Dealing with Mental Health Issues in Children

When you were a child were you confident or did you struggle to think people would like you, especially the other children in your class? I was a mix, though I generally thought of myself as not being likable. Thinking back on it, people did like me and thought I was worth getting to know.

The children in these three books have different issues to contend with and so I thought it would be of interest to you for me to talk about them.

Cover image for Harvey and the Extraordinary

The first book is about a confident child dealing with a catastrophic loss in her life and how she copes with it.

Harvey and the Extraordinary

Eliza Martin

Illustrated by Anna Bron

Miriam MacNeil, who is called Mimi, just knows she’s extraordinary and that her equally extraordinary father is absent on her birthday because he is performing in a traveling circus. Of course, no one else believes that, but then no one else is as close them him as she is. She lives with her real-estate agent mom and Dominic, Mimi’s older brother. She doesn’t have any friends and, because of an incident at school, she is staying at home. She spends a good part of her day with her paternal grandmother who supervises her schooling. The story is told mostly by Mimi, well actually all of it is Mimi’s account, but part of the story is told as if her father is the main character. Mimi is given a hamster for her birthday and she names it Harvey, which is her father’s name. She has shunned her former best friend because the girl doesn’t believe what Mimi has told her. In the end, Mimi does have to face the reality that her father is not coming back ever. But by then she has learned to reconcile this with the story she’s made up. Teachers and caregivers, including parents and grandparents, will find this book very useful in helping children deal with painful truths. The story was originally a play.

BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ages 8 to 10, $9.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Middle- Grade

ISBN: 9781773215440

ISBN: 9781773215433

ISBN: 9781773215457


Front Cover

The second book is about a Chinese/Canadian girl who is caught between two cultures. She was born and is being raised in Canada, but her grandparents and other relatives still live in China. They constantly harangue her to make her parent proud by studying hard and being accepted into a medical doctor’s university or some other supposedly high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist.

Living with Viola

Rosena Fung

Illustrated by Rosena Fung

Growing up is hard enough for anybody, but add to the mix an evil naysayer living in your brain and you despair might. That’s what Olivia feels as she tries to meet what she thinks her family’s expectations are. Her imaginary demeaning twin, Viola, constantly harps and snarls that Olivia won’t ever have any friends. Eventually, she does find her worth, but partly because her parents understand that she needs professional help. This is such an important problem for children, but also for adults since we all feel inadequate at least part of the time. In addition to this, cultural differences are discussed throughout the book, since the main character is a first-generation Chinese/Canadian. Her relatives who still live in Hong Kong belabor their expectations that she be a dutiful daughter who should want to become a doctor or lawyer or some other high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist. Some readers might find the depiction of Viola to be distracting, especially at first, but the message is strong enough to push the reader to finish the book. And teachers can use the book to spark classroom discussions on showing tolerance to those who appear different. The descriptions of various Chinese dishes that Olivia’s family eats are mouthwatering and the short glossary of Chinese words for relatives and foods is helpful.

BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ltd., Ages 10 to 12, $17.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Graphic/Comic Novel

ISBN: 978-1-77321-549-5

Front Cover of Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid

The third book is about overcoming the school bully and discovering your own worth even if you are overweight, i.e. fat. It is important for children to understand that their physiques are not who they are. I did have a problem with this book not gently trying to show the boy how to make healthier eating choices.

The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid

Matt Wallace

Twelve-year-old Max Tercero’s first day at middle school isn’t any different than his last day at elementary school in that he’ll still being picked on by the school bullies.  In particular, the eighth-grader super jock has targeted Max as his special bullying target for the year. Max is not just plump, he’s downright fat. Nobody should be targeted for bullying on any grounds, but overweight people do seem to get the brunt of bullying no matter what their ages. The new school has strict rules against bullying but Johnny Properzi seems to get by doing whatever he wants to whomever he wants. The whole school seems to be afraid of him. Max decides to fight back in the only way he knows how. He contacts Max Marconius, a.k.a. Master Plan, who is now in prison for life, but who also has done some good things in his life. He is the nemesis of the city’s superhero. Master Plan writes back to Max Tercero and helps him learn to feel better about himself and take charge of his life. Max does make friends in school and does learn to change the odds in his favor. He even gets Johnny suspended for bullying and learns that he is a worthwhile person even if he is fat. The only quibble that teachers can address is Max’s eating habits. He is depicted as having waffle sticks dripping in syrup for breakfast at school every day. Even if he is getting breakfast through the school program there surely is a healthier meal for him to have.  Max is a good-hearted soul who shares his food with his friends who can’t afford to buy breakfast or lunch. There are a lot of good discussion points in the book.

BIBLIO: 2022, Katherine Teagan Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-300803-8

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Remember your self-worth and stand tall as you face the world. You’re worth it. Please let me know what you think of my post and/or life in general. Sarah

What’s Your Favorite Olympic Sport?

The Summer Olympics are now in progress in the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. I know, I know, in the U. S. of A, we spell it with Z, but in Portuguese it’s spelled with an S. Anyway, I thought I’d focus on sports that are featured in the games. Swimming and diving are, of course, featured, as are track and field sports, and soccer, a.k.a, futebol. In Brasilian Portuguese it’s pronounced “foot Che bol,” at least in northeastern Brasil.

