I got some more wonderful news this past week. If you are regular blog reader of mine (and thank you if you are!), you would be aware that I have a picture book coming out in February next year called Fish Don’t Need Snorkels. It’s published by a small Christian UK Publisher, Stanborough Press. When I signed the contract for this one, I also signed with them for a second book called When I Look at You: A book about my feelings. As the year has progressed, all the focus has been on Fish Don’t Need Snorkels and I just assumed that we’d get to the feelings book when this one was done. I was delightfully, wonderfully, very wrong!
I got an email from my editor just a few days ago with sample illustrations attached, asking me to write the back cover blurb. It appears When I Look at You is very close to being ready to go. I don’t have a release date yet, but I am fairly certain it will be soon after Fish Don’t Need Snorkels. I can’t post any images here, but I have to tell you that the illustrations are simply D-I-V-I-N -E!
The concept for When I Look at You is something I am intensely passionate about. The idea came to me a few years ago, when I was working for a non-profit child advocacy agency and I co-wrote an optimistic thinking skills program for kids in foster care*. I had taught a few kids over the years who had been in care, but knew I was very under-informed, so I set about educating myself. My co-author had years and years of experience in this area and was able to give me a whole heap of resources that helped me understand just where a lot of these kids were coming from. At the same time, I had begun my Masters in Education, specialising in Behaviour Management. The subject I was doing at the time was “Child Abuse and Neglect” and this too provided more great information and resources for me.
What I discovered through my work and study, was that there are many, many children who – for a variety of reasons – struggle to name and identify their feelings. For a child in foster care who has suffered severe neglect, they may not realise that the gnawing, aching pain in their stomach means they are hungry, or the hot, red flush creeping up their neck means that they are feeling embarrassed. This was a revelation to me. I mistakenly assumed everyone knew that kind of thing. But the more I learned about it the more blessed I realised I was to have had parents who focussed on my emotional well-being. I was given the language and tools to understand the very physical nature of my feelings and express them to trusted people in my life. When I Look at You is designed to help other parents do just the same.
Children who are developmentally delayed in the emotional sphere may also struggle to read other people’s facial expressions and body language. They are genuinely surprised to find that someone who is red-faced, grimacing and stamping their feet may be angry. When I Look at You takes a close-up look at facial expressions and body posture and gives a suggestion as to what feeling the child in the picture may be experiencing. The illustrations are powerful. The illustration on the ‘lonely’ page is enough to make me cry!!
I’ve used the same technique, as is modelled in the book, with my own children. From the time my oldest son was very young, I’d give him the words to explain his emotions. When he lost his temper because the tower he was building fell down, I’d say something like, “You are stamping your feet and banging on the floor. Mummy thinks you might be feeling angry right now because the tower fell down.” It sounds a little academic, I know. But it works. At 4, he now has a very good grasp of his own emotional state. He understand the physical sensations that go along with feelings and he knows that there are no feelings too big for he and I to handle together. And I firmly believe this helps develop his resilience to face the future.
In my years as a teacher, I was always very concerned with helping my students develop their emotional intelligence. In my opinion, the people that have a clear understanding of what is happening inside them during times of conflict or disappointment or stress, and are then able to make good choices during those times, are the ones that experience the greatest happiness and success in life. I wanted to try and equip all of my kids with those skills. Of course I didn’t succeed. The starting points for everyone were so different. And although I wasn’t the greatest Maths or English teacher, and I knew there were other teachers who could transfer concepts of learning clearer than me, I always hoped that I was a teacher who connected on an emotional level with kids. I always tried to let them know I valued them, cared about them and knew who they were in a very real sense. Now I get to do the same with this book.
That’s why When I Look at You is such an exciting project for me. Seeing something like this, that is so important to me, come to life takes my breath away. How blessed am I?!
(*Since I co-authored the pilot optimistic thinking skills program, the organisation has gone on to develop, add and enhance the activity-based program significantly. If you’d like to find out more you can contact Oz Child. I believe the program is now going under the name “Expressions”. And if you look closely at the manual, you’ll find my name in the acknowledgements section in the fine print at the very back )