(published in the Raleigh News and Observer and Charlotte Observer 5/16/17)
Writing in classrooms I lead the children through a series of games until we’ve teased out an imaginative narrative. This accents children’s natural ability to play and avoids their fear of risk which seems to grow every year. Below are recent books to aid parents and teachers in discussing anxiety with young children.
Timidity can begin toddlerhood, as in Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Bonnie Adamson’s “Rutabaga Boo!” (Atheneum, ages 2-4). The near wordless book brims with emotions and threatening situations. The reassuring mother lightens tenseness with play beginning with a joyful morning greeting ritual. “Rutabaga” calls her toddler son. “Boo” answers the mother. This endearing call and response continues during hide and seek, a moment of independence, temporary separation, and when the mother leaves for a trip.
In Julie Fortenberry’s “Lily’s Cat Mask” (Penguin, ages 3-5) a father sensitive to his daughter’s anxiety buys her the colorful cat mask she admires. This cat mask bolsters and restores Lily in situation after situation. Fortenberry excels at wedding word and image as Lily wears the mask to parties with her closest friends (all inanimate) and uses the mask to be invisible at a party (masked, she hides behind a plant). Adults are indulgent and the mask helps when Lily feels mean and can’t “get nice.” The sticking point comes at school when the mask is labeled “a distraction.” By book’s end Lily has met a friend who understands.
Tony Johnston’s “A Small Thing … but Big” (Roaring Brook, ages 3-5) features a wary young girl and a tender adult. Lizzie runs joyfully at the park until she sees a dog and freezes. An older man who is “a bit anxious also, but with a sparkle” allows Lizzie to feel success each time she conquers a fear that’s “a small thing, but big.” There’s a final connection as Lizzie admits her fear of dogs and the old man replies he had been “very afraid of children.”
Social expectations prompt shyness in Rosemary Wells’ “Say Hello, Sophie” (Penguin, ages 3-5). When Sophie’s mother prompts her to greet and thank everyone she meets, the words “shrank to the size of a pea on Sophie’s tongue.” An understanding Granny takes Sophie on an adventure, feigns tooth pain and encourages Sophie, “Brave girl, take charge!’ With no one bossing her around, Sophie’s words and actions function in full force.
An antidote to anxiety is presenting brave role models. There’s an unstoppable heroine in “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished” (Clarion, ages 4-7) by Chapel Hill author Camille Andros. Charlotte “a serious scientist” (clad in lab coat and goggles) follows the scientific method – or tries to. The curious bunny is blocked by a den full of family. It’s not until she applies the five-step method that she finds a solution … and a new hypothesis to explore. Brianne Farley’s illustrations add details that contribute to the humor of a story which is a great way to lead to a discussion of problem solving.
These are just snap-shots of anxiety books for young children and it doesn’t always fade as children grow up.
If you’d like to receive an annotated bibliography of more books, contact Susie Wilde through her website, ignitingwriting.com