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The Angle, September 2019 – Book Review

Recent events have reminded us of the importance of comforting children in the wake of tragedy and how to have such conversations in an age-appropriate manner.

There are many tools available for navigating this tricky landscape, and reading can be one of them. It’s important for children to feel safe and protected in their everyday lives, and the freedom to explore strong and confusing emotions. We’ve selected three great options to help this emotional journey and discussion.

The Rabbit Listened

by Cori Doerrfeld (Dial $17.99) Age 2-6

Using sweetly soft and unthreatening illustrations—not to mention a series of appealing animal characters—this picture book presents the difficult concepts of grief and empathy in a way very small children can understand perfectly.

Little Taylor has poured his heart into building a very special castle of wooden blocks and is devastated when the structure is destroyed (by a flock of crows). Here come his animal friends, standing-in for the oft-misguided efforts of well-meaning adults. The chick wants to talk it out, but Taylor isn’t ready. The elephant tries to fix the irreparable mess, and the snake suggests they express frustration by vandalizing someone else’s block castle. It isn’t until the rabbit hops over, huddling close and listening quietly, that Taylor responds to the warmth of simple empathy.

In a world where we cannot always shield our kids from bad things happening, it’s helpful to develop language for grief and recovery; this timely book serves as a device to help talk about complex emotions.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

by Justin Roberts, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Putnam $17.99) Age 2-6

Nobody notices little Sally McCabe—the smallest girl in the smallest grade—but she is noticing everyone and everything around her, from the twenty-seven keys on the janitor’s ring to the bullying happening on her school playground.

Employing vibrantly hued and naively engaging artwork, this picture book uses relatable metaphors to lead young minds toward understanding the importance of paying attention to normalized violence, without exposing them to any scary images or threatening story lines.

Once Sally summons the courage to stand up and speak out, she finds that one small girl can make a big difference. The message our kids will internalize is that when something seems wrong in the world, we can each effect change, no matter how small or powerless we might feel.

A Terrible Thing Happened

by Margaret M. Holmes, illustrated by Cary Pillo (Magination $15.95) Age 3-8

This gently told and tenderly illustrated story was first published in 2000; since then it’s garnered praise from families, teachers and child therapists as an effective tool for helping children process many kinds of trauma.

We never learn specifically what “terrible thing” Sherman the raccoon saw—a vagueness that helps each reader project from their own experience—but the book slowly enumerates the subtle progression of symptoms a young child can feel after a disturbing event: lack of appetite, disordered sleep and/or acting out can all indicate an underlying problem. Reading about Sherman’s visits with a nice therapist demystifies the process for very young children and helps them feel okay about expressing what happened.

By the end, Sherman has worked through his feelings of anxiety, anger and guilt, and reassures readers he feels a lot better. This book helps create a safe place for talking about traumatic things, while showing children that recovery will happen, and good times are yet to come.

Note: Age recommendations are based upon publisher guidelines and parent feedback. Prices are publisher’s list; discounts are usually available.