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!
A new girl called Winnie is joining the class and sometimes she howls like hyena or kicks like a kangaroo or chomps like a piranha. So, it’s time for everyone to get a bit wild …
Wild for Winnie tells the story of Winnie’s first week at a new school. Winnie experiences sensory processing challenges and her behaviour is affected as a result. Different behaviours that Winnie and her peers may find distressing are explored through analogy with various wild animals. With guided play, however, Winnie and her new classmates are taught ways to channel challenging sensory experiences into activities that benefit the whole class.
The story is told by a classmate (though the reader is not told which one) and this child-centred perspective is brought out thoughtfully in the illustrations. While the text never rebukes Winnie, the illustrations do allow the kids in Winnie’s class to express their surprise, pain, fear and enjoyment making this an excellent book for exploring emotions with young children. Moreover, not all the children experience Winnie’s behaviour in the same way; this is particularly useful for talking to kids with sensory processing challenges about the different responses and experiences of children around them.
The illustrations use muted bright colours which convey all the brightness of an early learning space but remain low-key and not too overwhelming. Winnie’s wild behaviour is conveyed through her body movements and also various animals that shadow her in the artwork. This creates some humour that kids are sure to enjoy! Hints in the text remind readers that Winnie’s ‘wild nature’ is not unique and the final spread draws attention to the different wild tendencies of the classmates on a particular day, making sure no kid is singled out.
Wild for Winnie is a sensitive, empathetic treatment of challenges many children experience with lots of real-world advice woven into the illustrations and text. It is useful for kids managing sensory processing challenges as well as kids who may have friends that behave like Winnie. Make sure you look closely at the end pages for a list of practical tips for parents and caregivers to try for different types of behaviour.
Christine Peck and Mags Deroma (authors) and Mags Deroma (illustrator)
Reviewed by Viv Young
Izzy’s thought bubbles keep ‘pop, pop, popping up’ until there is no room left for Izzy, but she knows some useful ways to make room for herself and her thoughts.
Too Many Bubbles follows Izzy, a small grey mouse, on her quest for a quieter mind. Izzy’s journey begins with a single ‘sort of grumpy’ thought that multiplies and becomes oppressive. The idea of busy and cumulative thoughts is otherwise kept quite general, making this story a good one for lots of different children and their various thoughts and emotions. There is also an overall practical focus in this mindfulness book. For instance, the reader is asked to help Izzy by gently blowing on her thoughts, thus beginning one of the approaches to mindfulness—breathing—that is discussed at the back of the book. Several other practical tips to help kids practise mindfulness are also discussed here.
The artwork for Too Many Bubbles uses bright, block colours and white space to great effect. The white space, for example, helps to focus the reader’s attention both on the first grumpy thought bubble and then the oppressive cumulation of thoughts as they fill the white page and obscure Izzy herself. The choice of colours is thought-provoking—they are bright colours, primarily in warm shades of red, orange and yellow but there are also some cool tones. For this reader they were a useful reminder that busy thoughts may range around the full gamut of emotions. Overall, the bright colours feel fun and cheerful; they may attract some boisterous young children who are otherwise repelled by books on calm topics.
Too Many Bubbles is a gentle, practical introduction to mindfulness with bright, lively illustrations likely to interest young children.
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.
Lucy Rowland (author) and Becky Cameron (illustrator)
Reviewed by Viv Young
Erin’s Dad always encourages her to enjoy the magic of colours around her but when he becomes sick and passes away, Erin’s world becomes grey until she finds a way to remember her Dad.
Daddy’s Rainbow is a sensitive story about grief and loss for young children that convincingly portrays the loss of a parent from the child’s experience. The treatment of the father’s illness and death is subtle and focused on the experience of Erin—Daddy is ‘poorly’, there is the hospital, handholding, hugs and then quiet. This account of illness and death is moving and feels authentic, moreover its subtlety allows readers to explore what is happening to a degree they feel comfortable with. Daddy’s illness and death is also not the key focus but rather Erin’s joyful relationship with her father and the excitement of his passion for colours. After Daddy’s passing, the memory of this passion brings the family together. While Erin initiates the memory of colour, her mum then takes the lead. This conclusion provides a reassuring message for children; adults in their life can help them with their grief.
Colour is a key part of the story in Daddy’s Rainbow and Becky Cameron’s illustrations make the most of it. Key scenes use contrasting greys and bright colour, light and dark shades that draw attention to the magic of colour in the story. The use of water colours enhances the story at every turn—rainy and snowy weather feature in the text and the watercolours portray these scenes in a striking manner. Lastly, the chosen medium (watercolour) seems to encourage readers to fully appreciate the vivid yet elusive nature of memory itself.
Daddy’s Rainbow is a poignant story that can help young children and their families explore a challenging topic.
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.
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.
Evan (a fox) and his pet dog enjoy music, adventures, and working in their prize-winning garden. When Evan’s dog dies, he allows their much-loved garden to be overrun by weeds until something grows that helps him come to terms with his grief.
The Rough Patch is a Caldecott Honor book and deeply moving. The term of intense grief that the story focuses on follows the seasons and with great sensitivity alludes to the time it can take to process loss. Through Evan’s different responses to the garden Brian Lies explores various emotions associated with grief such as anger, sadness and acceptance. Ultimately, the book is full of hope and gently reminds the reader that there will come a time when the grief is not so acute.
Evan is portrayed as a fox and an old-fashioned farmer; the illustrations have an old world, country charm that includes illusions to the food and entertainment of country life. The colours range from rich, warm earthy tones to dirty greys and greens, mirroring the many emotions explored in the book. The decision to portray Evan as a fox—in some cultures associated with ferocity—heightens both Evan’s tenderness towards his dog and also the intensity of his grief. The fierce fox brought low by the death of his pet may help children perceive the difficulty of loss for all people—big, small, tough or sensitive.
The Rough Patch does not talk down to young children; it treats grief as a serious and time-consuming emotion. Many children experiencing loss will no doubt appreciate the honesty with which the subject is tackled.
For other picture books dealing with the death of a loved one see our Review List.