Nervous Nigel

Nervous Nigel
Bethany Christou
Templar Publishing

Bethany Christou’s follow-up to Slow Samson is another winner, even if her young crocodile protagonist is not.

Nigel comes from a long line of water-sport champions and like the rest of his family, Nigel loves to swim and his favourite spot for relaxing and thinking is in the water.

However once he has to start following a training regime, he gets butterflies in his tummy and his tail is all a-tremble, but he daren’t let on to the family.

Then comes the news. Nigel is to take part in his very first competition:

no wonder he has a sleepless night and no matter what he does or says there’s no getting out of it.

When race day dawns Nigel is a complete nervous wreck.

There’s absolutely no way he can take that dive from the starting blocks, so what will he do?

Is there perhaps something else water-related that he can enjoy

and at the same time make his family proud without winning medals?

Suffering from anxiety is part and parcel of growing up so most little ones will appreciate Nigel’s plight; so too will adult sharers who, one hopes put children’s happiness and self-fulfilment above reflected glory.

Bethany Christou’s wonderfully expressive, warm illustrations have a gentle humour that underscores her message about allowing children to be themselves and follow their own paths.

My Monster and Me

My Monster and Me
Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey
Hodder Children’s Books

Nadiya Hussain has recently spoken out about her own anxiety issues and now has written a picture book intended to give little ones and their carers a starting point for talking about anxiety and worries.

The narrator is a small boy who talks of his ever-present monster that nobody is able to banish; a bossy creature that gets in the way of everything the lad wants to do. It prevents him from playing with his own toys and even his friends.

After school one day the monster is waiting – huge and bad tempered – and it follows the boy all the way to his grandma’s house.

Seeing how upset he looks, Gran listens to her grandson’s tale of woe

and as he talks the monster starts to shrink and that’s when the boy gains control.

The monster never completely goes away but now it no longer wields the power.

Told in a straightforward manner that young children can easily relate to, Nadiya’s reassuring tale is made all the more so by rising star, Ella Bailey’s smashing illustrations. She portrays the monster as a mischievous rather rotund creature, rather than a scary one.

With ever more children of all ages having anxiety issues books such as this one can be an absolute boon for parents and teachers to share.

Coping the Change: Charlie Star / How to Feed Your Parents

Charlie Star
Terry Milne
Old Barn Books

Charlie Star is a dachshund with a difference; he suffers from anxiety and it makes him exhibit repetitive behaviours. The creature is frightened that if he doesn’t do certain things such as checking under his bed and always walking the same side of a tree on the way to market, or lining up his toys neatly every night, something terrible will happen. He uses these routines to hold his anxiety at bay: it sounds to me as though he may have OCD.

One day however, an emergency occurs: his friend Hans is in trouble and is in urgent need of Charlie’s help.

Off dashes the dog not stopping to carry out all his usual routine actions to discover that Hans has his head stuck in a length of pipe as a result of a game of hide-and-seek.

Good old Charlie comes up with a clever way of extricating his friend and thus learns that a change in routine isn’t quite so scary after all.

That day his thought as he goes to bed is “Forgot everything today but things turned out okay.”

But what about the following day? Does he revert to his usual routine sequence? The answer is yes but also no for now Charlie knows that the occasional change isn’t a disaster and perhaps it might lead to something wonderful…

I love the focus on the importance of friendship at the end of the story.
The author/illustrator has a daughter who exhibits anxiety and repetitive behaviour and as a result she wrote this story to reassure other children who might have similar struggles. Assuredly, with its wonderfully expressive illustrations, it’s a good starting point for opening discussion on the topic, particularly in the way it demonstrates that change isn’t really so scary as we might suppose.

How to Feed Your Parents
Ryan Miller and Hatem Aly
Sterling

Matilda Macaroni is an adventurous eater, eager to try new foods, not so her mum and dad. They insist on sticking to half a dozen items – chicken, macaroni, burgers, grilled cheese, pizza and cereal.

In contrast Matilda’s foray into other fare starts when she tastes her grandma’s jambalaya and continues as she tries goulash (at Grandma’s), sushi – at a sleepover and pork paprika on a play date.
She comes to the conclusion that the only way to get her parents to sample different foods is to take over the kitchen and do the cooking herself. With the help of her gran, she soon learns the niceties of knife wielding, cookbooks become her bedtime reading and her babysitter shops at the local farmers’ market for the necessary ingredients.

It’s not long before the young miss has a repertoire of tasty dishes she wants to share with her mum and dad; the next task is to get them to sample some.

She decides on one of their favourites for supper – burgers – albeit with a few modifications.

“There are mushrooms on it. And green things,” protests her mum. But what will be the verdict when they sink their teeth into the only thing on offer that night?

A comic, wackily illustrated role-reversal tale that might even persuade young picky eaters to adopt Matilda’s parents revised attitude at the end of the tale and try anything.

The Worry Box

The Worry Box
Suzanne Chiew and Sean Julian
Little Tiger Press

It must surely be a symptom of our troubled times that there’s been a spate of recent picture books on the theme of anxiety, and the mental health of young people is constantly under discussion, due in no small part to the prevalent pressurised education regime, a legacy of a certain politician currently championing the dreaded BREXIT.

The most recent of such books to come my way is The Worry Box wherein we meet the worrisome Murray Bear along with his big sister, Milly.

It’s waterfalls with their potential for ‘bigness’ and loudness that present the first of Murray’s worrying possibilities. Fortunately though, his fears in this respect are allayed by Milly as they make their way home.

Back inside Milly introduces her coping tool, a worry box, to her sibling, explaining how it works. They make one for Murray and they head off to meet their friends at that waterfall.

Once there Murray remembers to use his special box when he starts feeling worried about climbing a tall tree.

