heights of Ruby’s excitement, her initial instinct to give up when it is hard and her desire to roller-skate all by herself, without instruction, will be familiar to many readers. Ruby’s independent approach may make learning to roller skate tricky, but she is well supported to achieve her goals; Dad’s persistent yet kind attempts to offer instruction model a laid-back and patient style of parenting that many kids will appreciate. The positive and exciting outcome of the story sees Ruby manage a busy roller-skating rink filled with kids and music, making this an encouraging book for young readers finding it hard to meet those challenges close to their own hearts.
The artwork for Easy Peasy is super bright and fun, making sure the themes of persistence, resilience and learning are always child friendly and appealing. The psychedelic rainbow stripe rolling over the end pages is repeated at key stages in the book to underscore Ruby’s wibbly, wobbly moments on the roller skates and her eventual success. It is fun to spot and makes the challenges and achievements stand out. Ruby’s enticing pair of red, sparkly roller-skates also feature on every page, making it easy to follow the central character, her highs and lows. Lastly, Kids will have a ball spotting Ruby’s pet bird (unmentioned in the text) who is as keen as Ruby to learn a new skill!
Davina Bell (author) and Allison Colpoys (illustrator)
Reviewed by Viv Young
With lyrical, rhyming text the story of two girls and their day of questionable choices unfolds but don’t worry, they’ll be fine; tomorrow is a brand-new day.
The illustrations for this fabulous book about mistakes and moving on from them follows two female friends as they navigate a tricky day. The text works with the images but simultaneously addresses the audience, thereby encouraging all kids to identify with the challenges and emotions explored in the story. The central characters variously act impulsively, push, pull faces, chuck tantrums and fail to share as the difficulties they encounter and their feelings about them snowball throughout the course of the day. Most kids should, therefore, be able to recognise aspects of their own challenging days in the pages somewhere, if not the overall tendency for bad days to get worse. The fact that the friends fall out and make up again is also useful for parents looking for books about friendship, both its up and downs.
While bad days aren’t usually all that fun to talk about, Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys bring out the humour in ‘bad’ behaviour, moreover they empathise with the emotions at the heart of it all (‘You were tired! Worried. Scared’). With guidance, this empathy can help kids make important connections between feelings and poor decision making. This approach can also help kids feel understood too. The resolution of the story is uplifting as the two characters find ways to make up with those who they have hurt. There is also the overall feeling of acceptance and focus on the future that helpfully puts mistakes in their place as things everyone experiences and that we can all move on from.
The artwork for Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is bursting with colour and this matches both the positive treatment of mistake-making and the chaos that sometimes leads to mistakes. The exaggerated expressions of the two central characters are fantastic for exploring a range of emotions with young kids. Moreover, various spreads interpret the open-ended text and lead to lots of humour and opportunities for kids to follow the pictures and work out what happened to encourage certain feelings. The end pages are worth pondering with young ones. They are a mass of great swirling rainbows, intertwined and confusing. For this reader they encapsulated the messiness of mistakes and self-acceptance that this book celebrates so sweetly.
One of several recent books that speaks to a growth mindset, Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is an intelligent and fun story that normalises making mistakes and moving on from them.
Angela DiTerlizzi (author) and Lorena Alvarez (illustrator)
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.