In the latest SCIS Publisher Spotlight, Anouska Jones, Publisher at EK Books, explores the healing power of picture books.
At EK Books, our motto is “Books with heart on issues that matter”. Our goal is to create picture books that will not only entertain but also equip our readers with tools to navigate modern life.
Primarily aimed at the 4 to 8 year age group, our list includes books on everything from coping with the loss of a pet (Saying Goodbye to Barkley) to dealing with anxiety (Go Away, Worry Monster!). We sometimes deal with tough subjects, so our books are often written and illustrated by passionate children’s book creators who have another professional life as a counsellor, psychologist, teacher or art therapist. They know first-hand how quickly a child can shut down if they feel they are being analysed or assessed. They realise that picture books can be a way to open the door of communication, spark conversation and facilitate healing.
Showing young readers that they are not alone
By reading a story about another child going through the same experience as them, young children realise that they are not alone. Other kids have felt sad or struggled to make friends. Other kids have lost a parent or have a grandparent with dementia. Other kids have worried about starting school or trying something new. And if those children (or characters in the book) have made it through the experience, then so can our young reader.
Paul Russell is one of EK’s authors and a primary school teacher. He is dyslexic and struggled hugely at school, always feeling like he was “the dumb one” until one teacher changed his life. This lived experience inspired him to write My Storee, about a boy who loves to write but who loses his creative spark when all the teachers seem to see are his spelling mistakes. It’s a fun-filled story with glorious illustrations and it’s seen Paul receive letter after letter from dyslexic children who feel heard in his story.
Opening the door to tough conversations
Picture books are also a way to gently explore subjects that might otherwise be too difficult for a child to speak up about. At the End of Holyrood Lane won the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Book of the Year in Australia and New Zealand, for its portrayal of domestic violence. The violence within the family is only depicted through the metaphor of a storm from which the girl runs and hides. One day she seeks shelter instead, depicted as a person holding a protective umbrella, and from then on the storms don’t rage over her anymore.
Interestingly, children with no experience of domestic violence often don’t see the shadowy face in the storm clouds. They interpret the book as a straightforward story about a girl’s fear of storms. But for those children who do know what it’s like to live in a violent home, the book helps them to start the conversation with a trusted adult.
Providing everyday comfort and building emotional resilience
Healing doesn’t always need to be on such a large scale. Sometimes the simple act of settling down with a picture book can help to calm a child after a stressful day. As they become absorbed in the rhythm of the words and the detail in the illustrations, the child’s breathing regulates and emotions are soothed. Reading a picture book together is also a gentle way for a parent or teacher to reconnect with a child after an emotional upset.
Finally, picture books play a vital role in developing a child’s visual literacy, helping them to recognise and understand emotions, and building empathy. And empathy, in turn, is linked with improved resilience, which is a cornerstone for good mental health.
About the author
Anouska Jones is the Publisher at EK Books, the children’s picture book imprint of Exisle Publishing. Launched in 2013, this boutique imprint is home to several award-winning titles and best-selling books, and was nominated for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year, Oceania region, at Bologna Book Fair in 2019.
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