by Emily Larkin, illustrated by Helene Magisson – Wombat Books, 2017
ages 2 to 8 years / picture books + emotional resilience
It can happen that, in the midst of crisis, children need explicit words to help them give structure to fears and thoughts and hopes. The Whirlpool is a book for those times.
I’ve seen the power of read-it-before-you-need-it books many times and, with that solid foundation, a book that gives words to feelings can be the next piece in the puzzle that is emotional resilience.
In The Whirlpool, we see ourselves in the everyday life of a sweet polar bear who is full of confidence and brimming with happiness while he is '… a mastermind. A storyteller. A traveller and adventurer.”
Then: 'without warning … the world seems closed'.
The little polar bear shows us what it feels like to struggle through sadness and doubt—and emerge again 'breathing in the colours around you', because:
“Today is a new day.”
The power in this book:
The little bear recovers from gloom by waiting. Sometimes this is the best, and only, way through a sad time. There’s a gentle reassurance that it is alright to wait for happy times to return. (Of course, that's not always true and professional help might even be a good idea in more extreme circumstances.)
Usually we are not alone even though we might feel that way. When things begin to turn, there’s a picture of the family that contrasts beautifully with the first family picture. I really like that mama and papa polar bear are also looking disgruntled. The little polar bear still finds that path alone, but we know mama and papa polar bear understand the pain. It’s worth noting that we are not always the little bear—sometimes we’re mama or papa, empathising, feeling pain and waiting for loved ones to find a way clear.
There’s a lovely connection with the stars. When the little bear is happy it seems that 'even the stars shine for you' and then 'even the stars hide from you…'. It’s a great lead-in to a discussion about how something as immovable as the stars can seem to change, when it is really our perspective that has changed. This sort of discussion is useful when friendships ebb and flow and when imagined slights become overwhelming. (Again—not all slights are imagined, some are very real and need to thought about differently.)
A small reading hint:
The little polar bear is wonderfully depicted without reference to gender. Hopefully that will mean that all children will be able to see a bit of themselves in the bear and relate to the emotions the bear goes through. If you start assigning a gender, it might be worth talking about why that is? Are we labelling emotions as male or female, are we accustomed to protagonists being one gender more than the other and so on.
When the time comes to talk explicitly about emotions and how our perceptions affect our wellbeing, there are usually one or two underlying and identifiable issues—at least for children. Once those issues have been talked through and have begun to fade, it might really help to read this book again to remind everyone that good times do return.