My Elephant is Blue by Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka

When a child is full of worries it can be tricky for them to process how they feel and explain it to those around them. This is where picture books that focus on mental health are hugely valuable. They can explain to a child how they are feeling, using words and images, and show them some ways that they can shake off that feeling and start to feel happy. Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka’s latest picture book, My Elephant is Blue, is about a child and and the big, heavy feelings that take over their life.

The child in the story wakes up one day to find an elephant sitting on their chest. It’s so heavy that it is difficult for them to breath or talk. The elephant, called Blue, is very comfortable sitting on the child and doesn’t want to move. Mum and Dad are worried and do what they can to help, including reading lots of books about elephants and calling an elephant specialist. The child’s sister even tries to help push the elephant off, but nothing helps. Dad suggests that exercise might help, so the child and Blue go for a walk around the block. This is just the start of getting the elephant to move, and with some nice family time, Blue starts to change colour. Together, they discover that they quite like other colours too.

My Elephant is Blue is a magnificent picture book about mental health, that is bursting with empathy and positivity. This is the kind of book that every family should have on their bookshelves, for those days when anyone feels a little blue. We all have those days and it’s good to remind ourselves that they don’t last, and that by doing things we enjoy, we can have a brighter day. This is a book that is great for so many ages, whether you’re reading it to preschoolers or intermediate-age children. The concept is simple enough for younger children to understand, but it will also resonate with older children (and adults).

Vasanti Unka’s illustrations are delightful. For most of the book her illustrations are quite subtle and sparse, but as the child starts to become happier, the illustrations are busier, brighter and more colourful. They become more full of life, especially on the page with the picnic. Vasanti captures the emotions of the child perfectly, using facial expressions that the youngest readers will understand.

One of my favourite things about this book is that the child is gender neutral. Melinda hasn’t used any pronouns or given the child a name, and Vasanti has drawn them so that they could be any gender. This makes the story really accessible to all children. I want to thank Melinda and Vasanti hugely for this.

Cat Taylor has done a wonderful job of the design, especially the front cover. Blue the elephant has been raised on the front and back covers, so you can feel the groves and bumps of his skin. This little touch makes the book really tactile, and I love running my hands over it. You just know that kids will love this too.

My Elephant is Blue is a must-have for schools and families. It will create some good conversations and help children to understand their emotions. It will also give them some strategies to try when they are feeling blue. It will help children to become more empathetic, as it will help them to understand how others feel.

My Elephant is Blue is due for release in NZ on Monday 17 May.

Storm by Nicola Skinner

This was such an unexpected marvel of a book! Just when I thought it was one kind of story it would morph in to something else and I was never sure where it would go next. It’s a really fresh, unique story that is hard to sum up and I loved every minute of it. The ending was perfect and made me want to start it again straight away.

The general gist of the story is Frankie (and the rest of her small English seaside village) dies in a tsunami, she wakes in her house as a ghost, takes a sleeping potion and wakes 100 years later and becomes a stranger in her own house (which becomes a tourist attraction). I don’t want to spoil what happens next though.

I completely loved this book (it would be in my top 5 of 2020 so far) and now need to read Nicola Skinner’s first book, Bloom. Storm would be perfect for fans of Ross Welford.

Feel A Little: Little poems about big feelings by Jenny Palmer and Evie Kemp

There are lots of picture books around that deal with feelings.  They help young children to understand their feelings and relate them to different situations.  I recently discovered a New Zealand book that I think is one of the best for helping explain feelings to children.  It is called Feel A Little: Little poems about big feelings, written by Jenny Palmer and illustrated by Evie Kemp.

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Feel A Little is a book full of poems for children that help to explain different emotions.  There are poems about Happy and Sad, Angry and Confused, but also poems about Silly, Nervous, Curious and Shy.  Each emotion has a double page spread and is explained in a short poem on one page and an illustration on the other.  Confident, for example has a poem that starts, ‘Sometimes you feel small inside, too awkward to be you.  But other days you strut, you smile, you let the you shine through,’ and is accompanied by a colourful, smiling blob shape that shines bright.

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I love, love, LOVE this book!  It is a wonderful little book that I think all parents and teachers need to own and should be in all school libraries.  It’s a great book to have on hand whenever you need to help a child understand how they are feeling.  Each of the poems and illustrations perfectly captures the emotions and explains them in a way that children will be able to understand.  The poems are a joy to read aloud and the illustrations are fun.  It’s the sort of book that I could see teachers using with young children, getting the children to create their own pictures of emotions or even act out the emotions.

Go out and get a copy of Feel A Little and tell any parents, teachers and librarians you know about it.