A Book Review of Home For A While
In 2020, there were approximately 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. This number has been increasing in recent years. This increase is, in part, due to the opioid addiction crisis that has accelerated over the past many years. Based on these numbers, the likelihood of a child having a peer in this situation in their classroom or neighborhood, is quite high. Therefore, this book is appropriate for all children to either see their own experience or as a window into an experience of a peer. It is a great resource for foster/adoptive parents and teachers as it normalizes behaviors and provides much insight into feelings and coping strategies that they can incorporate into their own families and classrooms.
Unfortunately, it is common for a child to have to move to several foster homes before finding the right fit, being adopted, or being returned to their birth family. There are many reasons for this. It could be a change in circumstances of the foster family, ie. illness, out-of-state move, etc. Sometimes it is the severe behaviors of the child presenting challenges that the foster family is not equipped to handle. It could also be the foster care agency realizing that this family is a poor fit for this child or that this home is not a safe place. These moves are often abrupt, not giving the child time to process the change. Each move eats away at the child's self-esteem and sense of worth, making them feel unwanted and unlovable, therefore likely increasing their behavioral outbursts.
In Home For A While, Calvin is a foster child who has had many moves. The author, Lauren Kerstein, doesn't shy away from the difficult emotions or negative self-talk that so many kids in this circumstance experience. "This isn't your home," or "Nobody wants you," is the narrative or self-talk going through Calvin's head in the story. He understandably has difficulty trusting Maggie, the foster mom, when she tries to reassure him. He has heard those lines before and it didn't ring true. He has learned from experience that adults cannot be trusted. Why should I trust her? I wasn't able to trust anyone else in my life.
Maggie respectfully asks Calvin if she can hug him goodnight persistently and he persistently refuses. He has built a wall around himself to avoid getting hurt again. He has learned from the past how painful it is to let someone in your heart, only for them to break it again. So, he keeps his heart safe. And, why would anyone want to hug him anyway? He's not huggable. He's not loveable. That is what his short life has already taught him. He will have to unlearn this and develop much courage in order to let others enter his heart again.
The author, Ms. Kerstein, portrays Calvin experiencing a host of feelings in this story, including fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, grief, etc. When he acts out on these feelings, he waits in fear and anxiety to see what Maggie's reaction will be. Living in many homes, you learn that everyone reacts and disciplines differently and you don't know what to expect in a new home. Most often you imagine the worst. Luckily this time, Maggie is an insightful and patient foster mom, and responds by modeling and suggesting various coping mechanisms to help him work through his feelings.
Through Maggie, Ms. Kerstein presents many coping mechanisms to help regulate big feelings. These include deep breathing, manipulating clay, bouncing a basketball and going for a walk. All of these strategies have a sensory component that is helpful with regulating emotion.
A phrase repeated by Maggie often in the book is "Like no one I've ever met." The message she conveys to Calvin through this phrase is "You are special." He doesn't feel special. He has learned the opposite about himself through all of his placements. But, Maggie is reinforcing this concept. Over time, when Calvin learns that Maggie consistently is loving, encouraging and seems to like him, he begins to trust her. When this happens his self-talk changes to "Maggie wants me," and "I like this house." This process takes a great deal of time and requires much consistency and patience on the part of the foster parent. When Calvin finally begins to trust, and let her into his heart, he can begin to heal from his multiple losses.
The illustrations by Natalia Moore with the bright colors and beautiful details complement the story. She does a great job portraying Calvin's intense feelings through facial expressions and action.
Ms. Kerstein provides an informative reader's note, that is not included in the book, but is on the Magination press website here.
I highly recommend this book for foster/adoptive kids and their caretakers, therapists, teachers, and to be read to kids in general, to provide insight and empathy to all who read it.
To purchase this book and others by this author, please visit her website here! She provides printable activities to go along with her book here.
We will be having a special guest interview with Lauren Kerstein, the author of this book, on the blog at the end of the month! She will bring her expertise as an experienced social worker and author. Stay tuned!
Activity Idea for Home For A While
An activity I did often in my practice with foster/adoptive children, especially those that had multiple placements, was to make a book of their placements in chronological order, starting with their birth home. Kids are often moved abruptly and don't have the opportunity to process the loss before heading out for a new unwanted, scary adventure. This leaves the child without closure which further complicates their situation. This activity helps provide some closure and puts some sense of order in their otherwise disorderly lives.
Sometimes kids will not remember placements if they were too young, etc. It can be helpful beforehand to get information about prior placements from a caseworker or another familiar adult, if possible. If you have received information from elsewhere that they don't remember, draw it for them with the information you have, discussing names and as many details as you can. It's important for them to have this information if you can obtain it. Otherwise, draw a basic house without the details and include anything that they remember. For younger kids, you can ask them to describe things and adult can draw it and have them color.
-yarn or thin ribbon
-historical information about placements, if possible
Featured guest interview on Bibliotherapy with Amy Murrell, PhD.
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING DAY from Psyched Writer! Since Psyched Writer Blog is all about bibliotherapy, and bibliotherapy is a major avenue toward social-emotional learning, I thought this would be a perfect day to celebrate! How are we going to celebrate, you ask? By launching Psyched Writer's first-ever video interview! As promised, I am featuring an interview of Amy Murrell, PhD, the author of this month's book selection, Becca Epps Learns to Be.
Amy Murrell will be speaking on the subject of bibliotherapy as she has reviewed the research extensively in this area. She will also be presenting a sneak peek of the recently released and upcoming books in her Becca Epps series.
This is the first I've heard of international SEL day, but I totally support the idea. Social-emotional learning is crucial in life. The benefits to kids are numerous, including improved social-emotional skills, enhanced well-being, increased empathy and decreased behavioral issues. SEL has a definite positive impact on academic and social outcomes over time. So, grab your favorite child and your favorite bibliotherapy book and get reading!
