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Reading – we all recognise it as a core skill. By ‘intelligent reading’, I mean reading with a level of comprehension commensurate with the child’s experience of the world they inhabit. Fortunately, reading to children is now encouraged as being supportive of reading literacy and as a sound foundation for future learning.
Not that long ago, children were seen as passive recipients of the eager parent’s input via the quality time spent in ‘read to me’ and ‘bedtime story’ sessions.
I always felt sure my children were taking in much more than the professional opinion allowed.
Recently, I borrowed a copy of Dr. Virginia Lowe’s very excellent book, “Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell” (Routlege 2007) based on the record of her own two children’s responses to books from birth to adolescence. Dr. Lowe’s book vindicates what I felt all along as a parent! This book should be set reading for students of primary, early childhood and remedial teaching, child and family psychology and for anyone with an interest in literacy or children’s literature!
Her children had a smorgasbord of stories proffered continuously, both Dr Lowe and her husband being librarians who were passionate advocates of children’s literature. The children’s reactions to and responses concerning elements of story and illustrations provide a wonderfully insightful peek into the psyche of the child. Both Lowe children clearly had a blessed and privileged childhood, but being ‘read to’ is within the reach of most children. Public libraries and school libraries are accessible to most families. Even if parental work commitments make a nightly ‘reading’ impossible, there are weekends and visits to grandparents when a ‘storytelling’ session can be included in the agenda.
There are other options.
And online resources such as “Ripple Reader” and “A Story Before Bed” provide a way for even absent grandparents and parents to read to their children. In the USA and Israel, ‘bedtime stories’ are part of official early education policy. Programmes like “Reach Out and Read” and “Read to Me” do a monumental job in promoting literacy and the power of storytime to be a deeply meaningful and bonding time in families.
Muza Ulasowski, my wonderful collaborator, has created a fabulous FB page for our picture book, “The Sea Cat Dreams”! Muza’s wonderfully life like illustrations have perfectly captured the story in a way I could never have envisaged! She has truly captured the story’s essence! Here are some samples:
The story is about coping with life impacting change something that can happen planned [as in a house move] or completely unplanned [as with a natural disaster, accident, death etc]. Coping with change, as child/family psychologists and counselors all say, is something that has a profound impact, especially on the young. As with grief, adults are often too preoccupied with the change and its ramifications to be able to take in how the children, who are being impacted by change, are managing or not managing in the new setting/situation.
The cat in the story moves, accidently, from one environment & family on a farm, to another very different one, aboard a fishing boat. He is then impacted further by the loss of a master he has come to love. But this is not the end. He moves through his life’s dramatic changes; firstly, by grieving, something we need to encourage each other and especially children, to do. He then reaches out to, shares with and cares for others also affected by loss, in this case, the fisherman’s widow. He gradually accepts his new life situation, not for a moment forgetting what has happened, but treasuring the wonderful memories he has.
The process of grieving must be acknowledged and the grieving child/adult be allowed to express their grief or sense of loss at the change in their lives and encouraged to do so. Let them talk, let them share as much as they need to. Highlight the constructive aspects, positive elements, e.g, wonderful memories of a dead friend, relative or pet. If the impacting change has involved a move – be it to a different school, to another suburb, another state, another country – encourage the keeping of contacts where possible, assist with the making of new contacts and the sharing of the process of moving and resettling, especially any humorous incidents.
The hope in writing this book, was to help children talk about their own stories of life changing events and to recognise, that whilst change is not always pleasant, we can become stronger for it and be better able to reach out and empathise with others experiencing its many faceted impact on their own lives.
Reviews and recommendations:
The Sea Cat Dreams is a beautifully written and illustrated book for children. In today’s world with so many young people facing loss and change, this important resource supports a child’s journey through grief and separation.
I am adding it as a good resource in my new book, the third edition of “Life and Loss”.
Author, Children Also Grieve, Life and Loss
Fellow in Thanantology: Death, Dying, and Bereavement (FT), MS degree Counseling, Master’s Equivalency in early childhood education, LCPC and NBCC. She worked as a teacher and counselor in the school system for almost twenty years.
I’ve just lost a dear friend to cancer and I felt refreshed after reading the Sea Cat’s Dreams story.
I found myself identifying with the Sea Cat in the story and this metaphor provided a comforting space from the painful loss, but it also normalized it. Like the cat’s life, our life is often interrupted by hurtful events. Through the cat’s eyes I witnessed my sorrow and of those around me but in the midst of it all there is a safe, calm place on our heart’s sill where we know we shall be well, allowing the sorrow to run its course while cherishing the memories.
I would definitely use it with my clients, young and old.
Youla Overbey, MA, LLPC
Behavioral Health Counselor at Catholic Charities West Michigan; Professional Counselor at Muskegon Counseling & Educational Services
The Sea Cat Dreams is the latest bibliotherapy book penned by JR Poulter. The story, recounted in beautiful poetic form, centres around the life transitions of a cat and the devastating loss it has to bear, rendering it a very versatile bibliotherapy tool which can be used with children who have experienced different types of life transitions including change and loss in different dimensions. The slogan for the book is “Coping with change…” and this is an apt choice as change is paradoxically the constant in the cat’s life resulting in losses borne on lots of levels. The losses associated with the first transition in the cat’s life pale into insignificance compared to the devastating loss associated with the second and this bears out the author’s sensitivity to different losses having different impacts. The contrast is rendered starker by the positivity of the first transition in the cat’s life and this also shows awareness on the author’s part that not all life changes are unsettling. These observations lend further testimony to the nature of the author’s outlook on life which is both realistic and positive and shines through her work. Poulter focuses on coping with change and all its ramifications. She highlights the relational aspect of coping with bereavement in caring for and comforting one another and gives prominence to the importance of memories and fantasy in coping with changes and loss. The book is illustrated by Muza Ulasowski with delightful romantic imagery in hues that evoke comfort and warmth, blending seamlessly with the overarching theme of resilience in the face of tragedy. The Sea Cat Dreams is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend.
Claire Casha is a psychology graduate with over ten years’ experience of family therapy work. She is currently working as a research officer and reading for a Master in Family Studies at the University of Malta.
Preview and purchase: http://utales.com/books/the-sea-cat-dreams
In her new book, “Mirror”, Jeannie celebrates the differences that makes up the diversity of world cultures and the elements that unite us, the bonds of family and the mundanities of every day life.
Even the presentation, as two books united within one cover, highlights ‘same and different’, but highlights it in a way that draws us closer to both families, the traditional Moroccan family and the modern Australian family.
Turning pages of each book simultaneously, reveals parallel aspects of the daily lives of these very different families. We see them with the intimacy and immediacy of a fly on the wall. They are at work, at meals, settling for the night, shopping and sharing. The colours are luminous and the details absorptive. Words are superfluous!
I have always been a fan of Jeannie Baker’s beautiful, evocative, detailed collages. This latest book is a treasure!
“Mirror” by Jeannie Baker, Walker Books, ISBN 978-1-4063-0914-0.