Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This One's a Keeper

Cover art copyright Magination Press

I Don’t Want to Talk About It

By Jeanie Franz Ransom
Magination Press/American Psychological Association
 Washington DC, 2000

Reviewed by Laura Harting

            This book, written for the preschool and early elementary aged child, describes the reactions of a young girl at the moment in time when her parents tell her that they are getting a divorce.  This little girl wants to run like a wild horse, be prickly like a porcupine, and gobble up both her parents like a crocodile, but she does not want to hear or talk about divorce. 
I Don’t Want to Talk About It is written from the young child’s perspective and it is written well.  Most children are very interested in animals and the author's description of feelings as animals is very concrete and child-focused.  The parents in this book continue to stay with the child, encouraging her to talk, even when she roars like a lion: “I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!”   The parental consistency and ability to stay with the child through her emotional outburst is a good model for divorcing parents. 
This book is colorfully illustrated and the use of animal imagery allows for some emotional distance for the reader.  The focus on the animals draws the reader into the book with a desire to turn the page to see what animal this little girl will feel like next. 
At the end of the book is a note to parents from psychologist Phillip Stahl, with tips for parenting during divorce and what to expect regarding children’s feelings.  It is good and helpful advice for parents of young children.
I like this book, despite it being written 14 years ago.  It is not greatly affected by the passage of time because of the illustrations, and the focus on animals and feelings help the text remain relevant today. 
This book is a keeper, to be read with your young child many times over.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist with a practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Written Especially for Girls

Artwork copyright 1999 by American Girl Publishing Inc

A Girl’s Guide to Divorce and Stepfamilies

By Nancy Holyoke

American Girl Publishing Inc, Middleton, Wisconsin, 1999.

Reviewed by Laura Harting

            Written for girls between the ages of nine and 13, this book answers questions about divorce and remarriage sent by girls to the author, who was the founding editor of American Girl magazine.  Each page is colorfully illustrated and has a title at the top. The question underneath the title is signed with the girl’s first name or a description, e.g. “Erin” or “Scared in Florida.”

            This book was published in 1999 but the illustrations do not cause the book to look dated, in contrast to other books using photography.  What does date the book, however, is the fact that it is part of the American Girl Library, which was popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.  As a result, this book might be less appealing to girls in late elementary and middle school.

            This book addresses many issues of divorce, including violence, absent parents, managing feelings, choosing sides, parents’ dating, remarriage and stepfamilies, along with the more obvious concerns of two separate homes, the confusion of traveling back and forth, managing the different rules in each house, and celebrating the holidays.

            I like the question and answer format, as well as how this book addresses the difficult issues mentioned above. I also like the tone of the writing, which empowers girls to share their feelings and talk about what they need and what is important to them. Finally, I like the boundaries the author sets around what are considered adult responsibilities, while still addressing how girls can have an impact on adult decisions.

            While this book will be helpful in its entirety, its appeal to the target age group may be enhanced by photocopying certain pages addressing topics especially relevant to one particular girl, and allowing the child to read only what is most important to her in the moment.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Paoli, Pennsylvania.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Addressing a Child's Feelings of Guilt

Artwork copyright 2000 by Albert Whitman
On the Day His Daddy Left
By Eric J. Adams and Kathleen Adams, LCSW
Albert Whitman & Co., Chicago, 2000

Reviewed by Laura Harting

A day in the life of an elementary school child, this books shares what it is like for Danny on the day his father moves out.  Danny writes a big question in purple marker and puts the paper in his pocket.  He shares the question with his teacher, his father, a friend, and his mother over the course of one day.  All these people answer Danny's question, “Is it my fault?” with a "No," adding their own ideas about the question and about divorce.  Danny’s mom writes “NO” in purple marker on the back of the question and gives it back to Danny to hold onto for as long as he needs to. The paper finally crumbles into tiny pieces and blows away in the wind.  

Realistically illustrated, with Danny looking about 8 years old, this book deals primarily with the feelings of guilt that children of this age can often feel.  They wonder what they did to cause the divorce and what they should do to fix it.

This would be a good book to read along with your children, because it might  open a discussion about divorce and allow you to address any feelings of guilt.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Answering Kids' Questions

Cover art copyright 1999 by Steck-Vaughn
Talking About Family Breakup

By Jillian Powell

Raintree Steck-Vaughn
Austin, Texas, 1999

Reviewed by Laura Harting

Photographs provide the illustrations for this book written for the elementary school age child.  Powell uses the text to provide answers to the most common questions this age group has about divorce. With every page turn there is a new question, starting with “What is a family?” Other, even bigger questions include “Why do families break up?”  “Who can you talk to?” “How will things change?” and “What is a stepfamily?”

