I am a huge reader. Mostly science fiction, fantasy, sometimes horror, always humor and on occasion, historical fiction. For me, reading is better than travel and much cheaper than therapy. There is research that shows reading can reduce stress and help you be happier. But it’s not just adults who can benefit from the approach of therapeutic reading. Books can help children understand and make sense of many of the changes they have to tackle. It’s the reason parents scour the shelves looking for books about “The New Baby” when the next sibling is on the way, or the popularity of the “First Day of Kindergarten” books. Being able to read about something before it happens gives us information about what we are about to go through and also helps us process the situation.
When my son was two we planned a big move, so I made sure to read him lots of books about moving and going to a new house. When our second baby was on the way, we picked out books about how babies grow, what they need when they arrive and about how life might change afterwards. When he started Kindergarten we stocked up on “Going to School” books. With my oldest books were there to help ease the transition and prepare him for things to come.
With my second child I had to take a different approach. He was always a bit precocious and had very strong feelings and opinions about many things. So, if I wanted to read him a book that might help him deal with his anger for instance, I couldn’t just lead with the obvious When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang, because if he didn’t storm off the second I started it, it would disappear under the couch not long afterwards. He would only grudgingly let me read Little Critters I Was So Mad by Mercer Mayer. So with him I had to take more of the “hide the vegetables in the pasta” approach. We would read stories about how mistakes can turn into masterpieces, or how not everything may go according to plan. Or how sometimes it’s ok just to let go and mess up, fail that test like no one is watching!! We read books that had messages that I hoped my Type A, 4 year old could internalize and later turn to when he didn’t do as well as he thought he should, and I was powerless to convince him that it didn’t matter.
There have been times when I have used bibliotherapy in the classroom as well. In a Preschool room where I was a co-teacher, we had a situation where some girls were excluding others girls from play if they didn’t have a dress on. No amount of talking about how “everyone can play” or “it doesn’t matter what you wear” seemed to make any impact. So I pulled out the big guns--BOOKS!! First we read It’s Ok To Be Different by Todd Parr and then I found Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, a story about a little girl who wears pants in an age where it was not acceptable. We talked about how brave Mary was to wear what made her feel comfortable and that what you wear doesn't change who you are on the inside. Even though the girls still loved their twirly, sparkly dresses I think they realized a little bit that who you are is more important than what you wear.
During this current pandemic I would recommend a combination of both direct information and slight subterfuge. There are books being released now about the coronavirus for children, some even written by children themselves! This NAEYC article has some good suggestions. But I would also recommend reading books about young children with tenacity and spirit (or “Grit” as the theorists are saying today), stories about children going through a tough situation and coming out the other side stronger. Not to mention this would be the perfect time to go on a virtual vacation. Pick some places (or times) that you would love to visit with your children and learn all you can about them. Part of the magic of books is that they allow us to go places we usually can’t. And right now, that’s everywhere.
Picture Books that encourage resilience
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Swimmy by Leo Leonni
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
A Perfectly Messed Up Story by Patrick Macdonnell
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Chapter Books about challenges
A Good Night for Ghosts by Mary Pope Osborne
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Books for Parents
Some Of My Best Friends Are Books by Judith Wynn Halsted