How books can help a child to talk about difficult feelings

Published on: 14 May 2018 Author: Ewa Jozefkowicz

Ewa Jozefkowicz lost her dad at a young age, so she knows how important support is for those who are struggling emotionally. Now she's hoping that her new book can help children to open up and feel less alone – and here's why. 

I wrote The Mystery of The Colour Thief thinking that if it resonates with even one child who is currently going through a difficult time, then I would have accomplished what I set out to do.

It is a story that touches on grief, guilt, anger and sadness, but more than any of these things, it is a story of hope and new beginnings.

See our book suggestions for Mental Health Awareness Week

My main character, 12-year-old Izzy, is trying to cope with her mum being in a coma after a car accident, her dad failing to cope, and her best friend dumping her. On top of all this, she starts dreaming of a "shadow man", intent on stealing the colours from her world...

Get children to speak about their feelings

I was a little older than Izzy when my dad passed away, and I was lucky enough to have incredibly supportive friends and teachers who helped me to slowly regain my sense of self. It was only many years later, when I became a school governor and found out more about children’s mental health issues through my work in the education sector, that I realised not every school child who is struggling emotionally has that very important network in place.

I’m so pleased that pupil mental health is being increasingly covered by the media, and featured on political agendas, because it means that teachers and parents are much better equipped to support young people.

The next step, of course, is to encourage children to speak about their feelings to somebody they trust, and this, in my mind, is the biggest challenge.

Things are changing, but unfortunately we’re still living in a time in which presenting your "best self" is frequently encouraged, particularly through social media. There is also intense pressure on children to do well academically, which can lead to stress and high levels of anxiety.

Find support in unexpected places

In The Mystery of The Colour Thief, Izzy initially struggles to open up about the terrible shadow man from her nightmares and feels incredibly isolated. It is only when she meets her new neighbour Toby, who is honest with her about his own troubles, that her world begins to regain its colour.

Toby came to me out of the blue when I was writing. I knew that I wanted him to be strong, resilient and kind, and I imagined that he would have overcome some hurdles in life which would mean he was in a good position to support Izzy.

I drew inspiration from a family friend who uses a wheelchair, purely because her personality suited what I wanted to achieve with his character. Then I thought I'd actually portray Toby as a wheelchair-user himself, as it would mean that young readers would be encouraged to see the world from a different perspective.

Toby is strong, both physically and emotionally. He ends up getting in the river to rescue Milo, Izzy’s dog, when it’s caught in the current – and Toby is also the one who encourages Izzy to talk about the day of her mum’s accident. Through his character, I wanted to show that support can often come from unexpected places.

'Part of a growing library of children's fiction'

I’m glad to be part of a growing library of children’s fiction which touches on matters of mental health, and which can help adults living and working with children to discuss difficult subjects.

I hope readers will relate to Izzy and Toby’s story and that it encourages those who are feeling sad, angry, frustrated or scared to share their feelings with somebody they trust – who can help them to bring the colours back into their world. 

See our book suggestions for Mental Health Awareness Week

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Read our review of the book

The Mystery of the Colour Thief

Author: Ewa Jozefkowicz Illustrator: Sophie Gilmore (front cover)

The book paints a convincing picture of a harrowing time in a young life, and the time, talking and friendship that helps her to process trauma. But this is by no means a gloomy read, offering ample humour, hope and optimism.

Read more about The Mystery of the Colour Thief

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