Riley is finding it hard to go to school. He’s a little bear cub who has made it through some very difficult times in the past & is learning ways to feel more confident & settled in his fur. He does not look like the adults who are raising him & this creates an inclusivity to the story for all children who do not live with their birth parents, for whatever reason. Sometimes Riley feels cheerful & brave but other times he wobbles & falls back on old coping strategies.
This day starts with a grumpy porcupine moment & Riley feels prickly towards everyone. His ‘safe big critters’, the elephants, turn potential confrontation & conflict into opportunities for playfulness & connection. They ride the bumps of the morning routine together, using therapeutic parenting ideas, clearly presented & cleverly woven into an engaging tale. This is a picture book for any child who struggles with transitions & the adults who support them.
The ‘tips & tricks’ shared for surviving school day meltdowns are many & they are helpfully modelled in accessible language & colourful illustrations. There are songs; visual schedule checklists; involving the toys in conversations, to ‘wonder aloud’ about what is going on for Riley & to acknowledge big feelings. There is nurturing touch to help soothe & calm; deep breaths & transitional objects; secret paw shakes & claiming affirmations to help Riley remember he is not alone with his fear. We see in the beautiful depiction of the bear cub with his elephants, & with his giraffe teacher, that underpinning all these techniques are loving & caring relationships. Therapeutic parenting (& teaching) has strong foundations when it rests on an attitude of PACE-fulness – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy.
The Afterword in Riley the Brave Makes it to School is a bonus for the grown-ups, expanding on the ideas covered in the story & providing a nice explanation of PACE. It also reminds us that parenting is hard. Take care of yourself & hold your loved ones close. Laugh often, celebrate the victories, however small & try to forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Despite all the challenges, there can be hope, just as hope grows for Riley that perhaps it won’t be such a bad day & he does make it to school.