Bibliotherapy - It's Place in Children's Literature AFCC Sessions Part 9

As weeks slip away into months I want to share one last session round up from my time in Singapore at the Asian Festival of Children's Content. It is the session I was asked to present on Bibliotherapy as part of the Writer's and Illustrator's Conference.

My objective was to: Explore the value of creating bibliotherapy themed diverse picture books (PBS) and debate their usefulness in combating various social issues affecting children. To discuss what works, what doesn't and why.

This sounds straight forward enough but past experience has shown me that when you add the word therapy to anything relating to Kids' Lit, it has an immediate polarising effect; people either love the term and what it infers or they are vehemently against its implications. So what exactly is Bibliotherapy and its implications?

Melissa Tan's impression of my session - she tells me, she was too involved in the topic to illustrate profusely.
I first introduced delegates to the notion that this term relates to the expressive therapy of reading certain texts with the purpose of healing, but that those specific texts do not necessarily have to have a self-help, non-fictional content, they can in fact be texts of any description.

My argument being that I read to find solace, entertainment, joy, understanding, enlightenment and so on, in other words, I read to experience and feel something. Reading in turns allows me to relate, connect and feel, thereby ultimately altering the way I might have felt prior to embarking on that story journey. Oftentimes, this change increases empathy, understanding and yes, a general sense of well being, even if I have read something shocking and emotional. Is this not what we seek when searching for therapeutic comfort?

After exploring the concept of Diversity in Kids' Lit and it's many social benefits, I then described how these two ideas correlate, namely by illustrating examples of picture books. We discussed those shown below plus many others.

Picture books offer a beautiful, artistic, non-judgemental, universal platform from which children can explore and use to safely jump from into further discussion about a range of topics considered too taboo, sensitive and heavy. One thing I emphasised at the outset of our conversation was that throughout the conference I noticed how we termed such topics as death, divorce, grief, depression, adolescence and sexual identification as 'taboo' subjects. From my session onwards, I encouraged participants to think of such topics no longer as 'too hot to handle in kids' books' subjects but rather as 'normal' subjects because that is actually what they are; things that happen to kids everyday or to those they know around them.

Once this was acknowledged, we explored just how picture books deliver diversity in ways that make them appealing both on an entertainment level and from a therapeutic point of view. I used examples of my own recently released picture book, The Fix-It Man, which of course focuses on the grief and loss and emotional repair of one little girl and her father following the loss of the girl's mother.

Using my next picture book release (about domestic violence) as an example, I tried to illustrate the various techniques authors and illustrators use to portray emotion, reflect real life situations and project a sense of hope, all with the intention of creating connections with their readers. These included allegorical connections by writing the story metaphorically; use of colour and perspective in visual narrative; the inclusion of objective correlatives (symbols) and more.

I concluded with a look at some of the best ways to tackle sensitive 'normal' subject matter in order to make it appealing to both publishers and to the world at large. It is a matter of balance; a delicate harmony of marketability and integrity, neither of which should be compromised if, as a creator, you are serious about sharing your great and meaningful stories with as many people as you can.

And so, my position on Bibliotherapy? I think nearly every book a child picks up or is read has some degree of therapeutic value that should not be dismissed or categorised into 'one of those books' compartments. Not all books that can help a child recognise themselves, their place and worth in this world or of that of others around them is a dry, didactic dinosaur of self-help and nor should they be.

Picture books have the potential to unleash the possibilities of increasing mental and emotional resilience, social understanding and tolerance and an improved sense of self-esteem in a way few other forms of entertainment can. That is why I love them so unconditionally and urge you to discover their magic for yourselves.

For full notes on this AFCC session, please visit, here.

For an brilliant account of Libby Gleeson's recent lecture on the Power of Story and how it relates to releasing the possibility for change through reading, visit the Book Links QLD blog, here. Libby's discussion highlighted the need to allow children to explore through reading, linking bibliotherapeutic type texts and their usefulness in creating connections.

Visit the rest of my AFCC experiences, here.


That just about sums up why I love picture books. I'm really enjoying your AFCC Sessions series of posts.
DimbutNice said…
Thank you kindly, Sandy. Delighted to hear it and yes, picture books - difficult not to love them in our case. :-)
Gretchen said…
Very informative, I enjoyed reading it.

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