Celebrating our daughter’s sixth birthday last week, and at nearly four years together as a family, I found myself reflecting on the picture story books that have helped on our journey. A friend gave my daughter Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb as a present, and as I read it to her at bedtime I could feel how deeply the beautifully delicate metaphorical story of loss, love, grief and memory had affected her. She asked me to read it again and before I could even start, she talked about her foster carers and wondered about the feelings of other adopted children she knows. Did they ever “feel funny about their changes” as she does? I’ve seen time and again with my daughter how a story book can offer a way in to sometimes difficult feelings and conversations, and how the characters can normalise feelings of anger, loss and sadness which can so often be brushed under the carpet. And when we are snuggled up cosy at bedtime seems most often to be the time she will open up and want to talk.
So I thought I’d share some of the books that have helped our family along the way as we wrestled with tangled feelings and attachments, not adoption books per se, just beautiful stories. So, this is not exactly a review, not exactly a blog, just some thoughts on the healing power of story.
‘Oh No George’ by Chris Hauton was a Book I bought very early on, drawn to it partly by the beauty of the illustrations. A pet dog struggles to be ‘good’ and finds it hard to resist his impulsive desires. He feels regret but also finds forgiveness and growth. A beautifully simple and funny story which shows how everyone can make mistakes, even with the best intentions, but that relationships stay strong anyway. My daughter loved this and wanted to read it over and over, lingering often on the page where George feels guilty, sad and tearful.
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr. This was one of the first of his we read and we still revisit this along with The Family Book and We belong Together. She gets so excited to see other adopted characters! In the early days my daughter would always want to linger and ask questions about the tummy ache and crying pages – clearly feeling a connection and empathy with their experiences.
I Love Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark is a story about a girl being given multiple new cuddly toys, each of whom is added to her list of love, with her original favourite Blue Kangaroo dropping later down the list and feeling displaced. A sensitive and beautiful story of change and loss, we feel for Blue Kangaroo as he wonders if he has been forgotten and left behind. But we learn he will always be special. As my daughter experienced so much change, in particular her fierce grieving for her foster carers, I could feel how the sadness and worry Blue Kangaroo felt really touched a nerve for her.
Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott and Timothy Basil Ering deals in beautifully economical text and vivid pictures with a toddler’s overwhelming tantrum. It is shown as a huge and violent storm which surges and then passes. Big feelings are drawn on an epic scale, Finn’s internal turbulence made visual and concrete – he and we don’t know the reason why it comes or why it goes but we see that everyone feels out of control sometimes. It’s so interesting to see when my daughter chooses this story at bedtime.
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban and Henry Cole is a wonderfully funny story about an angry mouse trying to find the right way to express his anger and get it out of his system. A tip from the wonderful blog Mighty Girl this is a great tool for normalising angry feelings and giving good choices for how to express them. Mouse eventually finds the right path for him and his animal friends are very impressed. We’ve tried Mouse’s deep breathing and stillness techniques together at bedtime.
Meet The Parents by Peter Bently and Sara Ogilvie is a hugely witty and warm celebration of all that parents do and the wide variety of families you find, with beautiful illustrations. We might be annoying in telling our children to eat their peas but we do have our uses! Every single time my daughter wants to linger on the parents give cuddles page and I can feel the emotion welling in her.
There have been countless other stories we have read and enjoyed over these years, all of which have given us little worlds to experience together and emotions to work through and understand. In film and tv, special mentions would have to go to Frozen for a character living in fear of the dangerous power of her big feelings and also Bing as a exploration of a toddler’s everyday emotional struggles and the ever calm and supportive Flop.
As someone who has worked with stories my whole career it’s been a privilege and joy to experience them anew through the eyes of my daughter – the brightest, funniest, most insightful and wonderfully complex audience a story could ever wish for.