February is a month to celebrate for Psyched Writer! Along with Valentine's Day, it is our Blog-iversary. Three years in the books! I'm counting on you to help me celebrate! Comment on this month's blog post and you will be eligible to win the book for February, Red, A Crayon's Story. I will randomly pick a winner (U.S. only) from the comments on the last day of February. Stay tuned!
A Book Review of Red, A Crayon's Story
Eventually, purple crayon accepted him for who he was and recognized his value. This provided Red the confidence that he needed to move forward. Red reached self-acceptance for who he truly was and gained the courage to verbalize "I'm blue." This set him free. Once he was free to be his authentic self, he was accepted by the other crayons.
Did you catch the metaphor? This book examines the journey of a transgender person working through gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is defined as the discomfort and distress caused by a discrepancy between a person's gender identity (blue crayon) and their assigned sex at birth (red label). There is also some blending between the colors in the book to create new colors. This is not only an art lesson in color mixing, it represents a powerful point. The point is that color, or gender, are not absolute. They can be blended and explored to create a continuim of colors (or gender). Thus, gender can be on a spectrum, ranging from very male to very female and everthing in between.
Why is this book appropriate for young children? Some children as young as 3 years old start to question their gender. Some are able to verbalize this feeling, for example, "My body is a boy, but I'm a girl." Or, "My parts don't match who I am." Or simply by insisting repeatedly that they are the other gender. Research shows that about 75% of transgender adults began experiencing gender dysphoria between the ages of 4.5 and 7. Therefore, it is in the best interest of gender-questioning young children to see themselves in literature and to not feel alone with their feelings.
This book is equally important for those who aren't in the situation of questioning their sexual identity. If children learn about the transgender experience at a young age, they are more likely to become accepting. If we can develop openess for differences early on, our society will be all the better for it. Sadly, the crayon society is leaps and bounds ahead of us in learning acceptance.
Transgender individuals are vulnerable in our society. They are often the victims of teasing, bullying, and physical abuse. Due to this intolerance, the rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide are extremely high among this group. It is crucial for the mental health of all humans to be able to live their best lives as their authentic selves.
Since this blog post is already long, and I have much more to say, I'm going to continue with this topic next month. I will be in search of another amazing book on gender identity/questioning to review! March's post will be focused on addressing the needs of the gender questioning child. Make sure to check out the fun exercise below!
If you wish to purchase this book, click HERE. Or better yet, purchase it at an independent bookstore near you.
An Activity Idea for Red, A Crayon's Story
-Crayons or markers
A Book Review of The Big, Bad Wolf In My House
Children in Domestic Violence environments, even if they are "sleeping" during the incidents, are very aware of what is going on in their home. Kids hear and notice things much more than we give them credit for. This is the reason I love that this story is told from the point of view of a child. This quote from the book, shows how insightful and observant children can be in these situations.
"He batted his eyelashes and purred like a pussycat in front of
my mother. But he looked at me with cold eyes and sharp teeth."
Children are often the indirect victims of domestic violence. Living in a toxic, DV environment severely impacts children. This is true even if the children are not the direct victims. Kids who witness violence in their home often live "on guard," worrying about when the next incident will occur. They worry about their own safety, as well as that of the parent victim. This can lead to chronic anxiety.
Kids within a DV situation also present with other symptoms which may include nightmares, sleep problems, anger, irritability, concentration issues and somatic complaints. Preschoolers may revert to younger behaviors such as bedwetting, thumb sucking, whining, etc. These issues often continue even after the child is removed from the situation. These indirect victims are also at risk for long-term consequences such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, health problems and repeating abusive patterns in their future relationships.
The combination of powerfully written and drawn images pull the reader into the heartache of the story. For example, "The honeymoon was sour, like lemons" and "The wolf was spitting mad," provide strong images, even without the illustrations. However, the artist, Nathalie Dion, takes those written images further by shining a light on the intense feelings that the situation evokes.
Speaking of shining a light, the illustrator includes literal lights illuminating certain toxic situations in the book. I find this quite clever as DV situations are often kept in the dark and remain a family secret. This book shines a light on the issue of domestic violence and shows kids that they don't have to stay in the dark with this secret.
