My Two Forever Dads

My Two Forever Dads

Bryony Irving (2019)

This story follows a little girl & her 2 dads through the first 2000 great days of their adoption.  Her new parents are there to comfort her through the sadness of leaving old carers; healing hurts; dealing with tricky behaviour & celebrating successes. The rhyming text creates a playfulness & delight in the journey, highlighting the joys & challenges of family life & the beautiful rainbow of feelings that go with it. Here is wonderful affirmation that parenthood is indeed in the love, not in the blood.

This is just one in Bryony’s series celebrating LGBTQ+ adoption, each written for one of the many children she has worked with over the past 20 years. It’s a sobering thought that this time span is longer than LGBTQ+ adoption has been enshrined in UK law, which only came into force in 2005.

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Grandpa’s Gift

A little boy mourns the old home he has left behind & the world seems very grey. But grandpa walks beside him & holds his hand. They enter a charity shop, with boxes full of old things waiting to be seen with new eyes. Grandpa shows him a dull looking rock, but inside it are crystals that shine with a thousand stars. Together they continue to explore the city & all the while, the boy can feel the rock, safe in his pocket. A reminder that magic can be found in the most ordinary of places, & that life feels lighter when we have hope.

Moving house, feeling sadness for what is left behind & adapting to new places can be hard for any child. How much more so, for a child with developmental trauma, who has had multiple losses in the past? Repeated exposure to trauma in early life can lead to hypersensitivity in the nervous system & brain for signs of danger & this can continue even when a child is safe in a new home. Learning to trust & to be open to relationships & the outside world, is a frightening prospect for a child who has been let down in the past, & who may have had repeated moves in the care system.

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Oh No, George!

George is a bouncy dog, full of good intentions but little self-control.  His owner, Harris, leaves him home alone & hopes for the best, with disastrous results! George encounters all the things that he loves – cake, dirt, & chasing the cat. Later, when George is full of remorse, Harris forgives him & suggests a nice walk together. The colours are bold & the illustrations are witty. Repeating phrases – ‘What will George do?’ & ‘Oh no, George!’ allow for discussion about motives & behaviour in a fun & safe way. A sweet story with themes of messing up, making amends & forgiveness. 

Babies & small children learn self-regulation & pro-social behaviours, through the nurturing & co-regulation provided by their parents & carers. The average toddler is corrected by their parent on average once every 7 minutes. The first socialisation emotion that children learn is guilt, by around 3 years old. We help toddlers with feelings of shame when they are disciplined by re-engaging with them quickly. A securely attached child is motivated to get back into good relationships & to think about how to make things better.

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Love

Golden threads of love weave their way from the front cover, right to the end of this beautiful story.  Tess is a little girl held in the heart of a loving birth family, who experiences the anxiety of separation for the first time when she starts school. Her mum reassures her that even when apart, their love is like a string between them, stretching as far as it needs to. Tess learns how her new friends have strings too, linking them across time and space with those they love.  None of this is enough to prevent her from feeling very sad & lonely, & she unties the string & lets it fall. Only mum wrapping them back together at the end of school brings her comfort. This is a gentle exploration of what love & belonging means, & the emotions we experience when our sense of connection is shaken.

Any child naturally might feel anxious leaving their parents to start school, just like Tess. But how much harder separation can be for a child who has not always had a secure family base. Abuse, neglect & loss leading to developmental trauma, creates a deep fear for a child of whether they are loveable & whether they will be abandoned again. The child is terrified – when we are apart, will you remember me? How can I trust you are on the end of my string? This fear expresses itself in many ways for children with insecure attachment styles – some may become distressed & clingy & others may become avoidant & seem outwardly unaffected. Both strategies developed as self-protection, by little ones who do not believe others will comfort them, or find it too difficult to ask.

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Sophie Spikey has a Very Big Problem

Sophie Spikey learned very early in life that it was best to look after herself. She has a new family now, but it is hard for her to give up old ways, that used to keep her safe. Hard to hold in her heart that she is loveable & will be cared for. Sophie has lost her shoes & is determined to sort it out alone. It takes a kind & patient mum to help her understand why this is so tricky, & to get through the muddle that unfolds. This is a clever story that empathically captures the struggles of many children with developmental trauma, as well as conveying therapeutic parenting ideas in a useful & relatable way.

Adoptive parents & carers of traumatised children with attachment difficulties, face big challenges to helping their child recover from their experiences. A child who fears relationships & is hypervigilant for signs of danger, does not trust in adults’ good intentions. They feel full of shame & look for signs to confirm they are bad kids. They are controlling – to avoid the risk of painful rejection by others. Parents & carers can feel out of their depth & worry about making things worse. Support to make sense of what is going on underneath their child’s behaviour is important. Opportunities to see & practice therapeutic parenting responses can build confidence & resilience. Parents & carers can learn how to stay more open & engaged, in the face of their child’s defensiveness & resistance.