I hope you take the time to enjoy the video below!
A Book Review of Becca Epps Learns to Be
Becca Epps Learns to Be focuses on behavioral issues typically associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), however, the issues and behaviors within the story can relate to all children at one time or another. Children struggling with ADHD types of issues will surely relate to Becca. Through Becca, the author clearly captures the workings of the ADHD mind, with the tendency to act on impulse, daydream and become overwhelmed easily. Despite these issues, Becca is presented as a likeable character with her spirited personality shining through.
This book is packed chock full of coping strategies, which are part of the ACT therapeutic process. The coping strategies presented relate to mindfulness and can benefit all children, and adults alike. The first strategy demonstrated is one that I've used often in my practice and find very helpful. It is the stoplight strategy, which is a great visual self-control tool to assist kids in slowing down to think before they act. Many strategies for focusing on the moment and paying attention to your body are modeled by Becca and presented in a child-friendly way. The book realistically addresses the difficulty in focusing your mind on these strategies and carrying them through.
The illustrator, Melissa Londoño Connally, captures Becca's spirit and energy throughout the book. Becca is depicted as a character in the older age ranges of a picture book. Therefore, this book can be used therapeutically for a broader age group ranging from 4 to 11 years old.
Ms. Murrell provides a wealth of helpful information at the end of the book, including a note to adults, discussion questions and further activity ideas. This book will be a very helpful addition to your therapeutic, home or classroom library.
Check it out and purchase here, along with other helpful books in the Becca Epps series.
***I have an exciting announcement this month! I am going to feature, Amy Murrell, the author of this book, in an interview at the end of the month! She has reviewed research extensively on the benefits of bibliotherapy and will share with us her findings, as well as share more about her book series. Check back at the end of the month for this exciting and informative interview!***
I have provided an activity idea below based on the stoplight self-control strategy presented in the book.
Activity Idea for Becca Epps Learns to Be
The most important activity to go along with this book is to practice the mindfulness exercises presented. If you practice these skills with the child often when they are calm and attentive, they are more likely to use them at times when they are most needed. Make these strategies a part of your routine!
-cardboard or heavy paper
-glass to trace circles
- X-acto knife
-Cellophane in red, yellow and green(or tissue paper can work)
-flameless tealight candles -3
***I got a little over-excited and extravagant with this project! You could also simply use a piece of cardboard, glue on 3 circles cut from construction paper for the lights and move on from there! This might work much better for the younger kids.
The winner of the February drawing from Psyched Writer Blog is Tasha Kearney!!! CONGRATULATIONS TASHA!!! I will be sending you a copy of In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek! Thank you all for following my blog and celebrating my 2nd Blog Birthday!
A celebration is in order this month, as we are not only celebrating Valentine's Day, with a beautiful heart-felt book of feelings, it is my SECOND BLOG BIRTHDAY!!! To mark this momentous occasion, I am doing my first giveaway. I will be giving away a brand-new copy of this month's book, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings, to a randomly selected follower on this blog. So hurry, if you're not yet a member, follow my blog immediately for a chance to win! A winner will be chosen on February 28 and you will be notified by email. (U.S. only, sorry.) The winner will also be announced on the blog, so check back! It has been a joy to provide mental health book recommendations and activity ideas to you every month for the past 2 years. Thanks for being here and for being dedicated to the mental health needs of our precious little ones. Now, moving on to our special Valentine's post . . .
A Book Review of In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings is full of heart, literally and figuratively! It is constructed with a fun, colorful die cut heart that extends throughout the pages. The reader is sent on a journey through the heart of the main character. This book is a great introduction to emotions for young children. It is appropriate for children ages 2 - 7 and presents the topic of feelings in a visual, kid-friendly manner.
Ms. Witek, the author, describes a heart "like a house with feelings living inside," which is a beautiful way to bring the abstract concept of feelings to a tangible level for kids. This also serves to normalize feelings and introduce them as simply a part of being human. The book presents a full range of emotions, alternating between the intense and the mellow that keeps the story from becoming overwhelming. The feelings are presented in an empowering way displaying to the child that they have control over them, rather than vice-versa.
The aspect of this book that I feel is most helpful is the fact that the author focuses on how these emotions feel in the body physically and how a person might express specific feelings. Developing a feeling vocabulary and connecting it to how it feels in the body is key to self-understanding. Once we're able to name the emotion we are feeling, and express it in words, the less powerful that feeling becomes and the more confidence we have in managing it. For example, if a young child is having an outburst, if you name the feeling for them and why they may be having it, they de-escalate much faster as they feel understood. With practice, the child will be able to do this on their own. Without emotional education and practice, the skill of regulating our emotions is not developed and this can haunt us through adulthood.
The illustrator, Christine Roussey, provides a clear pictorial representation of specific feelings through fun, whimsical drawings. The book captures the attention of the youngest of children, with active and colorful illustrations throughout. By looking at the page, you can actually feel the emotions the main character is experiencing.
This is a sweet, gentle book which is empowering to children and can build their confidence in recognizing and learning to regulate their own emotions. The take away is that our feelings, whether intense and ugly, or calm and beautiful, are a part of us and all are okay. The book ends with having the reader consider his/her own emotions, which is a great jump off for a discussion on the child's own feelings and how they feel in their body.
To find this book and other books by this author and illustrator, click here. Below I provide an activity idea to take a journey through the heart of your child/client/student. To help me celebrate my 2nd blog birthday, I have a special guest today helping me with the project!
Activity Idea for In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
-Cardstock or construction paper(in 4 different colors)
- glue (I used a stronger silicone glue)
-twine or ribbon
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