Equally as brilliant, the illustrator subtly includes shadows which provide a strong representation of the realities of this situation. The shadows of the wolf are large and elongated showing the overpowering nature of the abuser in her life and how truly scary this is for her. The last page shows a reflection of the window with crossbars over the sleeping girl in the shelter which reflects that she is now safe.
The Big, Bad Wolf in My House portrays many common reactions to DV in the home by children. Some of these include over-compliance to avoid making waves, intense fear and closing off from others in order to survive mentally. The book ends on a hopeful note as the mother and daughter leave and go to a domestic abuse shelter, where the main character begins to feel safe.
I highly recommend this book for kids who have been or currently are an indirect or direct victim of DV. This is an excellent resource to open up the topic of domestic violence in a gentle, yet powerful way. Children in DV situations will definitely identify with and feel less alone after reading this book. I have provided an activity below to accompany the book for the purpose of taking the discussion to the next level.
If you wish to purchase the book, you can buy it HERE, or preferably, at an independent bookstore near you!
An Activity Idea For The Big, Bad Wolf In My House
*Discussion question ideas are below.
-Empty cardboard paper towel roll
-Black and white construction paper or cardstock
A Book Review of Bella's Recipe for Success
Bella, the main character, upon witnessing the special skills of her siblings, searches for her own strengths. However, after half-hearted attempts at gymnastics and piano-her sibling's skills-she comes up empty. Then she decides that maybe baking is an area in which she can excel, like her abuela (grandmother). After much frustration and discouragement with her baking attempts, she persists. In fact, she tries so many times that I'm pretty sure she ran out of vanilla in the process! And with a nice touch by the illustrator, she made a major flour mess along the way (that I can totally relate to!). Eventually, Bella gets the recipe just right and all of her practice is rewarded with delicious cookies (oops, until she trips on the cat and they go flying across the room!).
Through this story, Ms. Siqueira highlights the universal lapses of self-confidence that touches all of us from time to time. When we see others' successes, we may become discouraged, or even a little envious. Sometimes it seems that a certain skill comes easy for another person. We don't see the grit and hard work that the person plowed through to get to that skill level. But, if you've lived long enough, you know that nothing in this world comes easily. Everything takes hard work and lots of practice, which is the message of the book.
Although, let's face it, even though EVERYTHING takes practice, we all do have strengths and weaknesses (or challenges). These are based on heredity, innate neurological functioning and/or early learning experiences. Certain skills may come a little easier for us than other skills. To borrow wisdom from abuela in the book, "We're all good at different things." As a side note, I especially love the value placed on the wisdom and experience of the abuela in the story, which in our culture of technology has become undervalued.
While reading about Bella, I thought of the many kids I have encountered in my practice. Many of whom have experienced more than their fair share of defeat in life. That defeat may be due to their family circumstances, physical disabilities, mental health challenges or learning disabilities. Therefore, the themes raised in this book may become more pronounced for them, as their self-esteem has suffered. The common response of many of these children when confronted with a challenge often is "I can't." Therefore, this book would be especially helpful in these circumstances.
Often kids with learning disabilities, for example, compare themselves to other students in their class and feel inadequate. When working with these kids, I encourage them to explore their own strengths instead of dwelling on their challenges. For example, maybe reading is difficult for you, but you have a real science mind. Maybe you struggle with math, but you are a great soccer player. Maybe you don't walk well due to your disability, but you are a reading whiz. Maybe you struggle with paying attention, but you have amazing art skills. Maybe you lose your temper easily, but you have a great sense of humor.
A general idea on how I present this concept to kids is as follows:
Some parts of our brains (challenges) don't work as well as other parts (strengths). So, those challenge parts have to depend on other parts of the brain to kick in and help. I refer to those helpers in the brain as "brain buddies." In order to get the "brain buddies" to work together, it takes much extra work and time, and can be frustrating. But, many skills that are hard for us are very important. So, we can't let the "brain buddies" give up. When we practice, we cheer on the "brain buddies!"