My favorite sports category is Equestrian, which is actually several disciplines rolled into one group.  I love watching the power and grace of a horse take a jump–a five foot high solid looking wall–or gallop pell-mell down a slope or through water. http://useventing.com   But my most favorite horse sport is Dressage, the French word for training.  The rider must be quiet and relaxed on her horse, but also in control asking the horse to stretch out its stride or collect its body enough to move in place.  If you can get that much into harmony with your horse, your soul will soar.  And the training you have to do is mind boggling, because you’re not only controlling your body, you’re also controlling another sentient being. For more information on dressage go to http://usdf.org/.

But I digress, so back to our book collection for this week.  Enjoy.

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Though I’m pretty sure Free Diving is not an Olympic sport, swimming and diving certainly are. And my Scottish ancestry always demands I include any story that has anything to do with Scotland. To clinch my decision to include this book, it’s very well written.

The Art of not Breathing

Sarah Alexander

Elsie and her family live on Black Isle in the North Sea end of Scotland. She and her family are not a happy lot since the death of Elsie’s twin brother five years earlier. Eddie was a bit on the slow side and had always to be in someone’s care. That fateful day at the beach he was wading with Elsie, but he wanted to swim to where their older brother, Dillon, was swimming. Finally Elsie got tired of Eddie’s whining and told him to swim off. That’s the last she ever saw of him. So, of course, she blames herself and is sure her family hates her for it. Now at sixteen, Elsie acts out her problems by shoplifting, lying and not participating in school and Eddie talks to her in her head. She has a very low opinion of herself, exasperated by being overweight. Though the family does still go to the beach, no one is allowed to swim, nor even wade in the surf. Elsie discovers that the long shuttered clubhouse is now being renovated and will open as a hangout and diving school. She has her own private hiding spot in the old boathouse, or at least she thinks it’s her private space until she meets Tay. He says he has hidden there longer than she has, but they agree to share. He entices her to try free diving—that is diving as deep as she can with no equipment, just the air in her lungs. She finds memories of the day Eddie drowned coming back and she begins to piece together what really happened and who was involved. This is a well told story of family dynamics, dealing with grief, and love. There are many teachable moments in it.

BIBLIO: 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-544-63388-9

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Competition is sometimes healthy and is natural to our animal natures. Plus this is a sweet story.

Hoppelpopp and the Best Bunny

Mira Lobe

Illustrated by Angelika Kaufmann

Translated by Cäcilie Kovács

Five little rabbits—Binnie, Benny, Bernie, Bonnie and Buddy—are best of friends who share everything, and cuddle into one furry ball when they sleep. That way they can shoo away Buddy’s bad dreams. They give no thoughts as to who is better than whom while they play their games. The best buddies share everything, whether it is a pile of leaves to jump in or some yummy clover to eat. That is how it always has been and how it always will be. That is until a very big rabbit named Hoppelpopp comes to visit and asks who’s the fastest. He set the friends against each other on different tasks. Soon Binny proves to be the fastest, Benny the strongest, Bernie the smartest and Bonnie the bravest, so the bunnies no longer play or sleep or eat together. Buddy feels left out because he isn’t the best at anything. As he sits feeling sorry for himself, he smells danger. A badger is coming! Buddy thumps his leg until his friends come. Together they chase the badger away and go back to being best friends, which is the most important thing to be best at, anyway. A sweet story about sharing, this book was originally written in German. This is the first American edition.

BIBLIO: 2015 (orig. ?,) Holiday House, Inc., Ages 3 to 6, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3287-5

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This is a very encouraging book for kids who don’t like to be forced into niches that are not for them. I remember my English teacher in my senior year of high school pulled me aside to scold me. She had taught my brother Bill the year before, when she was being a student teacher. So she said to me that she expected more of me because of my brother. When you’re the youngest of four kids, you get tired of being compared. I said to her, “If you ever want me to turn in any assignment, you won’t ever compare me to my brother again.” She pretty much left me alone for the rest of the year.

Losers Take All

David Klass

      Jack Logan is the youngest son of a local high school football hero, who was destined for professional football fame until he wiped out his knee in college. But his town still worships him and expects his sons to keep up the family tradition. The older two boys did, but Jack’s not interested. He’d rather hang out with the computer geeks. When the school principal dies of a heart attack during the beginning-of-the-year sports rally, and the school gets a new principal, sports are all that matter. The new principal is the football coach and insists Jack play football. Unfortunately, during the first practice, the biggest jock on the team gets bent out of shape when he can’t stop Jack from running past him and scoring. So the jock does what jocks do best—grabs Jack from behind and smashes him face first into ground. Jack wakes up in the hospital with a broken nose and his jaw wired shut. That’s enough football for him, so he starts a soccer team featuring his non-athletic friends all bent on losing every game. They convince the Latin teacher to be their coach because he’s British, and therefore, should know something about soccer, a.k.a. football. They set about to quietly lose their eight games and go back to their real lives. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—the media gets wind of what’s going on and the Losers become world-wide celebrities. Things compound from there, but in the end Jack and the rest of his team learn things about themselves and life in general. In particular, even supposed absent-minded Latin teachers have seamy secrets. The book is amusing and, for the most part, well-written. The book will stimulate classroom discussion of what role sports should play in school.

BIBLIO: 2015, Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-374-30136-1

ISBN: 978-0-374-30137-8

The colors I use to separate the three reviews have some connection–in my mind, at least–to what the story is about.  See if you can see the connection. And please let me know.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah