Why Gender Diversity in Children’s Books Matters

Gender diverse children's booksAlice Reeves and Phoebe Kirk discuss the importance of gender diverse children’s books as a way of helping them to understand that expressing our gender identity in whatever way we choose doesn’t have to be a problem in today’s society.  They are the authors of The Truth and Tails series, which aims to eliminate prejudices and encourage inclusion in young children aged 4-8.

When we’ve shared posts about our children’s book Vincent the Vixen on social media, a question we’ve been asked a few times is: “Hang on, isn’t a Vixen a female fox?”

We wanted the title of the book to spark intrigue, and give a small insight into its theme, and it’s been interesting to see that some people are more likely to assume that we’ve made a mistake than that we’re writing a book about a character that isn’t cisgender. Continue reading

Finding the words: Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years

Storytelling

A contract to write a book offers a fantastic opportunity to consider your thoughts. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years was a challenge. It meant thinking back over 30 years of very varied experience as a professional storyteller, working with every age-group and in all kinds of venues in the UK and overseas. What could I crystallise about working with young children? The question meant far more than thinking about the immediate experience of a storytelling session – what stories to tell, how to gain and keep the children’s attention, how to manage the occasional difficult child. It also meant reviewing my regular practice in terms of arranging a session – where to get children to sit, how long the stories should last and how to relate to the members of staff who regularly worked with the children and also, maybe, to the parents who might later hear bits and bobs about what we’d done.

There was another issue too. Storytelling of the oral sort was to be only one side of this book. Story-reading was also to be considered. For this side of things, I found myself thinking back to the early 1980s and my four years of part-time work for the now-defunct Lambeth Library Storytelling Scheme. After all, this is what had got me into storytelling in the first place. It had been an important experience. Throughout the four years, I’d kept careful notes and on reflection there were so many ways in which it had taught me my trade not only with Early Years children but audiences in general. As I reflected on it, I also began to see the many common features between story-reading and storytelling and how one can lead to the other. This proved a helpful realisation.

Over the years as a professional storyteller, I’ve run innumerable training courses for Early Years staff and for parents. These have meant taking on board the fears and worries so many adults harbour about themselves. Fears of speaking up in front of children when other adults are nearby. Fears of things getting out of control and resulting in chaos. Worries people have about their voice: is it too soft, too deep, too boring? Plus for people from other cultures, there’s frequently a worry about whether their English is good enough. As well as all this, the idea of telling a story without a book is something completely unfamiliar to many today. Some are terrified of the prospect until they dare to try it and see what power it has.

Soon I realised that my varied experience across the years had taught me enough to write about the Early Years side of my work. Next came the actual writing. Type of language, style of presentation, numbers of chapters: all these became issues to resolve. Also it’s normal for me that my head is full of little anecdotes from my working life. Would I be able to include a selection from the Early Years work in such a way as to draw attention to them? I’m so happy this proved possible. For me, anecdotes capture so much about the realities of what goes on.

Surrounding the personal issues outlined above, there was also a strong awareness of how vital it is today to encourage the direct telling and reading of stories to children. Nowadays even very young children are spending considerable amounts of time with their devices. On screen are many stories in the form of games and cartoons. Yet the age-old experience of human beings all over the world is that the stories heard directly from parents and others when they’re young constitute some of their most formative experiences. It’s not just the stories. It’s how they are given and the bonds that are strengthened in the process.

Such concerns gave me a wider purpose in writing Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. In my own childhood growing up in Wales, my father was one of my most important storytellers. There were others. I was lucky. Aware of my own good fortune and what importance so many other people attach to such experience, I feel it can now be a mission of mine to add to the growing awareness of the loss our society will suffer if children today fail to get it. A recent survey from Nielsen Book Research established that there has been a significant fall (almost a fifth since 2013) in the numbers of parents regularly reading to children. Parents are apparently too busy and too tired to make time for it. I’d like to help persuade them otherwise and meantime, too, to ensure that young children also receive the best possible experience of hearing stories at nursery or school. – Mary Medlicott

Storytelling

In this easy-to-read and essential guide, storytelling trainer Mary Medlicott gives professionals the tools to get the best out of oral storytelling and story-reading sessions, with management, performance and language techniques.

Included are examples of stories and post-story activities that are most successful with children of ages 2 to 5. Medlicott shows how to prepare for the session, spark children’s imagination with props, voices and facial expressions, and encourage empathy with thoughtful use of language and variety.


If you would like to read more articles like this and get the latest news and offers on our early years 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.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive a free copy of our latest Social Work Catalogue

Social Work

Sign up to our mailing list to receive a free copy of our latest Social Work Catalogue.

To request a free print or e-copy of JKP’s complete catalogue of books on Social Work, sign up to our mailing list below. Be sure to click any additional areas of interest so we can notify you about exciting new titles you might like.

By completing the form below you are signing up to our mailing list, but you may unsubscribe at any time.








































Tactile Defensiveness – Moving from Avoidance to Self Love

From Noreen O’Sullivan, author of I’ll Tell You Why I Can’t Wear Those Clothes! Talking about Tactile Defensiveness and mother of girls with sensory processing issues, comes this personal snapshot of how her book has embodied the JKP motto, “books that make a difference”.

Five years ago, I had the honour of being signed on with JKP for my children’s book, I’ll Tell You Why I Can’t Wear Those Clothes! Talking about Tactile Defensiveness, and grateful it remains on their Best Seller list still today.

Over the years, I have received countless letters from parents thanking me for a book  specifically for their child and allowing them to express their emotions around this sensory issue through drawing and writing.

tactile defensiveness

We all have tiny nerves inside our bodies that we can’t see.
They have important jobs to do, like carrying messages from our skin to our brain.
That’s how we know when something is soft or hard, or hot or cold.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.