While early childhood educators often use books to teach the concepts of print or to point out rhyming words, Barbara Sorrels, EdD, author of Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma explains how good children’s literature plays an important role in a healing environment for children.
“Bibliotherapy is a way of using books to deal with emotional issues and the everyday challenges of young children,” says Dr. Sorrels.
Dr. Sorrels continues, sharing that well-chosen stories can inspire courage and new ways of thinking and behaving in children of all ages. Through stories, she explains, children encounter others who have the same fears and challenges in life, and they find new solutions to their own dilemmas.
“Children from hard places often struggle with a sense of hope, which is born in a mind with the capacity to imagine a better life and a different way of living. Books and the imaginative journeys they inspire plant the seed of hope in a struggling child’s heart.”
Through reading stories, Dr. Sorrels explains how children can process and make sense of their lives in small, palatable doses. They have the tools to think about and manage often disturbing forces in their lives. For example, she shares specific characters and plot lines from popular stories that could help children process their experiences:
- A wicked stepmother or the Big Bad Wolf become symbols of the destructive forces that often operate in their lives.
- The story of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen can encourage the foster child who feels unlovable or different.
- The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills encourages empathy and the capacity to look at life from another person’s perspective.
- The Kissing Hand helps children know that others struggle with separation from people they love.
In choosing books for your library center, Dr. Sorrels suggests you include a wide selection on specific topics, including:
- Managing strong emotions, such as anger, disappointment, sadness, and fear
- Separation anxiety
- Making friends
- Grief and loss
- Positive emotions, such as thankfulness, peace, and calmness
- Foster care
- Sibling struggles
- Death of a beloved person
- Transitioning to a new foster or adoptive home
Keep in mind, Dr. Sorrels warns that, unfortunately, many of our beloved fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella have been used to promote the commercialization of childhood. She explains you can still use these stories, though it’s preferable to read the classic versions of these tales.
“In fairy tales and classic stories, children encounter the war between good and evil, the power of love and friendship. They realize that the hope of redemption and transformation is real, and they encounter the forces of life and death.”
Ultimately, Dr. Sorrels explains, “Fairy tales and classic stories help children grapple with the realities of their difficult lives.”