This week’s Bedtime stories: The Feel Brave series – Little stories about big feelings

This year I have explored the issue of self assertiveness to help my 9 year old son deal with bullying at school and found the Feel Brave series by Avril McDonald extremely helpful to explain how to deal with issues which otherwise would be too tough and sensitive.

The Feel Brave series – published in June 2016 by Crown House Publishing (each book costs £7.99)- is a collection of five picture books designed to help children explore positive psychology and emotional intelligence in a safe and non-threatening way, through the art of storytelling. Each story contains a strategy in which to overcome a negative emotion, with the help of a lovable wolf called Wolfgang and his friends. The five Feel Brave books help children deal with confidence issues, change, loss and grief, managing anxiety and fears and bullying.

books the feel brave series Five images fan

This is a growing issue in the UK at the moment. According to the ONS, one in 10 UK children aged between five and 16 has a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder. Data suggests that mental health problems in children are on the rise – with twice as many young people regularly feeling depressed in 2006 than in 1986, and the number of children being admitted to hospitals for self-harm increasing 68% over the last 10 years.

Each of the five books tackles a difficult issue a child may be experiencing at home or at school, with their friends or alone, and provides them with the tools to feel better.

In each story, Wolfgang is faced with a big feeling. From fear of the dark in The Wolf and the Shadow Monster to feeling left out in The Wolf Is Not Invited to being bullied in The Wolf’s Colourful Coat and overwhelmed by worry in The Wolf and the Baby Dragon and finally, sadness losing someone close to him in The Grand Wolf. Luckily for Wolfgang, his friend Spider is close by to offer another perspective. Spider’s helpful words and advice encourage Wolfgang to look at things differently. Wolfgang soon realises he has the power to turn a negative feeling into something positive and empowering.

Children and parents alike will fall in love with the characters and the engaging text and illustrations. Teachers will enjoy the subtle but inspiring messages contained in each story, encouraging the young readers to feel brave again. What I also love about the Feel Brave series is that it depicts a non stereotypical image of the wolf, usually described to children as tough, strong, nasty from the classic tale Red Riding Hood. In a way these books de-mythify the wolf to show children that even the toughest wolf has feelings.

 

The Wolf’s Colourful Coat

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Wolfgang can’t wait for it to get cold enough for him to wear his brand new colourful coat but when the time finally arrives, some nasty creatures make fun of it. Wolfgang feels upset and is afraid that they will hurt him again, so he hides away in the tree house. Spider encourages Wolfgang to tell someone he trusts about how he is feeling and he learns that things aren’t always as they seem. Sometimes we get hurt by others and we have to be brave enough to continue to be ourselves and to keep our hearts open. There can be some lovely surprises for us when we do!

Although the publisher’s guideline says that the book is suitable for children 4 to 7 years old, I would say that it is a very charming and highly educational story up until 10+. Diego and I have read this book together many times trying to understand how to become more assertive with peers. The tale has supported the development of a positive attitude in Diego which will hopefully help him go through life with more optimism despite some negative school experiences.

The story teaches also acceptance of diversities, tolerance, generosity, friendship values and honesty which are values I have always shared with my son since he was a toddler.

The Grand Wolf

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This picture book helps children cope with grief and dealing with the death of a close person like a grandparent. It teaches acceptance and once again to see things in a positive light, the glass half full.

Wolfgang and his friends love to visit the Grand Wolf but one day they arrive to find that he has gone and this makes them all feel very sad. Spider shows Wolfgang that by just seeing things a little differently he can feel happy again, knowing that true love never ends. Our lives are in a constant state of change and only we can ever know how big each change feels to us. The more we can talk about and embrace change, the better we get at it (whatever shape or size it comes in).

The Wolf and the Shadow Monster

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This story helps kids deal overcome their fears and be supportive to their friends when they need support and reassurance.

Wolfgang is excited to be allowed to have his friends over to stay for the whole night. They all have great fun until the lights go out and Wolfgang’s secret fear of the dark is revealed. His friends laugh at him until they hear his story and see the Shadow Monster for themselves. Spider shares a magic trick with Wolfgang, to make scary things go away. The magic trick is so good that all of his friends want to try it on the things that scare them too. Life can sometimes be scary but there are some clever tricks out there to make scary things not so scary anymore. You can even have a little fun with it.
The initial Wolf’s trilogy has already earned itself a special place in my heart. Across the three books the recurring figure of the Spider represents the parents imparting pearls of wisdom and tips to support children throughout tough life challenges.

 

The Wolf Is Not Invited

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Wolfgang is left heartbroken when his best friend Catreen runs off without him to play with Clarissa. Spider shows Wolfgang how to make his own fun and Wolfgang realises that there are other great friends out there just waiting to be met. There are some situations and feelings that we cannot change and there are some that we can. Knowing the difference between the two (and ways to make ourselves feel happy) is a wonderful thing to be able to do.

 

The Wolf and the Baby Dragon

The Wolf and the Baby Dragon high-res

When Wolfgang and his friends learn about a secret cave where a baby dragon is growing they quickly run off to find it but, sadly, Wolfgang gets left behind. His bag is full of heavy worries that are making him slow and he just can’t let go of them. When he trips on a rock and falls, Spider shows him how to rest his busy mind and tells them that worries aren’t so bad if you share them. Nobody likes worries, so it’s good to know how to give a worried mind a rest.

 

The author

I loved reading what Avril said about her vision for this series: ‘I have a bold goal… to give ALL children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their creative potential.’ These are not empty words. The Feel Brave series does exactly that. Her own personal story explains the origin of these books.

Avril McDonald had her first panic attack at 8 years old. That attack marked the beginning of Avril learning to live with anxiety disorders and it gave her an insatiable curiosity about the mind/body connection. After a successful career in the digital entertainment industry, Avril returned to her passion and is determined to help young children cope with the issues most of them will face growing up. “I want to try and equip children with the tools they need to do this and I’m putting all of my faith in a little brave wolf with a big heart to make it happen”.

Avril lives in Kent with her partner and two children.

The illustrator

The quirky and colourful drawings are by Tatiana Minina, a Massachusetts based visual artist and illustrator.  She studied art at Vladikavkaz, Russia. Her full time artistic career started in 2010 after she relocated to the United States. Tatiana works in watercolour, acrylic, oil, ink, pencil and digital media and specialises in illustrating children’s books. 

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