However, other parts of our brain, our strengths, work well and don't have to rely on the 'brain buddies' to help out. Those things still require much practice, but maybe aren't as frustrating to master.
Displayed below, is a project using the above concept. This works well with kids that struggle with defeat. It is a perfect accompaniment to this book.
Bella's Recipe for Success is about hope. Hope in our abiities to accomplish things and confidence in our abilities to contribute to the world in some way. Our mental health depends on this!
If you'd like to try your own hand at baking, Bella's special ethnic recipe is included at the back of the book! To purchase this book and to check out upcoming books by the author, Ana Siqueira, click here.
An Activity Idea for Bella's Recipe for Success
First of all, of course make the polvorones from the recipe in the book. You can snack on those while doing the project below! Remember, if you mess them up the first time, try, try again!
In this month's project, we are going to talk about our own challenges and strengths, and draw them in our brain. Then, we are going to make warm and fuzzy "brain buddies" to help out with our challenges when needed. The "brain buddies" represent other parts of the brain that we need to access to help the part of the brain that is struggling. This is especially helpful for kids with learning problems. This project helps demonstrate why learning some skills is harder and takes longer to master than others. And, of course, to normalize the fact that we all have our challenges and strengths. Enjoy!
-Brain template- print out here
-Fuzzy craft balls
Great news on Psyched Writer Blog this month! I have added categories linked to the topics of the book reviews/activity ideas. So, from now going forward, it will be much easier to find the topic you are looking for. I'm hoping this addition will make this blog experience much more user-friendly. The categories are listed on the right side of the post. Just click the category of interest and all of the book reviews/activities related to that topic will pop up. Check it out!
A Book Review of Emily's Blue Period
For example, if you are looking for a book on anxiety, you go to the "Anxiety" section and, VOILA, there are all of their books that address this topic in one spot! The books are mostly fiction and represent all age levels from adults to young children. Definitely, a bibliotherapist's dream! If you live in or visit the area, I definitely recommend checking it out in person. If not, their books are available for purchase on-line too! Check out their website here.
Emily's Blue Period is one of the books I picked up at Oh Hello Again in September! I knew going into the store that my blog was lacking books on divorce. So, when I arrived into the store, I went to the section on "Divorce" and, VOILA, this book was calling my name!
Emily's Blue Period is a picture book/early chapter book hybrid. It's divided into a few chapters and the length is a bit longer than a traditional picture book. However, it is full of beautiful illustrations. I would use this book for a wider range of children, specifically 4 - 10 year olds. The younger readers may need to read it in more than one sitting, depending on their attention span.
The author, Cathleen Daly, does a fabulous job integrating a love of art, facts about a famous artist and the experience of separation/divorce into one story. The art focus in the story, in addition to teaching kids a bit about art history, lightens up the intense feelings portrayed in the book.
The main character, Emily, wants to be an artist when she grows up. She is learning about Pablo Picasso in school and makes efforts to emulate him. After Emily's father moves out of their house into an apartment, Emily uses her knowledge of Picasso to help navigate her experience. She compares Picasso's art of mixing things up to her family being mixed up.
When Emily learns about Picasso's blue period, in which he was very sad and only painted in shades of blue, she relates and decides she is in her "blue period" also. During this time, her sadness comes through clearly in the book, as she refuses to participate in art class unless she can use the color blue. The book also brings in the strong emotions of Emily's brother, Jack, as he responds to the family situation with anger.
The climax of the story comes when Emily learns about collage in art class. The teacher assigns the class a project to make a collage of their house. This is sad and confusing for Emily as she does not know which house to call her own. With the help of her family, she learns that "Home is where the heart is," and eventually comes up with an idea. Emily creates a collage in a heart shape and integrates special things from her mom and dad's house on her one heart. She calls it the home of her heart. This activity is very therapeutic for Emily and marks the end of her "blue period."
The illustrations by Lisa Brown are detailed and in muted colors which fit the mood of the story. She uses a dull shade of blue throughout much of the book to accentuate the sadness that Emily is experiencing.
I highly recommend this book for children who are navigating through separation and divorce of their parents. The collage activity from the story is such a great therapeutic activity, that this is the activity I'm going to recommend this month.
