Shona Talks........3 Steps to get the most out of a Big Hug book Q1. Your Big Hug book "Life is Like the Wind" is now released in Japan, how do you feel?
A1.I am delighted that the Big Hug books have been released in Japan! It still amazes me to know that the words I have used to help one little person to manage something have spread to help families across the World. I’m a little awestruck at times.
Q2. Could you please tell us some background stories of how this picture book was created? Especially this book's takes on the theme of how to handle your close person's "death", how did you first come across this theme to have it created into picture book?
A2.I am a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and I work with lots of young people who have troubles that are bothering them deeply. When I see a young child in my practice, I usually follow up our session with a letter to help remind them what we talked about. They can share the letters with the people who are important in their lives. One day, a publisher happened across some of my letters and asked if they could make them into children’s books.
“Life is Like the Wind” was initially written for a little boy who had many problems. One of the things thatwas bothering him was knowing that he had a grandmother who had passed away and he had never met her. He had lots of questions, but every time he asked his mother, she would get sad and she found it difficult to find the words to comfort him and help him to answer his questions. We talked about life and death and grief and loss in our session and then I sent him a letter to remind him (and his mother) about the things I had said in our session. He and I had done some drawings in our sessions, but when I saw the drawings that Irisz (the illustrator of the Big Hugs) added, they were so simple and so perfect, I was very moved.
Q3. In what situations or places and by whom would you like the book to be read? Is there anything an adult should be careful when reading this book to a child who has lost his/her precious family member?
A3.I like to imagine that “Life is Like the Wind” (and all of the Big Hug Books) are shared between a child and a trusted, gentle adult in a quiet, cosy space. The child and adult can share their ideas and experiences as they read and look at the pictures together. They can even decide whether they might try some of the activities suggested together to help them sit with, or manage, any strong feelings.
Many adults avoid talking about uncomfortable feelings with children and many adults have told me that “Life is Like the Wind” helped them to talk more in age-appropriate ways to their youngest family members. I think many adults worry that they may not be able to answer the questions that children have about topics that might be complicated and emotional.
If it ever happens that an adult cannot think of an answer that will be age-appropriate, they can tell the child that they might go looking for answers together from someone else that may know more. If a child has no questions or no reactions, adults can know that is okay, too.
The Big Hug Books are a way of starting conversations about troubling subjects. As a clinical psychologist, I can say that a book should never be seen as a replacement for professional treatment. At any time, if a young child is upset for longer than usual, not as hungry, not sleeping, not playing, or not their usual selves, it would be important that they seek some professional help.
Q4. Could you share a story of one of the readers who reacted to this book in a special way?
A4.I was especially moved when I was approached by a parent who had lost her child. Every year, the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne (Australia) have a special service for all of the families who have lost a child. The parent sought my permission to use “Life is Like the Wind’ as the focus for the special service. The hospital staff and volunteers shared the story and the images in the service and made special little pinwheels to give to all those who attended.
Q5. Please tell us about your updated news, what kind of activities are you working on right now?
A5.I am still working as a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, so I continue to write for young people every day. I have also just finished working on a rehabilitation program for prisons. I’ve been helping prison staff to provide what is needed for their youngest inmates. I speak on a local radio most weeks. I speak about issues that affect young people and their families. My work life is very diverse!
I am always looking for new projects and I would like to do a series of books for slightly older children and their families. Knowing mental health issues and offenders as I do, there is much work to be done in the space of helping children to be safe in the online world, coping when we hear of major catastrophes across the globe, and managing day to day relationships.
Thank you very much
Shona Talks........3 Steps to get the most out of a Big Hug book