After a fun-filled afternoon, the mislaying of Milly’s backpack delays the friends and they’re not ready to leave until sunset. It’s then that Lara reveals her worries about the dark. Now it’s Murray’s turn to offer reassurance, a helping paw and co-use of his special box until they’re safely home,

after which the sibling bears stand in the moonlight contemplating their amazing day together.

Enormously reassuring for all little worriers is Suzanne Chiew’s story while Sean Julian’s gorgeous illustrations of the verdant natural landscape setting make you want to pause on the dragonfly littered riverbank, refreshing waterfall and scale the tree along with the animal characters so beautifully portrayed herein.

When I taught KS1 children we’d often have a worry tree (branches standing in a container) in the classroom. Children wrote their worries on leaf-shaped coloured paper, hung them from the twigs and then every day or so, those that wanted to shared what they’d written with the class. A discussion could arise or the mere act of hanging up the leaf often worked on its own. After sharing this book, children might create their own worry box for use at home or the class could make a communal one that is used in a similar way.

No matter what, a shared reading will help listeners let go of their concerns and enjoy embracing new challenges.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby’s Worry
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

All children have worries from time to time and so it is with young Ruby.
She’s always felt upbeat doing the things she loves until the fateful day she discovers, uh oh! a Worry.

At first the worry is tiny, barely noticeable in fact, but the trouble is it begins to grow … and grow, day by day until it seems to be there all the time no matter what she does or where she goes.

Nobody else can see the thing and Ruby tries to stay positive but the Worry gets in the way of her doing her favourite things. Suppose it never goes away, she worries. Oops! Big mistake – the thing expands,

until it’s completely filling her every waking moment.

Then one day as Ruby is walking in the park she comes across a sad-looking boy and, something else is lurking beside him. A worry perhaps?

What happens thereafter is of enormous benefit to both the boy and Ruby herself.

Yes of course, she still does have the occasional worry but now Ruby has a coping strategy so that she’ll never feel so overwhelmed again.

Tom Percival is such an empathetic story maker. Once again he explores a subject that affects so many young children through an empowering, book that all can relate to.

I love the way he adjusts the colour balance of his illustrations so that as Ruby’s worry grows, the pictures take on an increasingly grayscale appearance, with full colour returning when the two children’s worries are banished in an exuberant rainbow of joy.

A perfect book for stimulating discussion about worry sharing.

Mouse’s Big Day / All Birds Have Anxiety / Mouse and the Storm

Mouse’s Big Day
Lydia Monks
Macmillan Children’s Books
Mouse is going to school for the very first time and even before leaving home, she’s decided it’s not for her. Her dawdling tactics don’t work, nor does her “I don’t want to” response to all Mummy mouse’s encouraging remarks; finally she’s left at Twit Twoo School in the safe hands of teacher, Miss Hoot.

She has an exciting project for her class: “… go out and find something. Something special. Maybe something only you can find.
Mouse reluctantly joins her classmates all of whom thoroughly enjoy rummaging, upturning rocks, digging and pond peering, although she’s too shy to be anything but an onlooker. While the others are busy contemplating their findings …

Mouse vanishes. Miss Hoot knows just where to look for her though, and eventually a kindly paw proffered by Mole encourages Mouse to emerge from her hiding place and follow the others back indoors.
There she makes a series of discoveries that ultimately lead her to a very important realisation. School is an exciting place after all and she cannot wait for tomorrow.
Populated by adorable animal characters, Mouse’s school is an inviting place and Lydia Monks’ heart-warming story of her first day gets right to the heart of how the less outgoing among 4 year olds are likely to feel on their ‘Big Day’. This is just right to share with a nursery and preschool groups, or individuals, in the lead up to starting school.
Further reassurance about coping with tricky situations comes in:

All Birds Have Anxiety
Kathy Hoopman
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Statistics show that more and more children have anxiety problems, often starting at a young age. I’ve talked about educational issues that I feel are to a large degree responsible in other reviews so will just say that here is a photographic picture book that will help children of all ages better understand the condition.
By populating it with birds of all kinds with appealing faces,

and in amusing poses,

the author gives a serious topic just the right degree of lightness and gentle humour.
Anxiety in all its forms is discussed including how stress can effect everyday activities – ‘Everyday jobs, like combing hair, changing clothes or making decisions are too much to think about ’; its possible causes – ‘it often runs in families’; how to deal with it: ‘Being with those who listen to us and accept us makes a world of difference.’ and ‘Exercise, plenty of sunshine and a healthy diet are all a huge help.’ for instance.
Unthreatening, fun and enormously helpful for children of all ages, whether they suffer from anxiety or just want to understand it better in others.
For educators and those they have dealings with, be that in school, at home or in another setting.
Anxiety prone youngsters will benefit from some therapeutic reflexology as in:

Mouse and the Storm
Susan Quayle, illustrated by Melissa Muldoon
Singing Dragon
Reflexologist, complementary therapist and developer of The Children’s Reflexology Programme follows The Mouse’s House with a third story intended, this time for reflexology on a child’s hands.
Using Mouse and the five other animal characters to represent reflex areas of the hand, Quayle weaves a charming rhyming story to accompany the sessions of hand reflexology. It’s especially designed for use with young children, in particular those who have anxieties be they associated with ASD, new experiences, or another condition where calming treatments are required.
With hand instructions at the top of each left hand page and a charmingly quirky illustration on the right, adults can read the story of what happens when the animals awake to discover a storm scattered them far from the comfort of their own homes

while applying the gentle movements to the young recipient’s hands.
Since no prior reflexology experience is needed, this is a book for any parent of an anxious young child to add to the family bookshelf.

I’ve signed the charter