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
A Book Review of Catching Thoughts
Catching Thoughts is an empowering picture book for children ages 4 - 8. The author, Bonnie Clark, introduces thoughts using a balloon analogy, which helps children think more tangibly about this abstract concept. The main character starts out with "just a teeny, tiny, little thought" that grew into a bigger and more bothersome thought that took over her mind.
"It seemed like there was no more room in my head for anything but the one horrible thought."
After many attempts, she was unable to get this big, negative thought out of her mind. When she acknowledged the thought, she was able to see that it wasn't as powerful as it appeared. Only then was she able to catch other thoughts that were more positive. When the negative thought started to come back, she simply acknowledged it and "gently pushed it to the side." This is an important insight in dealing with negative thoughts. They can't be forced out, but if they are acknowledged and consciously set aside, one is able to make room for accepting more positive thoughts.
Through her empowering language, Ms. Clark demonstrates to children that they have a choice to change their negative self-talk. The illustrator, Summer Macon, does a wonderful job with the pictorial representation of the change in mood and behavior using color, facial expressions and actions that corresponds to pulling in positive thoughts.
I strongly recommend this book to help children learn, and adults remember, the power they have over their thoughts. To reinforce the concept of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, I have included an activity below.
To purchase the book or find fun activities, check out the author's website here.
Activity Idea for Catching Thoughts
-Balloons (various colors)
-Black permanent marker
A Book Review of My Quiet Ship
Quinn becomes the commander of his Space Ship, directs his crew (stuffed animals), which gives him a sense of control in a situation in which he feels helpless and scared. Quinn's scary situation is his parent's loud arguing. This book can be helpful to kids in a variety of difficult situations, even if it is coping with their baby brother crying or sensory overload.
The Space Ship is a peaceful place where Quinn can go into his mind to help calm himself and to identify his feelings. The Space Ship is Quinn's haven. This book can encourage readers to use their own imaginations and create their own havens to help them cope. It is helpful for children and adults to pull themselves away from the source of their big feelings temporarily and try to find peace within themselves. It is similar to the concept of a Safe Space in schools where a child goes to a quieter part of the classroom with comforting objects in order to re-group, ponder and get in touch with their feelings. Quinn also tries to draw, which is another great coping mechanism to model to the reader.
In the story, the arguing became so loud and Quinn's feelings became so big, that his coping strategies no longer worked. Eventually, he gathered the strength to confront his parents and express himself about how their yelling was making him feel. This is important as others may not be aware of how their behavior is making you feel unless you tell them. Through the story, the author acknowledges the strength and bravery it takes to confront a situation and express your feelings.
Expressing feelings is the most important part of this process. When Quinn expressed his feelings, it had the positive effect of making his parents aware and most importantly, getting his needs met. Quinn describes how his feelings are affecting his body, which is a great way for kid's to start to identify their own emotions. For example, "...from the sounds that hurt my ears and make my heart ache." and "...the sounds that make my stomach sick." Identification of feelings based on how it feels in your body is crucial.
Through her illustrations, Sonia Sánchez gives the reader a sense of turmoil that is experienced through Quinn. By the end of the story, Ms. Sánchez uses her illustrations to create a sense of calm in the reader. She captures the feelings of the characters very well, which pulls the reader in to the emotion of the story.
I highly recommend this book for teaching coping skills and the importance of expressing feelings, especially with kids in difficult situations. It can lead to deeper conversations about what the reader experiences in their life, how they can cope and how they can use their skills to gain control over their situations.
I would like to caution readers on a couple of points in the story. Escaping through imagination excessively, without confronting and addressing the feelings, can become a maladaptive strategy to respond to trauma and lead to dissociative symptoms later in life. Additionally, there are trauma situations in which it would not be safe for the child to confront the adults about how they are feeling and could lead to further abuse. In this situation, help the child develop a list of other safe adults they can access for help, if the situation is out of hand and safety issues are prevalent.
You can access Hallee Adelman's website to purchase her book or check out other books by this author here.
Activity Idea for My Quiet Ship
Construct a Space Ship with the child as a means to explore events that make them want to escape and to help them identify related feelings.
These questions may help get the exercise started.
1. What is Quinn trying to escape from when he takes off in his Space Ship?
2. What feelings does it give him when his parents argue?
3. Do you ever feel a need to escape from something that gives you big feelings like Quinn?
4. What big feelings do you have when that happens?
5. What would be your best way to escape in your imagination?
6. What could you do to make others aware of how you feel and to get what you need from them?
Empty toilet paper roll
cardstock or construction paper
red/orange tissue paper or construction paper
silicone or other strong glue
markers or crayons
A Book Review of Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree
Pandemic panic aside, anxiety disorders are the most common psychological issue among children. Anxiety has been on the rise in our society for many years. Anxiety and worry are a normal part of childhood, but it can become more severe in some children. This book, Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree, is excellent for children within the whole spectrum of anxiety, from everyday worries to severe disturbances. This book will help children name and understand their feelings of anxiety as well as learn to cope with it.
