Creating Universal and Diverse Characters

Richy K. Chandler author of You Make Your Parents Super Happy! and When Are You Going to Get a Proper Job? talks through the challenges that come with creating diverse characters in stories, and why it is so important to do.

When I was working on You Make Your Parents Super Happy! (my recent picture book for children whose parents have separated but still both want to be part of their child’s life), I was conscious of keeping the gender and race of all characters ambiguous. While the book deals with a very specific situation, I hope that the universality of the characters’ appearance means that as many children and families as possible can see themselves as the beings found within the pages. This could be two dads, a mum and a dad, two mums and a multitude of relationships also representing the full range of cultures and ethnic back grounds that exist.diverse charactersSimilarly, with Lucy the Octopus, my webcomic that looks at the effects of bullying and bigotry (hopefully in a humorous and super cute way), I wanted to make the lead character as universally relatable as possible. The strip touches on racism, homophobia and not fitting into gender stereotypes but it’s never made clear exactly why Lucy, the heroine, is so unliked. Lots of readers have told me that they see part of themselves in Lucy, and not always for the same reasons. I’m usually both happy that the character is relatable and saddened for the readers to have gone through similar horrible experiences. 
diverse characters
As a writer who has no desire to create comics starring myself (hats off to those brave enough to make candid, graphic autobiographies), there are other good reasons for making characters more universal.  With Lucy the Octopus, I wanted to talk about experiences of feeling picked on and ostracised in my own school years, but I’d rather avoid the spotlight being on myself. Making Lucy a girl and an octopus certainly did that job and frees me up to wildly exaggerate my own experiences within her fantastical world. For example, my own family were not terrible to me like Lucy’s are (except that year I got Scrabble for my birthday instead of the Crossbows and Catapults game I’d wished for, but I’m a survivor and made it through that bleak day). Continue reading

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing is a fun, illustrated storybook that will help children aged 5-10 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and/ or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC/ASD) to recognise their sensory needs and to develop tools to support them. To learn more about the book, who better to ask than its authors, K.I. Al-Ghani and Joy Beaney? Chatting to them, we learned a lot about hyperactivity in children, what to look out for and what can help. There’s even a downloadable activity sheet for teachers. Read on to find out more.adhd

What motivated you to write Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing and who is the book for?

Joy and I have worked together in special education for many years. We noticed that there were not many books available that could explain hyper-activity to children in a story format.  We decided to collaborate on this project using Joy’s expertise in Sensory Processing Difficulties, my skills as a story teller and Haitham’s ability to bring it all to life, through his illustrations.
We think the book has something for everyone: It is a story all children can enjoy. A story in which, we hope, children with hyperactivity will be able see themselves in Winston.  They will learn that it is not their fault and instead of being the problem, they could learn to be part of the solution. Parents and educators will have tools and strategies they can use that can help the child to manage their hyperactivity and, if successful, perhaps avoid the need for medication.

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The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

health

Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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A Children’s Book that Promotes Kindness to Animals

animal kindness

Tom Alexander explains what motivated him to write My Secret Dog and outlines the book’s positive message in promoting kindness to animals.

It wasn’t supposed to be published. Honest it wasn’t. I was just trying to get my sister a birthday present…

My sister Lois has always wanted a dog, but she lives in central London and keeping a pet is not only impractical, it’s specifically forbidden by the terms of her tenancy. (To avoid confusion, I should mention here that Lois is my older sister.) From this, I had an idea to write a story about a little girl in a similar position who goes the extra step and tries to keep a dog hidden from her mum and her teachers. I wrote it in one sitting and even though I failed all my art classes in school, I knew it needed some illustrations to break up the text. After a few terrible, terrible attempts at drawing a dog, I came up with this:

