Yesterday was a bit of a milestone day for me.  I spoke at a conference for librarians for the very first time.  Fortunately I was able to get some tips from the illustrious Collett Smart, but I thought today I would share with you just a little of what I was talking about: Bibliotherapy, – Seeking solace in stories.

So what is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is using books to help kids with the tough issues they face in their lives.  So there tends to be a focus on disability or chronic illness, but it also extends to issues like divorce, loneliness, grief and loss, depression, ageing, basically any difficult or confronting issue that a child might be facing.

How does it work?

My picture book Marty's Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at www.wombatbooks.com.au

It works in two different ways.  The first and most obvious one is to help the child who has the problem by normalising it and helping them to realise that they’re not the only one dealing with this issue.  So for example with my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, it can be used to help a child with a food allergy to see that they’re not alone, that it’s normal to make mistakes and it can also give them some ideas about how to deal with their problem.  So with some discussion and activities, bibliotherapy should help children to find their own solutions to their problems.  It may also help them to realise that solutions may be possible.

The other main purpose is to help raise awareness and empathy among those who don’t have experience with the issue.  So for example, Sharon McGuinness has written a beautiful book called Coming Home about a young girl whose father has severe depression.  That book can help to raise awareness among people who don’t have experience with depression and give them a little insight into what it might be like for children who do live with that.

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books.  www.wombatbooks.com.au

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books. http://www.wombatbooks.com.au

Does it actually help kids to read about these kinds of tough issues? 

The best kind of bibliotherapy is when the issue is just wrapped up in a good story, with great characters, who aren’t defined by their issue or their disability.  It’s really important that the characters aren’t two dimensional.  There has to be something more to them so that children can identify with them.  And if children are drawn into the story, then they’ll learn something without even realising it.  It’s only when you talk about it more that some of those things they’ve learned will become more conscious.

What parents should keep in mind is that learning to empathise with others is actually an important skill in itself.  So if your child brings home a book from the library about disability, even if your child doesn’t have a friend with a disability, it’s still valuable for them to learn to think about what life might be like for someone who does.  Because that skill of being able to empathise will be valuable later when they do come across someone in life who is a bit different to them.  And there’s actually some evidence that childhood is the best time to learn that skill.  So I would even go so far as to say that if we can teach our children to walk around in another person’s shoes, and to develop that empathy, we could even be helping to build a more compassionate and empathetic society in the long term.

Finally, if you do have a tough issue that your child is dealing with such as grief, divorce, disability or ageing, here are some good resources.

Title Author Publisher Issues covered
Anthony Best Davene Fahy Sky Pony Press Aspergers
Amy & Louis Libby Gleeson Scholastic Australia Moving House,Losing friendships
Bear’s Last Journey Udo Weigelt North-South Books Death/Grief
Big Dog Libby Gleeson Scholastic / Bright Stars Fear of dogs
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House Libby Gleeson Little Hare Books Moving House/Friendships
Coming Home Sharon McGuinness Wombat Books Parental Depression
Do you know Millie? Gordon Winch New Frontier Moving
Goodbye Mousie Robie H Harris Aladdin Death/Grief
Herman and Rosie Gus Gordon Penguin/Viking Loneliness
Living with Mum and Living with Dad Melanie Walsh Walker Books Divorce
Looking for Rex Jan Ormerod Little Hare Ageing
Marty’s Nut-Free Party Katrina Roe Wombat Books Food allergies
Mum and Dad Glue Kes Gray Barron’s Educational Series Divorce
My Mum’s Got Cancer Dr Lucy Blunt Jane Curry Publishing Cancer
Nathan’s Wish Laurie Lears Albert Whitman & Co Cerebral palsy, disability
The Very Best of Friends Margaret Wild Margaret Hamilton Books Death / Grief
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge Mem Fox Omnibus Books Scholastic Ageing / Dementia
When I’m Feeling Sad/Kind/Scared/Angry etc Trace Moroney The Five Mile Press Understanding emotions
Ziba Came on a Boat Liz Lofthouse Penguin/Viking Refugees

Have you ever used a book to help your kids understand a difficult issue?  Did it help?  Why or why not?  Are there any you would recommend to add to this list?

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