Check out the author's website and explore other books by this author here.
An Activity Idea of Emily's Blue Period
This month we are going to create the same project as Emily in the book. It is an amazingly therapeutic idea for children of divorce, so I want to highlight it. This project is likely going to take more than one session.
-large paper roll
-glue stick and strong glue
-crayons or markers
-photos of parents, siblings, houses, etc.
-Collected reminder items from each home
that child would like to include
-cut out computer images if needed
-heart stickers (optional)
A Book Review of The Invisible Boy
The Invisible Boy is a book I treasure as it is one after my own heart. I was one of those quiet children and I would venture to guess, the author, Trudy Ludwig, was one or knew one intimately. She shows incredible insight into the realities of an introverted child throughout this book. I truly appreciate this perspective as there are few people who recognize the inner workings of the quiet child. The majority of books on the subject focus on changing the quiet child to become more outgoing. This reflects the presumption in our society that being quiet is somehow less desirable than being outgoing. This book takes a refreshing spin and celebrates Brian for who he really is and not who society wants him to be.
As important as it is for us to accept and celebrate cultural differences, it is equally important to accept and celebrate personality differences. The needs of quiet kids often get overlooked as they do not bring attention to themselves. They may not want to be the center of attention, but they still want to feel included. They may not want public recognition, but they still want to be recognized. They may not be the life of the party, but they want to be invited. We all can't be actors on the stage. Without the people in the background making the props, working the lights or making the costumes, the show will not go on.
The struggles Brian encounters throughout the book are typical classroom situations that are often dreaded moments for the quiet child.
-Being told to team up with a partner for a project,
-Classmates picking teams for sports
-Others talking about things in which the quiet child wasn't included
Each one of these common classroom situations remind quiet kids of their standing in the classroom-INVISIBLE. Brian's experience to these awkward moments is described insightfully in the book as follows:
"Brian looks at the floor, wishing he could draw a hole right there to swallow him up."
I am certain that is a statement in which most quiet kids can relate! Wouldn't it be nice to provide a classroom environment where quiet kids didn't have to feel that way throughout the day?
Brian's unique strengths are portrayed in the book. Similar to many quiet kids, Brian is sensitive to the feelings of others, and observes and notices many things that his louder peers may not. Brian's life in the classroom improves when he overhears the new boy in class, Justin, being teased and writes a special note to him. This is Brian's unique way of showing kindness in a quiet way that others may not notice. However, it only takes the kindness of one person to lead others to be kind. After receiving the note, Justin is then kind to Brian and includes him with another friend. After seeing Justin being kind to Brian, the other friend includes Brian too. And this kindness chain will spread to others. By the end of the story, Brian is recognized for his artistic talent in a small group situation, which makes him feel special and included.
One of my favorite features in this book, is the creativity of the illustrator, Patrice Barton. The illustrations are large and colorful and grab the reader's attention. Brian's artistic talents are clearly displayed with many interesting and fun children's drawing. The special gem in this book is that Brian is in black and white at the beginning of the story, and the rest of the illustrations are in color. As the book progresses, and Brian starts to feel more included and comfortable, more color is added to his character. By the end of the story, Brian is drawn in full color. This is such a clever visual detail that adds much intensity to the story.
Let's not forget, the quiet kids need oil too. Make an effort to notice them and accentuate their strengths. The world will be better, and more colorful, for it.
To purchase this book, and check out others by this author, click HERE.
An Activity Idea for The Invisible Boy
Ask the child if there was a time they felt invisible like Brian. If so, have the child draw a picture of what happened and discuss how that felt when it happened.
Discuss their personality and Brian's personality. How are they the same? How are they different?
Have the child think of someone at school, in their neighborhood or family, that may feel invisible. Or someone they witnessed being teased or bullied. List some ideas they can do to make them feel included and valued.
Using Brian's idea in the book, have the child write a note to this person they are thinking of. What can they say to make this child feel included or special? Have the child draw a picture on the note to show the child that they are noticed.
How do you think the child will feel when they get your note?
How will you feel about giving them the note?
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