Self Publishing Helps Cope With Life Challenges

Pepper is a born-and-bred New York City dog that loves the Big Apple — especially the city’s myriad fire hydrants. That is, until the attacks of Sept. 11th. Pepper sinks into a deep depression mixed with profound anxiety about the future. Then one day his friend Rover comes along and shows Pepper the goodness that surged in response to that infamous day’s events. Pepper learns that the world is worth living for, doggone it, and anyone who says otherwise is barking up the wrong tree.

Pepper and Rover are the main characters of It’s Still a Dog’s New York, Susan L. Roth’s post-9-11 book written for children who are either struggling to make sense of the tragedy or are learning about it for the first time. And it’s not alone. A growing number of children’s books dealing with Sept. 11—tackling youngsters’ unique reactions and fears, often starkly honest and vividly depicted—are now on bookstore shelves.

These books are a part of a sub-genre in children’s literature, broadly identified as “bibliotherapy,” that confront real-life issues like death, disease, divorce, and, yes, even the fear and uncertainty of an economic recession. Available for just about every age group of young readers, these books offer an opportunity for parents and educators to help their children and students cope with complicated problems.

Once a novelty, books tackling such broad issues as divorce and death are now widely available for children of all ages. And with the proliferation of print-on-demand, the genre is finding renewed creativity and relevance sparked by a new wave of self-publishing writers. Parents-turned-first-time-authors are now tackling issues unique to their own childrens’ situations, publishing books for the world to share, and experiencing the cathartic effects themselves, as well.

Evidence of the effectiveness of bibliotherapy continues to mount. Tabrina Legault and Melissa Boila, writing for the journal of the International and Child Youth Care Network, point to several ways in which bibliotherapy helps heal emotional problems. Among other benefits, they find bibliotherapy:

  • allows children to identify with those depicted in the book and relate similar experiences to their own lives;
  • leads to a recognition of how other people respond to frustration and disappointment, helping develop empathy and understanding of human behavior;
  • can result in a self-analysis of their own feelings for further discussion.
28 Days…A Recovery Journal

by Elaine Bergmann

Of course, children’s books acknowledging major life events are nothing new. Charlotte’s Web, for instance, masterfully deals with the issue of death and loss. What has changed is the honesty of the treatment on big issues as well as the variety of topics. Chalk that diversity up to a relinquishing of the guard. As recently as a few short years ago, conglomerate New York publishers were still the main gatekeepers on all children’s books published in America, leading to a glut of taffy-colored fluff while more serious subjects were considered taboo and relegated to the slush piles.

Now anyone with a story to tell can publish professionally. Filling the need for thoughtful entries on these tough subjects are parents, educators, and entrepreneurs. They’re penning their own children’s books and imbuing them with precisely the message they want to share. These people may never have considered themselves writers until now, but they have been empowered and feel an undeniable drive to share their message with their own children and children of the world.

Indeed, today’s self-published children’s books cover topics that might not otherwise have found interest among traditional publishers, topics like:

  • bullies at school, directed toward a child’s weight, appearance, or lack of athleticism, etc.
  • tolerance of differences among peers, such as income levels, religious beliefs, nuclear families vs. broken homes, etc.;
  • a parent’s history with substance, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; long term changes in living situations , such as the arrival of stepchildren or grandparents;
  • unique abilities and challenges faced by peers or family members with special needs, i.e., autism or Down Syndrome, etc.
Young Adults With Asperger’s

by David A. Krug

What’s more, many of these novice authors are discovering another benefit to writing a book for children dealing with a significant, stressful life event: their own healing. Authors often discover that putting these important lessons into words forces them to work through their own emotions.

In fact, studies show the act of writing about stressful or traumatic events can have physical and emotional benefits. In a 2005 article in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, psychiatrists Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm examine how expressive writing—short, repeated writing exercises drawing on upsetting or traumatic experiences— appeared to have beneficial physical and psychological effects. They posited that writing about such issues encourages confrontation of previously inhibited emotions; helps with cognitive processing of events; and develops a coherent narrative for healing. While the research did not directly consider the writing of children’s books, it is easy to see the relevancy.

Regardless of the the issue tackled or the story composed, experts offer a few suggestions to ensure a book’s bibliotherapeutic effectiveness, including:

  • using age-appropriate language;
  • treating characterizations honestly and realistically;
  • avoiding explicit preaching while allowing the reader to make the moral connection through critical thinking;
  • providing a good, well-written story with relevant illustrations.
Marshmallows and Bikes: Teaching Children (and Adults) Personal Finance

by Brian Nelson Ford

Pennies to Billions

by Thomas Fisher

Of course, even the best executed book in the bibliotherapy genre is not a cure-all, and experts note books should never substitute for the intervention of a health care professional where necessary. But providing your child with a personal book for the purpose of healing, whether it’s off the shelf or self-inspired, will do what literature has done since we first began telling stories to each other: enlighten, explain, and excite!

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