A Book Review of Blake's Big Day
Blake, the other character in the book, is Glen's cat. Blake is a smart and caring cat. Blake was born into a situation where he was not well cared for or fed properly. The place where he lived was dirty and full of other cats that were also uncared for. Glen adopted Blake after he was rescued from this bad situation and brought to a shelter. Others were not interested in adopting Blake because he was small and looked unhealthy. However, Glen looked past his appearance, and immediately saw Blake's potential. Glen did not judge Blake based on his history. Blake did not judge Glen based on his disabilities. They immediately developed a strong connection.
There are big lessons in this book that we can learn from Glen and Blake. People with disabilities are NOT their disabilities. People with difficult histories or from poverty are NOT their histories. Regardless of any of those things, we all have our own set of gifts and talents and can contribute to the world in big ways. We are all worthy, deserve respect and should be included in the world and not shunned.
To obtain a world where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, we need to be exposed to things and taught from a young age. That is where this book comes in! In addition to the great story, this book exposes kids to a person with a disability and a cat that comes from poverty and a difficult beginning in life. This gives kids a window into the lives of these characters, normalizes their situations as part of our world, and helps them develop empathy. Reading diverse stories, watching diverse movies, and having diversity in your life, can go a long way to decrease stigma in our society, It is not only awareness that is important, but acceptance and tolerance to others who are different from ourselves.
The key is to normalize the differences in human beings at a young age, whether it be due to skin color, gender identity, cultural differences, economic situation or disability. This will help with one's possible fear of others, with bullying, and encourage kids to stand up for others who are being treated unfairly. Seeing people with disabilities can be scary and uncomfortable for kids sometimes. Kids are naturally curious and will often ask questions. This is normal and should not be discouraged. However, the more preparation they have had for the real world of all different kinds of people, the less uncomfortable they will be.
Some disabilities can be seen and others are hidden. For example, you would not know by looking at Glen, that he has seizures. However, if a child witnesses a seizure by another person, it can be scary. Again, preparation is key. This book can help start the conversation about seizures, and is especially important if a child has seizures or has a family member/friend that has epilepsy or is prone to seizures.
In the book, Glen has a seizure, which is very scary for Blake, who does not know what to do. After some trial and error, Blake finds something that helps (licking his toes!) and Glen comes out of the seizure. Blake was empathic toward Glen and did what he could to help. He also sees Glen as a functioning human being and respects him for the gifts he has. Blake is a model for all of us!
Wendy Fedan, the illustrator of this book, has displayed her talents throughout. Glen and Blake are beautifully illustrated and inviting characters. The art is fun and colorful and clearly shows the loving connection between Glen and Blake.
I have attached a child-friendly training video about seizures below to take the exposure from the book a bit further. It is probably not a good idea for a child to lick the toes of someone having a seizure, as Blake did! So, this excellent video, by the American Epilepsy Foundation, can help them understand seizures and learn how to respond.
The lesson that I took from the book is that Glen and Blake are both worthy. Their disabilities and tough start on life do not define them. The ironic thing is that due to Glen's strengths, Blake was saved. And, due to Blake's strengths, Glen was saved. We all have talents that are valuable to others, disability or not. So, when in a situation where you have contact with someone different from yourself, whether due to skin color, disability or whatever reason, think to yourself "WHAT WOULD BLAKE DO?" and act accordingly (without licking their toes!).
If you are interested in purchasing this book, it is available on Amazon HERE.
Below is the video and I have provided an activity idea to go along with this adorable book.
Activity Idea for Blake's Big Day
Discuss the strengths and differences of the characters in the book with the child. Address how they treated each other and why Blake was considered a hero. Discuss examples of differences that others may have from them, ie. skin color, economic status, hidden differences. Then, have a discussion about human beings being different from each other, but that nobody is better or worse than another person. We can be different but all are still human (Well, except Blake!) and we all have our strengths. Try to think of someone from the child's life who is a person with a disability and brainstorm their strengths.
