Non-fiction review: Shadow Monsters & Courageous Hearts by Hayley Graham, illustrated by Tor Allen

Cover image by Tor Allen, published by Little Steps Publishing

As we see increasing reports in the media about the numbers of children suffering with mental health disorders, I am sure that this accessible text by experienced child psychotherapist, Hayley Graham, will be welcomed by many professionals working with children and young people, as well as parents and carers. This book is aimed at adults to enable them to start conversations with young people about mental health issues and is designed in a way that makes its use straightforward and accessible.

In the preface, the author is candid about experiencing her own mental health issues in her teens, following the loss of her mother, and how this has shaped her desire to help others. The book is in part a distillation of her own experiences combined with her lifelong love of stories. The format is interesting and I think many readers will find it easier to use than ploughing through a jargon-heavy psychotherapy text. Hayley Graham presents five emotionally meaningful short stories, each one carefully constructed to help children and their significant adults make sense of particular aspects of mental health. They are gentle stories, featuring animal protagonists and unpick the triggers to certain behaviours in an easily comprehensible way. The distinctive watercolour illustrations by Tor Allen add greatly to the experience of sharing these stories with a young person. Each story is followed by some suggested questions to encourage an open conversation. Then at the end of the book each story has a corresponding chapter which clearly explains the neuroscience behind each of the featured mental health challenges, providing practical techniques to help manage the issue.

The topics covered by the stories are: trauma, anxiety and OCD, attachment, shame and loss. There are top tips on how to begin talking about difficult topics and each of the stories provides the vocabulary which enables feelings and experiences to be expressed. At a time when mental health services are stretched and school staff are often left to try to deal with issues for which they have little or no training, I think that Shadow Monsters and Courageous Hearts will be a valuable resource.

You can view teachers’ notes for this book on the Little Steps Publishing website here.

I am most grateful to Little Steps for sending me a copy of Shadow Monsters and Courageous Hearts which I am very happy to recommend to teachers, librarians, school nurses and counsellors and anyone working to help children find the language to talk about mental health issues.


2 thoughts on “Non-fiction review: Shadow Monsters & Courageous Hearts by Hayley Graham, illustrated by Tor Allen

  1. This sounds really interesting and definitely a very different approach to addressing mental health issues, the idea of using stories seems a great one. Like you say, sounds like it’d be a great resource.


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