It wouldn’t win any portraiture awards, but there was no denying it was a dog. More specifically, it felt like the dog. Once I had that, the rest of the illustrations followed. Before too long, I had a collection of pages with text and pictures that I printed out, stapled together and gave to my sister on her birthday. She liked it, so I breathed a sigh of relief, put My Secret Dog in a drawer and left it there. As far as I was concerned, the folded, photocopied sheets were as much of a book as it was ever going to be. Continue reading

Our bodies’ hidden strengths – Resilience and love

This blog was written by Hidden Strength’s Children’s Series co-author C.C. Alicia Hu. The books are available November 21, 2017 for therapeutic use with children ages 4-10 who have experienced trauma or a frightening situation. Read more about each title and pre-order below:

How Little Coyote Found His Secret Strength

Bomji and Spotty’s Frightening Adventure

How Sprinkle the Pig Escaped the River of Tears

by C.C. Alicia Hu

Before we can say “no,” our legs kick and set boundaries.

Before we can say “more,” our hands pull and grab for what we need.

Reclaiming our bodies’ hidden strengths empowers all of us.

Nevertheless, in our modern society, we are often disconnected from our bodies. We turn our body-mind into a machine, like a “car” or a “computer,” so we can control or manage our self for performance enhancement. Maybe we “perform” well, yet, we pay a price.

In the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy, for a long time, we labeled many of the body’s innate defense strategies as “symptoms” or “problems” – our capacity to disconnect and dull the pain, a symptom of “dissociation.” Our ability to quiver and shake to discharge the muscle intensity is a sign of weakness or anxiety.

Bring our bodies’ hidden strengths to enhance our resilience

In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, three intertwined stories and four major animal characters show how our bodies’ possess the hidden strengths to protect our self. In addition, three adult-like characters demonstrate how to provide companionship that won’t overwhelm the major animal characters’ vulnerable nervous system that resulted from traumatic stress.

In each book, after the therapeutic story, there are two sections designed to provide structural prompts for adults to engage in dialogue and exploration with the child. This “expressive phase” is the key to facilitating the child in communicating their own feelings and creating their own stories. What makes our books unique is that we include embodied play activities to help the child process the stories on the basic sensory-motor level.

Using the metaphorical animal characters for teens and adults

These stories are not only therapeutic tools for children ages 4 to 10. These stories can also be used as metaphors to communicate with teens and adults.

Last week, I was presenting part of the story, “Bomji and Spotty’s Frightening Adventure” at a local grassroots, peer-support recovery center. Adult audiences in recovery from mental illness and substance abuse intuitively got the idea that, inside, we are Bomji the Rabbit, who tend to freeze, as well as Spotty the Cat, who tends to fight.

One participant shared that “sit on ready” is an important coping skill in African American culture. The capacity to be vigilant without moving helped her to survive her childhood.

The metaphorical animal characters made it easy for teens and adults to develop compassion toward their inner child. As children, we oftentimes act without thinking like Spotty the Cat. We are still and invisible to avoid danger like Bomji the Rabbit. We cry like Sprinkle the Pig and we overwhelm our caregivers. We submit like Wimpy the Coyote in order to fly under the radar.

Love: self-compassion toward our hidden strengths

From children to teens to adults, one key element in recovery is to cultivate self-compassion. In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, we hope to help all readers embrace their bodies’ hidden strengths as a way to enhance self-compassion.

Once, I shared a draft of Bomji the Rabbit and Spotty the Cat with a Vietnam veteran who still suffered from the shame of freezing and wanting to run away in a major battle. In reality, he successfully executed his duty; however, he had a hard time forgiving the “weak” part of him. Understanding that motionless defense (e.g., freeze and collapse) is just as natural and valuable as active defense (e.g., fight and flight) brought him a tremendous sense of relief.

Another time, I shared the same story with a teen girl who engaged in self-cutting as a way to cope with inner turbulence. She was able to identify how she also froze when her external environment became too overwhelming and out of control. She was then able to find her own metaphor for her own fearful, vulnerable part without engaging in blaming.

