Well, I’ll start this message with the, now obligatory, comment about how these are “strange and scary times”. It’s impossible to get away from the fact that we’re all a bit on edge during lockdown, so it would be naive to think that our children are immune from those feelings of anxiety, stress and powerlessness which are hanging over us adults.
At Lucky Gecko, we’ve always been great believers in the power of fiction books to help children express, and address, feelings which they might otherwise struggle to articulate. A well-chosen book can help a child to unravel their emotions and learn how to deal with them. It can also show them that they are not alone and offer real comfort during times of emotional upset.
So, what better time could there be to suggest some kids’ fiction books that deal with feelings of sadness, anxiety and worry? These are just a handful which we love, but we’d be delighted to hear your suggestions too. Share your top choices in the comments, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and, who knows, you might just help a child feel a little more secure or hopeful amidst all the madness.
Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival
(Best for ages 3+)
“Ruby was perfectly happy. Until one day, she discovered a Worry. It wasn’t a very big Worry. In fact, it was so small that, at first, Ruby hardly noticed it. But then the Worry started to grow.”
This is a lovely book for younger readers which deals with the issue of worries and anxiety. One day, Ruby finds that she has a worry which slowly grows and grows (depicted as a yellow scribble, slowly taking over the pages). In a beautiful, age appropriate, way, Ruby learns that everyone has worries, and that the way to get rid of them is simply to talk.
This would be a great “conversation starter” for young readers, and might just help them to express feelings which they didn’t realise were hanging over them. Definitely one to read aloud with a parent, in order to make sure that the opportunity to open up is used to full advantage. And, although the lesson is basic, it’s one that adults need to be reminded of now and again too.
Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World by Georgia Pritchett
(Best for ages 7+)
“You see, Wilf is a bit of a worrier. He worries all the time. If worrying was an Olympic sport, he would be worried whether he was going to get picked for the team.”
For those who like their reassurance served up with a good dose of humour, you need look no further than Wilf. This loveable character is scared of everything from stuffed animals to twirly moustaches, but that doesn’t stop him from saving the world when an evil mastermind moves in next door.
Although this book is remarkably and wonderfully silly, it actually contains some very practical advice for those who are prone to worrying. Wilf consults a leaflet entitled “How To Stop Worrying” at points throughout the book, which contains genuinely helpful suggestions (such as taking deep breaths; imagining the worst case scenario and a plan to deal with it; and thinking of a happy place or time to help calm yourself down). Watching Wilf put these tips into action will provide a great foundation for children to come up with their own coping mechanisms, and offers a great opportunity for families to have a practical discussion about how to deal with anxiety.
Brilliant by Roddy Doyle
(Best for ages 9+)
“The house was full of mumbles these days. Mumbles that often stopped whenever Raymond or Gloria walked into the room… Gloria didn’t like the mumbles. They worried her.”
When their Uncle Ben falls victim to the “Black Dog” of depression, Gloria and her big brother Raymond decide to do something about it. Soon, they realise that they’re not alone in their quest. With the help and support of the city’s animals, and the wisdom of their Granny ringing in their ears, the children set out to defeat the Black Dog and free the adults from the sadness which seems to be overwhelming them.
This is an incredibly empowering book for children as, from the very beginning, it’s made clear that they hold the key to ridding the adults of the Black Dog. It also highlights the power of words; of sharing your worries and of finding others who understand your situation. The children’s frustration at the adults’ “mumbling” will also resonate with children living through lockdown who will know that this is a very scary time but may feel left in the dark by their parents’ attempts to protect them from the worst of the news.
Varjak Paw by S.F. Said
(Best for ages 12+)
“Varjak looked around: at the stuffy furniture, the locked-up cupboards, the curtains he wasn’t allowed to climb. He’d never been anywhere else, but this had to be the most boring place on earth.”
Aimed at slightly older readers, Varjak Paw is a beautifully crafted piece of literature, both entertaining and insightful. There’s something incredibly poignant about it at the moment, as the eponymous feline hero has never left his house and is, therefore, desperately curious about what he’s missing in the world outside his front door.
Varjak is fascinated by the stories of his heroic ancestors and longs to emulate them, but he himself is shunned by his family, and bullied by his older brother. This family dynamic (which, again, may feel more relevant than ever during the lockdown) is explored in a very natural way, despite the characters being cats, and a sense of the sadness that Varjak feels weighs heavily on the initial chapters of the book. Some readers may find this first section a little slow but, if they can persevere, they’ll find that the rest of the story reaches a very satisfying pace, and is almost impossible to put down.
David McKean's sharp and scratchy illustrations support the mood of the story perfectly, creating a 'hard' edged atmosphere which stops it ever feeling childish. Varjak manages to overcome his fears by trusting his instincts and finding his inner strength, and therefore takes his rightful place in the folklore of his family. Frustrated, house-bound readers will appreciate this feline mentor and story of (many-levelled) escapism. Well worth a look for any older readers who are currently spending their days gazing wistfully out of the window and dreaming of adventures to come.
That’s it from us for now - but please do get in touch and tell us your child’s favourite book which deals with these topics. Or, better still, get them to write us a short review. We always love to get them, and it’s wonderful to be able to share them with the rest of the Lucky Gecko community.