Small Things by Mel Tregonning ($22.95, Pajama Press) is one of the most unique picture books I have read in a while. Rather than a story, the pages are made up of multiple cells. Each black and white panel shows a boy who is lonely and sad. Each panel shows what looks like fire, surrounding him, cutting him and leaving him damaged.
In the afterword by Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, writes “Mel Tregonning speaks volumes about childhood anxiety – an issue facing an alarming number of youth today.”
It turns out what I thought were flames were tiny demons eating away at the child’s sense of self-worth.
“The tiny demons of worry that surround all children, left unanswered and not confronted, can grow into a debilitating mob gnawing at children’s every sense of self, making them feel anxious, alone and fearful. ..With their own self-talk becoming more negative, far too often children who are anxious react by retreating from life’s adventures in order to escape possible adversity – real or imagined – or they strike back at anyone trying to help.”
Coloroso asks parents to use the book as a starting point to help children develop the skills to fight negative beliefs.
Once I read that afterword, my first thought was Wow. What a powerful message with powerful illustrations.
But I wondered if my nine-year-old son would get it. When I “read” it to him, I told him the black creatures were demons and we looked through the story together. I explained to him about anxiety and not letting fear get in your way of doing what you want to do. I plan to keep this book and pull it out once in a while to remind my son of what doubt, fear and negative self-talk can do. Because I think Coloroso is right – this book is a great starting pointing to help identify anxiety and ensure my son never let the demons win.
Note: While looking up information about artist Mel Tregonning, I can across this Guardian article about how she committed suicide shortly before she finished her book. Author/Illustrator Shaun Tan completed the book. Visit here for the article. My condolences to her Tregonnings friends and family.
A copy of this book was provided by Pajama Press for an honest review. The opinions are my own.