July Literature Review

Posted on: 27/06/2020

@LiteracyPippa


Books to promote recovery following difficult times

 

As the global health crisis that is the Covid-19 pandemic rumbles on and nations begin to move into a phasing out of lockdown rules and a phasing into what – we suppose – will become a new normal of sorts, we cannot help but wonder what the impact of this will be on the mental health of children and young people in the longer term. It is often said that coming down a mountain poses the greatest risk. Indeed, we’ve coped with the initial crisis as best we can but now we need to start thinking about how we can begin to help support the processing of what’s happened and help children continue to live with such uncertainty. The eye of the storm may have passed but the storm is still circling and blowing around on the wind. As ever, literature has a huge part to play in this and so we’ve selected some titles that we feel will help parents and schools begin to promote recovery.

 

Picture book

While We Can’t Hug (A Hedgehog and Tortoise Story) by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar

(Faber and Faber, 25th June 2020)

We reviewed ‘The Hug’ – a gorgeous book by McLaughlin and Dunbar also featuring Hedgehog (too spiky) and Tortoise (too bony) about finding one's ‘people’ – when it was published. We are delighted to see a return of these sweet characters in a new and timely story about how to stay connected when we cannot hug our friends. The little friends wave to each other; pull silly faces to make each other laugh; write letters, sing songs and blow kisses. But the most poignant message of all is the analogy that we are weathering a storm: the friends are side-by-side (at two meters) through ‘rain…and shine’ together ‘But they both knew that they were loved.’ The use of colour is delicious too with soft pastel rainbows on several pages, bursts of stars and little rosy cheeks on both Tortoise and Hedgehog.  A book that ought to carry a ‘tear-jerker’ warning but one that is perfect for your little (and bigger ones at home) and also for teachers of reception and year 1 children trying to make the best of how things need to be for now.

 

Novel

After the War from Auschwitz to Ambleside by Tom Palmer

(Barrington Stoke, 6th August 2020)

This is such an important book in telling the story of survival of the holocaust and – based on true events – the rescue of 300 Jewish children from concentration camps to be brought to England for a chance at rebuilding their shattered lives. The narrative – told through the eyes of Yossi, flits between being set in The Lake District and the haunting devastating flashbacks of the characters in Nazi-occupied Poland as they struggle to come to terms with all that they’ve experienced. Initially there are fights in the dining hall over food: food has been in such short supply in these children’s lives and the tendency to hoard is understandable. The children fear some of the local adults, struggling to accept that they are now safe but slowly, steadily, the security that they are afforded by their Jewish chaperones and the local people helps the children adjust. Beautiful, evocative and often troubling, we see Yossi unravel at one stage, the trauma too much to bear:

“I don’t need to eat. I ate three times yesterday. Four times
“And you must eat again.”
“Not today. I’m not getting up or eating or doing anything today.”

“And why’s that?”

“Why?” Yossi sat up and looked at Talia, full of rage. “Why should I? After everything I’ve been through. After the last six years ... why should I get up and eat breakfast? Why should I wash my face and brush my teeth? Why not just lie here instead?”

Whilst we in no way feel that the situation we are living through now is comparable to the unimaginable horrors experienced during the holocaust, the idea of a threat and the shock and disbelief that this brings and then getting through a situation only to then struggle to comprehend it will be a familiar one for many just now. And fear: the worry for some that they won’t feel safe or truly happy again. This is such a hope-filled and uplifting read and we think it will be an important addition to year 4-6 classes as well as being a great read-aloud novel for evenings at home with children who are aged 9 and up.

 

Non Fiction

What is Mental Health? Where does it come from? And other Big Questions by Dr Lucy Maddox

(Wayland, 23rd January 2020)

What is so powerful about this book is that it defines mental health; differentiates between mental health and mental illness and normalises yet acknowledges that this is an important topic; there’s no ‘shying away’ from the subject-matter. This may sound obvious but we think that honesty and openness with our older primary children in the months that are to come will be crucial and this book provides such a perfect springboard into important discussions that will engender the emotional litreracy and awareness necessary for survival at this point. And the weather analogy used here – just like in While We Can’t Hug – makes the exploration of what is happening in our minds when we experience negative thought relatable: ‘Feelings are a bit like the weather, they come and go. One thing that’s certain is that they will change, though sometimes it takes a while.’ The inclusion of real-life experiences will help the reader feel less alone; the exploration of what happens chemically with mental health difficulties we find soothing: utter validation (as if it should be needed) that illness is illness. We hear from many experts on mental health as well as famous people who have experience of mental illness including Olympic-Gold-medal-winning basketball player and mental health advocate Chamique Holdsclaw, who has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder  and rapper Stormzy who says of his experience of depression: ‘It was like a whirlwind for me’. 

The overall message is clear, however, it’s okay to have feelings; they are valid and we need to remember this as adults who may want to protect our children from what’s going on. Perhaps the best protection is to be more open rather than attempting to hide the facts? Perfect for children in year 5 and 6 to cosy up with a parent to read hand-picked sections of or to explore sections as part of a PSHE offer with groups of children of this age who have returned to school.

Posted in: Literature Review

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