Brief vignettes sprinkled throughout the book include Tom’s parents shouting, Leah’s mother scolding her, and Holly living with her mom and visiting her dad on weekends.

Published in 1999, this book is dated and the photographs make that quite obvious. In addition, some of the guidance may no longer apply. For example, the author writes “….you will probably live with one parent.” Though this was more likely to be true in the 1980s and 90s, in my practice today, more children split their time between two homes.  Though I like how this book is arranged, with the questions on each page to be answered, the dated photos and information make it hard for me to recommend.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist  in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mister Rogers Offers Help

Let’s Talk About It: Divorce

By Fred Rogers
G.P. Putnam, New York, 1996

Reviewed by Laura Harting

            True to the style made famous by the long-running TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this book is direct, clear, warm, and child-centered. It is written for the elementary school age child and the text covers the basics. Rogers begins by defining families as people who keep you safe, give you food, and take care of you. When defining divorce, Rogers mentions what changes and what stays the same in the family. Talking, drawing, and pounding clay are some of the activities he offers for coping with feelings. He also provides basic facts about divorce.
            This book remains relevant 18 years after it was published, however it is also quite dated. Children reading this book today may have a difficult time relating to the photographs.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist with a practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sad, But Realistic

Cover art copyright Abdo & Daughters, 1993
Breakfast for Dinner
Part of the Children of Courage series
By Cynthia DiLaura Devore, M.D.
Published by Abdo and Daughters
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1993

Reviewed by Laura Harting

    This book for the elementary school aged child is realistically illustrated and shares a day in the life of a young girl. Meg’s father left the night before and the book starts with Meg waking up the next morning facing her first day without her father.
    Meg has an awful day as she tries to block out the reality of her parents’ separation and ends her day on her mother’s lap having a heart-to-heart talk about feelings and divorce.
    This book is sad. I felt sad reading it. Kids often feel sad when their parents split and in that way this book seems very realistic. This would be a good book to read with a child who is sad and who needs to be comforted. The book might help the child to open up and talk about the sadness.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist with a practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Whose Fault Is It?

Cover art copyright 1999 by Barron's Educational Series
My Family’s Changing:
A First Look at Family Break Up

By Pat Thomas

Barron’s Educational Series

Hauppauge, New York, 1999

Reviewed by Laura Harting

This is a book for elementary school aged children, nicely illustrated and meant to provide a read-along opportunity with a parent or counselor. The author helps kids to understand what divorce is, why it happens, and what to do when it happens to you. 

     This book addresses the issue of fault in an unusual manner. Though every book I have read so far for the elementary school aged child says divorce is not the child’s fault, this book also says that it is the parents’ fault. 

The author also explains how adult relationships change over time and how this change can lead to parents not living together any more. How to cope with change is a central focus, and the author encourages children to talk about their feelings even when they don’t want to, or find talking difficult.

      My overall impression of this book is positive. I found myself thinking this would be a good book to read several times over the years as children grieve the loss of the divorce through the many changes of their development and life.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist with a practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Helpful, But Dated

Cover art copyright Alfred A. Knopf
How It Feels When Parents Divorce

Text and Photos by Jill Krementz

Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Reviewed by Laura Harting

I began using Jill Krementz’s books How It Feels When Parents Divorce and How It Feels When a Parent Dies early in my career as a child, family, and grief therapist.  I found them very helpful to the children I was counseling.

In this book, How It Feels When Parents Divorce, 19 children share the story of their parents' divorces in their own words.  Each child's story is three to eight pages long and accompanied by two or three large, black-and-white photographs. Each story is different, and the various situations elicit a multitude of feelings expressed by the children.

Over the years, this book has been particularly engaging for the 6th to 8th grade children in my practice. Middle school is a very difficult time for children, developmentally and socially.  It is a time when children have difficulty tolerating being different from their peers. They often worry about something being wrong with them or their family. Divorce is a sign to a child at this age that something is very wrong.  The child avoids reading and talking about the divorce. However, when children read these stories of other children and their families going through divorce, they do not feel different or wrong and they do not feel so alone.  That is valuable for a child in this age group.

However this book, published in 1984, is quite dated in 2014.  The clothing, hair styles, and electronic devices shown in the photos make the passage of time even more noticeable. I no longer use this book because the children see how old it is and dismiss it as no longer relevant.

To address this problem, I have been trying to write a book similar to this one.  However, finding children willing to share their stories, and obtaining their parent’s permission for the stories to be published, has proven to be an arduous task. I have not yet been able to complete the project. Perhaps some day soon.

Laura Harting, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.