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Children’s Mental Health Week

Happy February!

I’m excited to be sending this blog out just as our February Read With Me boxes are journeying towards their new homes. First of all, welcome to those of you who are new to Read Create Play - I’m Ginny, mama to Pickle, and the creator of our little bookish activity world. Secondly, thank you all for the incredible influx of February orders that have wowed me and resulted in two restocks before posting day! I’m thrilled that so many little book worms will be able to bring Corrinne Averiss and Kirsti Beautyman’s book, Love, to life with our Valentine’s themed activities inspired by the wonderful story.

In this challenging time of limited social contact, it is so important to remind our children that they are loved, to empower them to communicate how they are feeling and to nurture their little minds with resilience . Today marks the start of Place2Be’s Mental Health Week, patronised by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. The theme for this year is Express Yourself - such a wonderful and creative prompt to encourage self belief, self worth and self confidence. And, of course, one that we fully endorse with our love of creativity.

To honour this brilliant initiative, I would like to share some book recommendations with you. Each book is followed by an easy activity idea to explore expression and positive mental health. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help with further book ideas or to discuss a bespoke package for your chosen bookworm’s upcoming birthday or event. Plus, with the continuation of lockdown, I have a bonus book box to offer you, packed up with activities to keep your little ones engaged and entertained.

In keeping with our current theme of Love and Kindness, the first picture book that I would like to share with you is Giraffe's Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees.

Gerald the giraffe lives in the jungle which pulses with the rhythms of dance that each and every creature enjoys. Poor Gerald loves to see the dancing and longs to join in but, mocked for his clumsiness, he wanders off sad and alone. That is, until he meets a new friend who inspires him to find his own music. Gerald listens to the cricket chirping and begins to sway in the moonlight. He soon finds his long limbs moving freely and elegantly and he is filled with such joy that the other animals cannot help but notice the beauty of his dance.

Celebrating over 20 years as a children's classic, this engaging story from Orchard Books is available in various formats so that you can introduce it to the tiny hands as a boardbook or to pre-schoolers as a full size picture book.

Chatting with your little reader: When you read about Gerald, notice how he reacts to the words of other characters. The jungle animals make him feel sad with their unkind words but the cricket helps Gerald to be resilient. This means bouncing back from something that makes you feel uncomfortable or sad. What makes Gerald feel stronger?

Incredible You by Rhys Brisenden and Nathan Reed (Tate Publishing, 2020) is my second picture book recommendation.

We love the bright colours and jazzy writing that pops off the page of this glorious creation. A story chock full of affirmations to celebrate the unique and individual owner of the book and all their marvellous talents.

Playing with your little reader: Send them hunting for ten of their favourite things. They can only have ten so may have to choose. Whatever they come back with, help them to arrange them and take a photo that they are proud of. As they go about their mission, or afterwards with the photo, talk about what makes each of the items important and what it shows about them. For example, they may find items that demonstrate their love of music or sport or drawing. A soft toy or doll might show how caring they are or their love of certain animals, colours or a mood or feeling that they relish. Celebrate their choices with positivity and encouragement. Whatever they choose, take the opportunity to talk and engage with their decisions so that they feel empowered in making these decisions.

Another wonderful book that's just as good for both children's and for mums’ mental health is the recently released My Mum is a Tiger by Kate Claxton. This fabulous celebration of a mummy’s stretch marks draws on connections to the animals in the jungle, marveling at the wonderful colours and diversity among them. Through Eliza's joy and pride over her mummy's awesome tiger stripes, Kate encourages children, mummies and daddies alike to embrace their differences and learn to celebrate what makes them 'really rather wild'.

Exploring with your little reader: Draw some oval templates and set up a mirror for your little one to look at. Encourage them to draw what they see in the mirror. As ever with little ones, the process is more important than the final product. Praise their observation of details. They could try drawing you or family members from photos or video calls too.

My Mum is a Tiger is published by Wiltshire based independent children's publisher, Really Rather Wild. You can order direct from their website: www.reallyratherwild.com

We have recently been enjoying discussions about differences and similarities inspired by When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb and Merrilee Liddiad (Fortress Press, 2019).

Celebrating diversity, Amy Webb shows children how to honour and embrace the differences and similarities between themselves and others. In the story, Charley’s uncomfortable first response to Emma is turned into a wonderful learning opportunity where he is encouraged to make friends and to ask questions of Emma, whose wheelchair and limb differences puzzle him. Both the guided story and pointers for parents and carers, at the back of the book, are wonderful discussion prompts to support empathy skills too.

Creating with your little reader: We recently paired this story with a foot painting activity, as demonstrated by Emma in the book. The challenges we encountered led us to talk about how we can appreciate other people's talents and recognise that ours may be different to theirs.

For young and middle grade readers, I recommend Bloomsbury's The Book of Hopes, edited by Katherine Rundell. I love this beautiful book for children aged 6-12 and adults alike. If you enjoyed Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse or Penguin’s How to Be More Paddington: A Book of Kindess, then this is definitely for you. Curated in lockdown one by popular middle grade author, Kathrine Rundell, and with contributions from over 100 different authors and illustrators, The Book of Hopes is a compilation of short stories, poems and illustrations to entertain, inspire and escape with.

This is a beautiful book to dip into on your own or as a family and a wonderful book to share or gift. As well as being Children's Mental Health Week, this is National Storytelling Week. So, more than ever, read to your big 'uns and little 'uns alike. Share your favourite tales and get talking books. As a bonus, the National Literacy Trust have been so incredibly kind to share the e-book of this super compilation for free for the duration of lockdown. You can find it on their website here.

Get creative with your pre-teens and teens: I love David Almond's contribution, 'A Way to the Stars' on page 22. Why not set-up a blank notebook and have them create the picture book that David describes? They could use his words as captions or in speech bubbles. They could draw a cartoon or flipbook, cut up newspaper and magazine images to collage. Or they could create a play, design a theatre set or film poster or write a song inspired by the story. Let them express themselves in the way that they are most drawn to and encourage it.

You may have noticed our January launch of the new Crafty Mama and Me line, with our box of encouragement, treats and affirmations for new mums and mummies to be. The included picture book is Jessica Hische's striking Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave which speaks to the hearts of grown ups and children alike.

It’s the perfect book to share with Children before they drift off to sleep, whisper the words to treasured newborns or soak up the meaning for yourself and remember that you too can grow with confidence, creativity and adventure in your soul. The wonderful Trigger Publishing team have a host of books designed to support children and adults' wellbeing. I also love the Mindfulness and Feelings activity books recommended for 5-8 year olds.

And finally, here’s my little lockdown gift. I have a limited number of bonus book boxes inspired by Happy: A Children's Book of Mindfulness by Nicola Edwards and Katie Hickey. With a series of mindful activities, encourage children aged 4 -10 to see their own world in this lovely meditative book as they engage all of their senses to feel calm and happy in the space around them.

The one-off Happy Box is listed under the Family Feast section of the website. Pre-ordered boxes will be dispatched on Friday 12th February.

And while this is only a shortlist of some of our favourites. There are so many more books to support discussions about feelings and also the current climate. Please reach out if I can help you to find out about these.

Stay safe, keep reading.

Ginny x


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