The author, Gail Silver, utilizes a tree as an analogy for anxiety, with beautiful writing as follows:
"like a seed from underground, it sprouts alive, unleashed, unbound. With knarled roots, this kind of tree feeds on thoughts ..." The story begins as Bea, in anticipation of her birthday party, is bombarded with thoughts of "What if ..." "What if nobody comes? What if we didn't bake enough cake?" These "what if ..." questions are very common in all of our thoughts when anxiety starts to take hold.
Through Bea, Ms. Silver does a thorough job in describing the physical sensations in our bodies when we are feeling anxious. This is an important step in helping children recognize and name their feelings, which is crucial to coping. She then takes children through a meditation process, including deep breathing and slowing down thoughts in order to choose what to think about. Repetition of words is used in the text to show Bea slowly calming herself down and quieting her irrational thoughts as she is employing her coping skills.
Franziska Hollbacher, the illustrator, follows the mood of the story beautifully through her illustrations. Initially the vines of the tree are taking over. Slowly these vines recede and the illustrations become more and more calm and then full of fun energy as the birthday party begins.
This book includes a Note to Parents, written by a psychologist, which includes helpful information on how to use this book, information on understanding anxiety in children, how parents can help, and when to seek professional help.
I strongly recommend this book for all children ages 4-8, whether struggling with temporary, everyday worries or with an ongoing anxiety disorder. Check out other books on emotions by Gail Silver at https://gailsilver.com/books-and-more/.
I have included additional resources below and an activity to further help your child with their worries and anxieties.
Activity and Resources for Mindful Bea and the Worry Tree
Belly breathing is the most important skill to acquire and not easy to teach young children - here are a couple of links to videos to help teach belly breathing to kids
Relaxation/Meditation/Mindfulness - an abundance of apps are available on Iphone or Ipad with meditation/mindfulness exercises for kids. A few of the higher rated apps are:
Stop, Breathe and Think Kids
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street (for the younger crowd)
Calm (has a specialized kid's section)
pinwheel template https://www.firstpalette.com/printable/pinwheel.html
Paper (cardstock works best)can use colored paper or white
unused pencil with eraser
push pin or tack
crayons or markers
glue -strong glue is helpful
bead or small button
A Book Review of Grumpy Monkey
-with constant togetherness,
major changes in routine,
fewer emotional and social outlets,
worry about the future,
money issues, etc.,
I would venture to guess that grumpy monkey business is now at an all-time high! In other words, it is likely that we are all going bananas! For that reason, I have decided to review the Grumpy Monkey book this month for all of you "grumpy monkeys" out there (well, and here too!)
Grumpy Monkey is a New York Times bestselling picture book that addresses that vague, all-the-big-feelings-at-once mood of GRUMPINESS. Jim Panzee had a day where nothing felt quite right. His jungle friends noticed his grumpiness, but Jim was in denial and insisted repeatedly, "I am not grumpy!" They pointed out his body language that showed otherwise. Marabou said, "You're all hunched," so Jim straightened his body. Lemur noticed that Jim's eyebrows were all bunched up and snake noticed a frown on Jim's face. Jim changed his body language, but the jungle friends knew that he was pretending. Even though he was trying not to look grumpy on the outside, Jim still felt grumpy on the inside. However, Jim still insisted that he was NOT grumpy.
Sound familiar? Many times we don't notice ourselves feeling or acting grumpy. Children, as well as adults, tend to deny being grumpy when its pointed out. But grumpiness not only affects ourselves, but those around us, and sometimes it's even catchy! Grumpiness is often so many feelings lumped together into one that it is difficult to recognize in ourselves and even more difficult to pinpoint the cause.
The animals couldn't understand why Jim was grumpy because it was such a beautiful day. The jungle friends tried to cheer him up, suggesting a mountain of ideas, but Jim didn't feel like doing anything. All of their suggestions were things that made his friends feel happy, but not Jim, especially not on this day. The efforts of his friends became increasingly annoying and Jim reached his limit. Finally, his mood escalated further and he went BANANAS, screamed at the top of his lungs, "I AM NOT GRUMPY!" and stormed off.
After feeling bad for yelling at his friends and noticing that his friend, Norman, had become grumpy too, Jim finally accepted that he was grumpy. Accepting that feeling for himself, and his friends acknowledging his feeling, when he was ready, was all he really needed to start to feel a little better.
In this book, Suzanne Lang promotes social-emotional learning by showing children the importance of reading other's body language. Another important emotional lesson is that sometimes cheering up is not what we need. Sometimes, we just need to feel grumpy and for that to be okay. Accepting your own and acknowledging other's feelings, when they are ready, can go a long way in being able to sit with your feelings and start to feel better.
The illustrator, Max Lang, does a beautiful job portraying the distinct facial expressions and body language of Jim and his jungle friends. The illustrations are vivid and fun, adding to the enjoyment of the story.
Suzanne and Max Lang have created a series of Grumpy Monkey books that are equally enjoyable. Check them out at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/222967/suzanne-lang.
Below I have an activity suggestion to go along with the book!
Activity Idea for Grumpy Monkey
We are going to make a Grumpy Monkey mask, so your child can hold it up when he/she is feeling grumpy and doesn't want to be bothered. They may even lend it to you, or other members of the family, when they notice you are having a grumpy day. Maybe it will help lighten the mood!
-printed copy of monkey face from this link https://www.firstpalette.com/pdf/monkeymask.pdf
-craft stick or straw
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