Helping the reader to accept all the different parts of themselves is what we want these books to achieve, through revelation of the development of self-compassion. Before we can accept our angry fighting part as well as our frozen fearful part, it is helpful if we start seeing these natural capacities as our bodies’ hidden strengths. The act of self-compassion includes recognizing the diverse, creative survival strategies in our bodies. Yes, we are fundamentally resilient, even when we are young and small. Our bodies have always possessed these hidden strengths!

For more information, author events, and to follow the Hidden Strengths Series, check out the authors’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneWestcottandAliciaHu/

 

 

 

 

A worksheet to help young people manage the stress of exams

Age range:

Ages 10+

Description:

A self-help CBT worksheet that provides a host of tips, strategies and behaviour techniques to help young people manage the stress of exams.  It includes an exam stress diary with relaxation exercises to help monitor your emotions, and explains the importance of getting into a good routine, not wearing yourself out but also not procrastinating too much either.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from Kate Collins-Donnelly’s Starving the Exam Stress Gremlin, and is the latest instalment in her bestselling and award-winning Starving the Gremlin series. Full of fun activities based on cognitive behavioural therapy, the Gremlin series teaches young people to manage common emotional and behavioural difficulties such as anger, depression and anxiety.

EXTRACT – You Make Your Parents Super Happy!: A book about parents separating

You Make Your Parents Super Happy!

‘Hey! I think you should know that there is nothing your parents are more proud of… than YOU!’

You Make Your Parents Super Happy!, written and illustrated by Richy K Chandler, is a comforting graphic story that helps children whose parents are separating feel better. The book gently explains why some parents have to live in different places, and reminds the child how special they are to both parents, reassuring them that both parents will keep looking after them, and love them just as before.

Getting to the heart of what children need to hear in what can be a confusing time, the story lets your child know that they are loved and safe, and that this will not change. Ideal for children aged 3-7.

Click the link below to get a feel for the book.

Click here to read an extract from You Make Your Parents Super Happy!

You Make Your Parents Super Happy!


If you would like to read more extracts like this and get the latest news and offers on our children’s books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Special Ed, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.

Self-help exercises to help older children manage worry and anxiety

managing anxietyAge range:

Ages 9+

Description:

An engaging, self-help guide based on cognitive behavioural therapy that teaches young people mindfulness techniques to alleviate their worry and anxiety.  Strategies include ways to shift your attention away from your worry, not to fall into a debate with it, and learning to accept rather than fight your anxiety when it is present.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from bestselling author Dawn Huebner’s new book, Outsmarting Worry: An Older Kid’s Guide to Managing Anxiety.  Written in language immediately accessible to children, it teaches young people, and the adults who care about them, specific skills that make it easier to face and overcome their worries and fears. 

I don’t like reading!

dyslexiaLisabeth Emlyn Clark talks about her experience of growing up with dyslexia and how she wishes she’d received the correct support at a younger age to help her manage it.  Her personal story has inspired her to write a children’s book about a boy named Harry with dyslexia called I Don’t Like Reading.

As a child I loved looking at books and enjoyed having them read to me. Often with my favourite stories I would stare at the pages for an age, looking at every part of the picture so I could memorize the details while I listened to the words being spoken. When the pages were turned I would look at the picture and hear the first few words, and could finish the sentence before the reader did.

I remember being around 6 or 7 years old when I started to realise that my friends and class mates seemed to finish reading their books so much faster than I did. They all seemed to be on the harder stage books than me and some even on the ‘pupil choice’ stage. I left primary school having never been able to choose my own reading book!

It’s not that I couldn’t read then, or can’t read now; my issue has always been that I try so hard to read the text that it becomes harder to remember what I have just read and this makes books difficult to understand. Continue reading

How can we help children with body image issues to see themselves more positively?

Chris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson, authors of Minnie and Max are OK!, discuss the rising issue of body confidence in children and ways we can help them to see themselves more positively and celebrate their identities.

If you would like to watch more videos like Chris and Nicky’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Education books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time. You may also be interested in liking our Special Educational, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.