-Black, yellow, grey and pink construction paper
-craft stick or straw
-googly eyes (optional)
-pink craft pompom (optional)
A Book Review of Way Past Mad
Ms. Adelman has written four books in this series to-date, focusing on different feelings presented in a child's-eye-view. The book that I am focusing on in this month's blog is Way Past Mad, which, of course, focuses on anger. However, most feelings don't stand alone. They are often intertwined with others and this can make it difficult to fully understand what is going on in ourselves and others. It is important to teach children that we can have many feelings at the same time. If we pay close attention to the story, we will see examples of these intertwined feelings. To take a deeper dive into the intertwined feelings, check out the activity below. This book is appropriate for children ages 3 to 8, and can even be helpful to many of us adults!
Way Past Mad normalizes anger and presents the feeling in a very relatable way for children. Prior to leaving for school one day, Keya experiences a series of events that make her feel "WAY PAST MAD!" These experiences include her brother, Nate, messing up her room, feeding her favorite cereal to their dog, and ruining her favorite hat. This is followed by her mother's rationalization of these offenses that Nate is only little, "he didn't mean it." What child with siblings cannot relate to that?!
In some ways, Keya presents as a model to the readers as she is able to verbalize her feelings, as shown in the following excerpt:
"I was way past mad
the kind of mad
and spreads like a rash."
And, spreading like a rash it did! She took her MAD out on her friend, Hooper. She did what many of us can relate to in the heat of the moment, and said things to Hooper that she really didn't mean. Then, Hooper caught her MAD. This MAD BUG could have spread like the Coronavirus! However, Keya recognized it and made an effort to correct the situation and get past her mad. She apologized to Hooper and shared why she had been so mad. This helped Hooper get past his mad too and that put an end to that dreaded MAD BUG, that could have spread around the whole school!
This part of the story has many messages. One being that if we handle our anger inappropriately and take it out on others, there are real life consequences. However, it also normalizes the fact that sometimes we don't handle our feelings well and that we are not infallible. When the latter happens, we can take responsibility for the damage we caused and make amends. Also, talking to someone about what has given you the big feelings can help diminish those feelings and build your relationship, rather than damage it.
The illustrations in the book, created by Sandra de la Prada, are bold and colorful. The facial expressions clearly represent the strong feelings of the characters. The large images and fun drawings draw children into the story.
I recommend this book, and the other books in the series, as a means of helping children improve on this complex task of understanding and expressing their emotions appropriately. To purchase this book and check out the other books in this series, click here. I reviewed a different book by Hallee Adelman in September, 2020, My Quiet Ship, which you can check out in the archives of this blog.
I have provided a therapeutic activity idea below that goes along with the theme of this book.
Activity Idea for Way Past Mad
To dive deeper into the feelings of this book, explore with the child the other feelings, besides anger, that the characters might be feeling. For example, when Nate messed up Keya's room, what other feelings might she be having? Maybe, frustrated, annoyed, etc. Also, when her mom made excuses for her brother, could she have felt jealous of her brother or sad that he mom didn't acknowledge her feelings? Do this throughout the book, even with Hooper. Try to pull out more complex feelings such as frustration, jealousy, disappointment, etc. I have found that kids need more practice with these more specific emotions that can be intertwined in the basic feelings.
Also, start a discussion on what Keya did well and not so well in dealing with her feelings. What could she have done differently? What helped the situation?
On to the activity . . .
Balloons in multiple colors
As promised, I have posted an exclusive interview with Lauren Kerstein, author of Home for a While. Lauren is an experienced Licensed Social Worker and has authored many other books. If you have not read this month's review of Home for a While with the accompanying activity, check it out below. In this interview, Lauren provides her expertise on ways to use the book for maximum therapeutic benefit and shares her motivation for writing the book. Please welcome Lauren to the Psyched Writer Blog by providing comments below. Check it out!
If you wish to purchase one of her books, click here.
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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!
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