Using Literature to Help Children Cope with Problems: Suggested Books

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Books as a Parenting Tool

From tattling to making friends, every child is bound to need help handling a problem at some point. This often leaves parents searching for a way to best help their child, and for many parents this can be overwhelming. Teachers and therapists often use literature to help children cope with problems or as bibliotherapy, and parents can more easily approach difficult subjects armed with the help of the right book as well.

Worriers and Trying New Things

While some kids seem to jump into every new opportunity without fear, others are more tentative and need a little more coaxing. For kids who are just a bit more anxious than their peers and siblings, “Wemberly Worried,” “Scaredy Squirrel,” and “Don’t be Afraid to Drop!” might be just the right books to convince them that some risks are worth taking. “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes is probably the most famous of the three and focuses on a common fear for many children, starting school. Wemberly’s worries about school are so big she’s not sure even Petal, her doll, can help her, but her first day proves to be much less worrisome than she thought.

Scaredy Squirrel, the character in and title of Melanie Watt’s book, is so afraid to leave his tree and change his routine that he packs an emergency kit and devises several exit plans just in case the need should ever arise. Of course, through a comedy of errors, Scaredy Squirrel finds himself outside his tree WITHOUT HIS EMERGENCY KIT, and realizes change isn’t so bad, as long as it’s just a little at a time. Activities and storytime suggestions are available online with discussion ideas and a template so that parent and child can create their own emergency kit.

In “Don’t be Afraid to Drop!” Julia Cook, who also penned “A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue” (in the tattling section), cleverly follows a young raindrop on his first jump off the cloud. The young drop is scared of going alone and not sure what his purpose on Earth will be, but his father reassures him that this is a jump he must take on his own. This book is particularly relevant for parents of children starting school for the first time. When the young drop tries to get his dad to come along, just for a little while, the father raindrop patiently explains this is something every young drop must do on their own.

Fitting In

Parents of children worried about fitting in or being different may find Peggy Rathmann’s book “Ruby the Copycat” and “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon” by Patty Lovel extremely helpful. Rathmann’s book focuses on Ruby, a new girl in Miss Hart’s class. Ruby’s desire to be friends with Angela, the girl who sits in front of her, is so strong that she loses herself and becomes Angela’s virtual clone. This, of course, has completely the opposite effect Ruby had hoped for, and it takes a conversation with Miss Hart to set her back on the path to being who she is best…Ruby. “Stand Tall, Molly Loe Melon” is a gleeful look at the many differences of Molly Lou Melon, from her tiny stature to her buck teeth. Rather than try to fit in or change herself, Molly Lou takes her grandma’s advice and loves herself the way she is until everyone else does too.

Dealing with Tattletales

Two great books to use when dealing with tattling are “A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue” by Julia Cook and “Don’t Squeal Unless It’s A Big Deal” by Jeanie Franz Ransom. Both are picture books aimed at elementary school aged children. The first, “A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue,” humorously tells the tale of Josh, a notorious tattler, who awakens one day to find his tongue covered with bright purple spots. The books warn against tattling but explains when it is important to tell, an important thing to distinguish for children. Ransom’s book introduces Mrs. McNeal and her classroom of “squealers” (literally, the teacher and students are all pigs). When Mrs. McNeal gets fed up with her students constantly telling on each other, she knows it’s time to teach them the difference between “kid sized problems” and “big deals”. Like Cook’s story, this engaging and funny picture book not only advises against tattling and gives examples of why, but also stresses the importance of telling when the time is right. When reading this book to your child, consider taking some time to discuss possible scenarios afterwards and have your child determine whether it is a “kid sized problem” or a “big deal”

Conversation Starters

Parents do not need to provide lengthy activities to go along with stories, but should use them as conversation starters. “Ruby the Copycat” can lead to a discussion of what your child is good at the value of being yourself. After reading “Scaredy Squirrel” talk about what your fears are and what you might pack in an emergency kit and then encourage your child to do the same. I’m scared of being bored, so I always pack a book.

Books Mentioned:

Henkes, Kevin. Wemberly Worried. Greenwillow, 2010.

Watts, Melanie. Scaredy Squirrel. Kids Can Press, 2008

Cook, Julia.Don’t Be Afraid to Drop. National Center for Youth Issues, 2008

Rathmann, Peggy. Ruby the Copycat. Scholastic, 1997

Lovel, Patty. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon. Putnam, 2006

Cook, Julia.A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue. National Center for Youth Issues, 2005

Ransom, Jeanie Franz. Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal. Magination, 2005