Associating with characters in stories can help children deal with real-world issues. Image: Unsplash/Josh Applegate
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- Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud suggests reading can be a good way to adapt to living under lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Her recommendations cover topics like missing friends due to school closures and dealing with the fear of getting ill with COVID-19.
- Associating with characters in stories can help children deal with real-world issues.
Adapting to change can be difficult, especially for children living through uncertain times like the COVID-19 pandemic. But being introduced to the right book at the right time can calm fears and help kids adjust to a new set of circumstances.
As humans, we are encouraged to interact with others from an early age, to share ideas and experiences. Suddenly being forced to stay home and avoid contact with friends and relatives can leave children feeling bored, isolated and unsettled by a lack of routine - or frightened they might get ill.
Ella Berthoud, bibliotherapist at The School of Life in London, is co-author of The Story Cure: An A to Z of Books to Keep Kids Happy, Healthy and Wise, together with Susan Elderkin. The book contains pages of reading suggestions to help children associate with characters and cope with the emotions sparked by different life events.
Here are six great reads to help kids overcome the tedium, insecurity and emotional frustration of life under lockdown.
Books for little ones:
Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis
Do you remember when the world was still magical and anything could happen - at least in your imagination? This story belongs to that time. It’s about two naughty sisters who lie to their mother and venture into the woods. Once there, they find a tiny creature called a bog baby, which they take home and secretly look after.
The creature soon pines and begins to die, so the girls confess to their mother about their illicit trip into the words. But mum also has a confession and explains that as a young girl, she too found a bog baby, then helps the girls return the creature to its boggy home.
This is one of those charming books that makes you want to believe in magic and importantly, also believe in your parents, who often know exactly what to do in a crisis.
Harry and the Wrinklies by Alan Temperley
When Harry is orphaned and sent to live with his elderly aunts in remote Lagg Hall, he has low expectations. But life there is anything but boring, as he pursues the two eccentric old ladies on an exciting adventure filled with fast cars, cat burglars and plenty of cake.
When Harry finds out about their criminal careers, the women recruit their nephew to help them deal with a nosey neighbour who begins snooping around the hall and could spell trouble.
As well as being a fun caper, this exciting story helps kids realize that maybe their own grandparents and elderly relatives have a story to tell. Perhaps they are less frail and more resilient than they look?
The Moomin books by Tove Janson
This series spans several age groups and includes picture books for young readers along with stories for older kids. Set in Moominland – a beautiful happy land, isolated from the rest of the world – the Moomins go on a series of adventures that, although packed with excitement and drama, always end happily.
One story with particular parallels to the current situation is called Comet in Moominland. Here we see Moomin and his friend fearing the arrival of something terrible, which could spell the end of their world. When the comet does arrive, there is no crash and their fears are misplaced.
The stories are packed with adventure and are a great way to reassure kids about an impending threat and allay their fears.
Books for slightly older kids:
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Living with eight siblings in a cramped New York apartment is too much for the little boy in this story, who waves goodbye to his family and heads off to a new and very different life in the wilderness. It’s a survival tale involving new experiences like training a falcon to help find food, learning to make fire, and getting frozen into a tree...
Readers accompany the boy on his trail of troubles and learn an important lesson about being able to adapt to new situations. The story is also a great antidote to being cooped up inside, offering an opportunity for bookworms to explore the wild expanse of nature in their mind’s eye.
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Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When Winnie runs away from home, she encounters the Tuck family in what appears at first to be a girl-meets-boy coming-of-age story. But things soon enter more philosophical territory when the seemingly ‘teenage’ Tuck boy reveals his age to be 109, having drunk from the stream of immortality along with his family.
Winnie faces a difficult decision: to drink from the same stream and become immortal or embrace her mortality. Although everlasting life sounds like a good idea, the boy tries to persuade her against it, having had to endure the heartbreak of seeing people he loves die.
This clever, funny and wise book is beautifully written and deals with the idea of mortality in a thought-provoking way, which could help kids come to terms with the fear of death or the thought of losing elderly relatives.
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Written entirely in the form of letters - remember those? - and postcards, this funny yet touching story follows the long-distance friendship of Elizabeth, who lives in Australia, and her pen pal Celia, who she has never met.
Letters from Celia reveal problems at home, which cause her to run away. Elizabeth’s already complicated teenage world gets more entwined when she goes to help rescue her pen pal.
This is a story about the power of friendship from afar. It reinforces the idea that writing letters, or their digital equivalent, can be as meaningful and rewarding as seeing friends every day.
So the next time one of the kids says they are bored or shows signs of lockdown anxiety, take them on a book journey to exercise their imagination.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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