Non-fiction November Review: Split Survival Kit by Ruth Fitzgerald & Angharad Rudkin

Cover image by Stef Murphy, to be published by Wren & Rook / Hachette Children’s Group
17th February 2022

This engaging, down to earth guide has been designed with great care to provide a practical road map to assist children and teenagers through the emotional journey encountered when parents decide to separate. One of the authors, Dr Angharad Rudkin is a Clinical Psychologist, specialising in children and family issues while Ruth Fitzgerald has written a hugely popular fiction series for the tween readership. The combination of clinical knowledge and skill at writing for the 10/11+ audience, combined with Stef Murphy’s artwork make this a book that youngsters will want to pick up and learn from, if they sadly find themselves facing this circumstance.

Starting from the premise that parental separation is a journey on which most people would not wish to embark, the book proposes to set out ten steps to help children navigate the emotional path, discussing all the steps along the way and giving young people the vocabulary they need to articulate their feelings. The ten chapters are broken into sections which include real life stories of young people who have already experienced these issues; advice on ways to think differently and empathetically about a situation; practical exercises to help manage emotions and journal writing or drawing hints to help youngsters track their feelings through the process.

The design and layout of the chapters has been done with great skill to ensure that the advice is accessible to all. The images convey information clearly and sympathetically; text is broken into chunks, often contained in panels which resemble pages ripped from a notebook or in bullet journal-style layout, with arrows and bullet points highlighting summaries or key points. Readers are guided through the process from the initial thought that perhaps they can encourage their parents to change track and stay together, to acceptance, to dealing with their own feelings, managing anxieties and finding the answers to questions that cause anxiety, learning how to talk about their family situation to others without embarrassment, how to cope when parents behave badly, how to deal with life split between two houses and the introduction of new family members and how to manage the impact on their own future emotional life.

Throughout the book there is a tone of positivity and calmness, readers are encouraged to look for the positives in their situation, advice is given on how to take control of those aspects which they can manage, and to accept that some things cannot be changed. It is made clear from the start that children are in no way to blame for parental separation and that their feelings are important and need to be discussed with the adults in their life. At the end of the book there are contact details for organisations which can supply further advice and help if needed, there is also a very helpful glossary of terms which children might hear during the family court process. While no book can take the place of personal discussion with responsible adults or even clinicians, this title is likely to be a very valuable addition to the wellbeing collections in school, public and even healthcare libraries, with its expert writing for children of 10+, presenting reassurance and practical guidance at a time of family break-up.

I am grateful to NetGalley and to Wren & Rook/Hachette Children’s Group for allowing me access to a pre-publication. electronic version of Split Survival Kit in exchange for my honest opinion.

Non-fiction November Review: Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Katie Walker

Cover design by Sarah Darby, published by David Fickling Books

After nearly two years living with the COVID-19 pandemic, research shows that many children and young people are suffering with poor mental wellbeing, so this newly published title from David Fickling Books will, I’m sure, be welcomed by many school librarians and school counsellors. It is an absolute joy in all respects, from the glossy, colourful cover, distinctive artwork and playful use of different font styles and its inspirational approach to the topic of mental wellbeing.

Author Carlie Sorosiak has looked to the animal kingdom with which we share such a large percentage of our DNA, to identify lessons that we can take from the mammals, birds and even reptiles that surround us. The tone of this book is one of kindness and compassion, which is brilliantly highlighted by the muted pastel colour scheme and Katie Walker’s distinctive and uplifting illustrations. The inspired decision to focus on stories of animals makes this book hugely appealing to tweens and teens, who can hopefully take encouragement from the cameos outlined here and apply the lessons to their own daily situations. The text is accessible, the advice written in down-to-earth fashion and nicely broken-up with different font effects, colour panels and the aforementioned illustrations.

My own favourite chapter is entitled DIG A LARGE BURROW Be Your Kindest Self which starts with this quote from author Henry James:

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

page 74, quote from Henry James

the chapter continues with tales of animals which have demonstrated remarkable acts that we would construe as kindness; wombats allowing other animals into their burrows to shelter from the devastating bushfires that swept Australia in 2019; dolphins who have rescued surfers from shark attacks and a giant tortoise who “adopted” a baby hippo in a Kenyan wildlife park!

