World Mental Health Day: a first-aid kit for young readers

Children’s Books Ireland has produced a free guide to help young readers navigate difficult issues

Mind Yourself: The Mental Health and Wellbeing Reading Guide is designed to support young readers to navigate difficult issues through literature.

Mind Yourself: The Mental Health and Wellbeing Reading Guide is designed to support young readers to navigate difficult issues through literature.

 

At Children’s Books Ireland, we are a team of readers, so we have long known the comfort a book can give during a difficult time. It is especially gratifying that robust evidence supports this belief: we know that reading for pleasure can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing and can build empathy in children and young people.

It has been widely reported and documented in research that the necessary public health measures, including school closures, throughout 2020, have had negative impacts on Irish children and young people’s mental health: a study from NUI Galway found that 14.6 per cent of secondary students reported that homeschooling during the pandemic had a very negative effect on their mental health, with another 29.6 per cent saying it had either quite a negative effect or a slightly negative effect.

In short, children and young people need all the support we can give them, and the best way we know how to do that is to share our enthusiasm for reading and use our expertise to create a resource that provides mental health support through books.

Mind Yourself: The Mental Health and Wellbeing Reading Guide is designed to support young readers to navigate difficult issues through literature. In partnership with ISPCC Childline and Jigsaw, Children’s Books Ireland’s aims are to provide a starting point for big conversations, give children comfort in recognising their own feelings on the page, and build empathy by giving young people a way of putting themselves in the shoes of others through stories.

As always, we want our reading guides to enable children and young people – with the help of a family member, carer, teacher or librarian – to find the right book for them at a particular time.

We consider Mind Yourself a first-aid kit for worries, sadness, loneliness, anxiety and any number of feelings which a child or young person may need to explore. As with a first-aid kit, these books won’t fix ailments of all sizes – a plaster on a broken leg is not much use – but we hope that for a great many young readers there will be relief and solace in seeing their lives reflected on the page, and a growing understanding of what others may be quietly going through.

From giving language to the youngest children to make sense of their angry tantrums to encouraging self-esteem, body positivity and resilience in the oldest, we ultimately hope that these books bring joy to the reader as well as a deeper comprehension of their own and others’ feelings. And for those bigger issues, our partners at Jigsaw and ISPCC Childline are there to provide essential supports for children and young people who may need it.

The guide is filled with over 400 books, suitable from birth to age 18, which are, first and foremost, excellent. These books will be enjoyed as arts experiences, as children’s literature of an exemplary standard, as a book that is as appealing and absorbing and makes you want to leave the bedside lamp on for “just five more minutes”.

As well as that, we put a lot of energy, time and creative thinking into ensuring that this guide is useful and useable both for adults and young people. We researched bibliotherapy – the use of books in various ways for therapeutic or healing purposes, from self-help books on a named issue to the act of reading about someone experiencing the same problem as you and successfully working through it.

Bibliotherapy can be used to maintain emotional wellbeing, and to develop coping skills. These books provide safe spaces to explore emotions like grief, fear and anger – and in many cases, lest there be an assumption that this is a long list of gloomy reads, there is light, humour, happiness, relief and hope.

What you’ll find in Mind Yourself ranges from the serious to what might seem like smaller worries, which we wanted to include and give validation to – Sunday blues before a new school week, shyness, concerns about fitting in.

Our goal is to make Mind Yourself available to as many people as possible – you can view or download it here. The printed guide is free and will be available in every library authority in the Republic of Ireland and the Education Authority in Northern Ireland.

How you use it is up to you – pick a book to buy or borrow and read it aloud with little ones, at home or in class. Leave a book on a child’s bed with a note, or give them this guide with a book token to find their own way through it.

Illustrator Tarsila Krüse: “books are an absolutely wonderful tool to understand and process our feelings”
Illustrator Tarsila Krüse: “books are an absolutely wonderful tool to understand and process our feelings”

Tarsila Krüse’s original cover artwork is as uplifting as the books within the guide. Reflecting on the concept and her process, she said: “I’m learning Irish and there’s a lovely curiosity in how feelings are expressed in the Irish language – a person doesn’t ‘have a feeling’ but a ‘feeling is on’ that person – it is something that exists outside the body, that comes and goes like the wind.

“That helped me develop the idea that we all carry around feelings and emotions, and much like clouds they sometimes hang right above us. Some are fleeting and light, others are full of thunder and power, therefore I created plenty of those feelings and emotions clouds that we all have.

“I chose to create a non-gender specific character, a lovely dog who is carrying feelings around and processing all of its emotions with a book. That’s what I want everyone to know: books are an absolutely wonderful tool to understand and process our feelings, those curious clouds we carry around, so we can discover, explore, learn and grow inside and out.”

For further recommended reading lists on themes including positive first experiences, difficult changes, celebrating difference and short reads for those who may be struggling with longer ones, visit childrensbooksireland.ie
Elaina Ryan is CEO, Children’s Books Ireland

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