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I’m Sticking with You

This is a playful & bouncy story, that celebrates friendship & sends a ‘better together’ message, in rhyming text & witty illustrations. From the very opening lines, Bear loves Squirrel’s company, ‘Wherever you’re going. I’m going too. Whatever you’re doing. I’m sticking with you’.  It explores how friendships have their challenges, through Bear’s affectionate but clumsy enthusiasm & Squirrel’s more reserved approach to life. When Squirrel decides to take some time out, we learn that it’s fine to be alone, but sometimes being without a friend can become too lonely. As well as being an exploration of friendship, this is a story that has resonance for sibling relationships & for parent & child relationships, too.

It strikes me that there are many aspects of Bear’s personality & approach to the friendship with Squirrel, that fit with the PACE-ful attitude that we seek to hold, in caring for children who have developmental trauma. Playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy. Bear is open & engaged & unwavering in his loyalty. He delights in Squirrel, even when Squirrel is more cautious about displaying affection. Bear models that it is ok to make mistakes & he is comfortable with this – mistakes don’t mean that they don’t like each other. He respects Squirrel’s boundaries & need for time by himself, even when he feels a bit hurt by it. & Bear is there to greet Squirrel with warmth & without reservation, when Squirrel seeks him out again.

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After the Fall

When Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, he was literally shattered. As far as we knew, not even all the king’s men had been able to patch him up. But what would have happened if they had? We see how emotionally broken Humpty is, even when his shell is fixed. As he powerfully says, ‘It was just an accident. But it changed my life’. It makes him too scared to do all the things he used to love. He stays low down, in the shadow of the wall. Eventually, Humpty’s desire to reconnect with the birds in the sky is stronger than his fears & he finds ways to climb into the light again. This is a book that explores trauma in a simple & engaging way. It gives hope that even when terrible things happen, we can build resilience & live happier lives again.

Even in adulthood, a single incident trauma can have a massive psychological impact. Here we learn that Humpty is a famous bird watcher who has a great fall. Despite the tragedy, Humpty is a mature egg who can draw on his happy memories, skills & experiences to motivate himself in the difficult work of recovery. But Humpty can’t face his fears all at once – he learns to make paper aeroplanes, to feel closer to the birds in the sky, whilst his feet stay firmly on the ground. When his plane lands on top of the wall, he grasps the ladder & climbs slowly, one rung at a time.

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A Friend for Henry

Henry is a little boy who wants a friend. He is trying to work out why some of the children in his class don’t do friendship the way he does, or stick to his rules. He is bewildered by how they behave. When he tries to connect, it seems to go wrong, for reasons he can’t quite understand. In time, he finds Katie & they play together, each in their own way. This story gently explores how a child with autistic traits might navigate the challenges they face in school, & how this makes them feel.

Play provides opportunities for children to develop friendships & social skills but this is easier for some children than for others. For those who are neuro-divergent in ways that lead to them struggling with unstructured time, sensory processing & with reading social cues, the classroom & playground can be a lonely, frustrating & even frightening place. This most certainly includes many children with attachment difficulties because of childhood trauma, a significant number of whom will have a dual diagnosis of autism.

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The Black Book of Colours

By Menena Cottin

Thomas sees differently – he can hear colours, smell them, touch them, and taste them. We learn how he understands colours without using his eyes. ‘Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurst when he finds it on his scraped knee’. This is a story written by a sighted author & there is no pretension that it gives us full knowledge of what it is like to be partially sighted or blind. What it does do is invite visually focused readers to become more curious about difference & more accepting of different ways of experiencing the world.

The beautiful narrative is set out in white font, with a braille version on each page & alphabet at the back of the book. Print costs prevented the braille being as deep as needed to make this a fully accessible book, although I did find a couple of adult reviewers, identifying as blind, for whom the braille, although light, was raised enough to read.  Sighted readers are certainly given a lovely introduction to braille & invitation to explore the book through a range of senses. Run your fingers over the raised line drawings, to see the delicate pictures of natural objects with your fingertips. Or close your eyes & listen to the colours come alive in your mind, through the simple but poetic text. Seldom will you find a picture story that so cleverly explores how our personal contexts shape how we define the world.

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The Colour Monster

This is a clever book that shows us monsters aren’t always scary & neither are feelings, if you have someone to help you understand them. A kind, little girl takes her colourful but confused monster friend by the hand. She says that his feelings are all stirred up & so he is, too. She lets him know that she can help. Through a bright collage of illustrations, all the different coloured feelings are separated out & put into glass jars to look at – a lovely way of conveying that feelings can be managed & are containable. This is a charming portrayal of ‘what’s shareable is bearable’ & that we need never be alone with experiencing emotions.

There is a simplicity to the words in the story, which offer connections between colours & emotions & what they might lead us to do, but without being prescriptive.

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