Whether you want advice on making friendships, reaching out to other groups in an inclusive manner, finding your inner bravery or accepting your own unique self, there is a story for you in this book. In fact, if like me, you just want to read a warm-hearted book, packed with interesting anecdotes from the animal kingdom then I encourage you to find a copy of this delightful book. It is aimed at a readership of 10+ but I honestly think it could be enjoyed by anyone and should feature in all classroom, library or home wellbeing collections.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and David Fickling Books for supplying me with a free copy of Roar Like a Lion in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Harriet’s Expanding Heart written by Rachel Brace, illustrated by Angela Perrini

Cover art by Angela Perrini, published by Little Steps Publishing

The importance of giving children the vocabulary they need to express their feelings has been recognised in this wonderful book authored by Rachel Brace. As a psychologist, Rachel works with families experiencing the pain of divorce and she has brought her expertise to this story. It tells the tale of Harriet, who has “two homes, two parents, two different bedrooms, one school and a pet cat named Ginger.”

Although her parents have split up, Harriet leads a contented and calm life, understanding the different routines in her two different homes but equally comfortable in both. However, when her Dad sits down to tell her that his special friend Emily and her son Cooper will be moving into his house Harriet sees her orderly life being turned upside-down. Suddenly the words that describe her become negative: “worried, uncertain, apprehensive and anxious.” The accompanying illustration on this page starkly emphasises the sudden change in Harriet’s outlook; the change from a palette of warm colours to an entire page which looks as if it has been scribbled all over with a black pencil, with Harriet huddled in a defensive and miserable pose in one corner leaves the reader in no doubt about the impact this news has on the young protagonist.

Angela Perrini’s ability to portray Harriet’s emotions through her artwork is breath-taking. The other image in the book which will stick in my mind is one of Harriet, again huddled in the lower left of the frame, as she sits inside her Dad’s house, towered over by her step-mum’s possessions.

In gentle, clear language the story proceeds to acknowledge that these feelings are perfectly natural in this situation and offers reassurance that Harriet’s parents still love her as much as ever and that she can take her time to adjust to being part of a step-family. This is a great resource for step-families with young children and even has a selection of clear and practical tips for parents at the end of the book. I highly recommend this book as a useful addition to school and nursery well-being collections for children of 4-7 years old.

I am grateful to Little Steps Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Everybody Has Feelings by Jon Burgerman

Cover art by Jon Burgerman, published by Oxford Children’s Books

This larger-than-life, vibrant picture book, illustrated in the cartoonish style pioneered by Jon Burgerman is a wonderful resource for helping young children identify and talk about their feelings.

Starting with the premise that ‘Everybody has feelings. That’s okay.’ the book continues with each page naming a feeling and providing an example to which a child would easily relate. To aid comprehension every page contains full colour illustrations, with the cartoon characters displaying the facial characteristics which demonstrate their feelings, alongside lots of extra details that will absorb the attention of young children. What’s more, there is a bouncy rhythm to the rhyming text which is likely to encourage young listeners to join in with repeated readings of this enjoyable book. I’m sure my own children would have spent hours looking at the double-page spread of a playground where there is a wealth of activity portrayed, accompanied by the text:

‘I feel EXCITED. There’s so much to do.

I feel FRUSTRATED. I can’t tie my shoe.’

At a time when it is being recognised that children are feeling anxious at increasingly younger ages, this is an excellent book for helping pre-school and early years children to start conversations about the way that they are feeling by giving them the language to express themselves. The cartoon-style illustrations not only make the book fun, they also deliver the message with great clarity to the intended audience.

Everybody Worries by Jon Burgerman

Cover art by Jon Burgerman, published by Oxford Children’s Books

In a very similar format and for the same audience, Jon Burgerman has also written Everybody Worries. This book points out that no matter how tough, smart or brave an individual might be, we all have worries and everybody worries about different things and that it is important to talk about whatever is worrying you. It helps youngsters identify what worrying feels like:

‘Your head might ache and your heart beat quickly, as worries rise like a wave…

…and make you feel sickly.’

As well as identifying worries, practical tips such as drawing your worries, taking deep breaths and sharing your worries with someone are also provided.

I would highly recommend Everybody Has Feelings and Everybody Worries to homes, nurseries, pre-schools and Reception classes to be shared with children aged 3-5. I am most grateful to Oxford Children’s Books for sending me a review copies in exchange for my honest opinion.