From the moment I saw Shona’s BIG HUG books, I fell in love with them. The first thing I noticed was the illustrations on the cover, by Irisz Agocs. They are possibly the cutest illustrations I have ever seen! I can never resist running my fingers over embossing and this hardcover book was no exception! Having said that, it is the content of the books and the way Shona shares her message to children that really make these books a must have for every family.
As a parent, we have so many areas in life to guide our children through. Traditional areas such as friendship, playing in the playground and feelings, but now we are living in the digital age and technology is here to stay. How do we begin to guide our children through an area that seems to be as wide as the universe and as deep as the ocean? I guess it’s a bit like swimming. If we never get in the water with our children and never take them to lessons, they will never learn to swim. So it is up to us to become informed and learn about what goes on in the apps the kids like to use, and how they can safely “google” something and so on. We have to “swim” with them and teach and guide them so they are safe.
Shona’s picture book The Internet is Like a Puddle is a very gentle discussion about being safe on the Internet, not having too much of one thing, fear of missing out (FOMO) and how easy you can be in a place you don’t want to be.
Shona’s other books have the same gentle approach, simplifying what may be a difficult subject for young children, and helps them to talk about their problems, and often has some tips to try out. Hope you enjoy our interview with Shona!
1. Please tell us about you. What is your background?
I am a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and I’ve been working with young people since the late 1980s. Over the years, I have worked with young people who have disabilities, who exhibit challenging behaviour (including offending), who have been involved with child protection services, who are going through difficult times, or who have symptoms of poor mental health. Because “it takes a village”, I’ve also worked with the many adults involved in the lives of these young people – parents, carers, teachers, lecturers, child protection workers, youth justice workers, disability workers, corrections staff, doctors, nurses and students.
2. When you were growing up, did you have a favourite book as a child?
I had many, many favourite books as a child and was heart broken when my parents decluttered and got rid of them. I had dozens of Little Golden Books, Beatrix Potter, Richard Scarry, Dr Seuss and then later, it was Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew…. then Agatha Christie. It was no wonder then that I became interested in forensics!
3. Your BIG HUG series of books help kids with their feelings and through life lessons. Why did you decide to write about these kinds of topics?
The BIG HUG books developed out of letters I had written to my young clients over the years. Long story short….some of my letters reached the hands of the people at The Five Mile Press and they asked me if I’d “mind” if they published them as children’s picture books. The texts were for children who were experiencing the issues first hand as a way for them to remember what we had talked about when they were back out in their “real lives”. They were also designed to be prompts for parents, carers and teachers to share the strategies we had shared in session and to prompt children to try them when they needed them most. They were always about sharing a conversation about something tricky.
4. What kind of feedback have your received about the impact your books have had?
I have had the loveliest of feedback in the most surprising ways from people all over the World. I’ve had many lovely messages via social media. Some days, my work can get very heavy and it can feel like you are really up against a big load when you are trying to get things changed for someone young. I can’t explain how much these little messages from people lift me. I’m still blown away that my little words are now out there in the big wide world helping kids far and wide.
5. Children from a very young age are using electronic devices. The Internet is Like a Puddle is good at describing the pitfalls of the internet to children. Do you have any comments or advice about internet safety for parents whose children want or need to use the internet?
The internet is a part of life now and it has the potential for so much wonder, but also, sadly, plenty of harm, too. Parents need to assume that the internet will be a part of their child’s world and parent accordingly. This one can’t be handled with avoidance! The amount of help a child needs will vary with their age, abilities and their personalities. There’s no “one size fits all” approach. Parents need to know the values that are important to them and know their child and provide supervised access to scaffold the various pitfalls. Problem solve together and keep having conversations. The internet and technology are such rapidly changing spaces. Work on understanding new changes together.
6. In Worries are Like Clouds there are no character names or illustrations that look gender specific. Is that deliberate to make the book relevant to boys and girls?
All of the lovely images created by Irisz are purposely designed to be gender and race neutral. The messages in the BIG HUG books are for everyone.
7. Was it challenging to come up with the wording of how young children are feeling and what they can do about worrying, in Worries are Like Clouds, as your descriptions are very easy for young children to understand and are spot on!
I think it’s easier to find the words when you are having regular conversations with children. Having said that, I haven’t always got it right, but children will soon let you know with a direct enquiry or a fabulously puzzled facial expression – I wish I could run a blooper reel of some things in sessions that have gone hilariously off track. It’s always a bit of challenge to find simple words that give the big concepts the respect that they deserve.
8. Your books have been translated into French and Chinese. Have they been translated into any other languages?
BIG HUG books have been translated to Dutch and, I’ve been told, into Japanese and Korean as well, but I’ve, yet to see Japanese and Korean BIG HUGS.
9. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing just comes. In fact, some days it just pours out – that’s why I’m a strictly decaf woman. Once I’ve seen a person with a problem, I can have my brain grinding away at a concept for days before I get my “aha” moment. Once the idea hits, then I’m away! I can almost feel all of the bits of my brain working together – the bit that has all of those years of uni and study behind it connects with the problem I’m trying to solve and all the relevant variables and perspectives surrounding the problem. and then it filters out through a bit that makes it less wordy and more palatable to non-psychologists. Simple! 😊
10. Will we be seeing some more books from you?
Yes, indeed! 2019 will see two new BIG HUGS. I would dearly love to do another series that is a little deeper and slightly darker that the BIG HUGS – because that’s how the world is sometimes – and we can still shine a helpful light for young people when things get darker. I just need to convince the publishers that it is important to help young people and their carers with the things that are real for them. We could all use a BIG HUG, but sometimes, especially as we get a little older, we need a little more than that, too. Watch this space!
Further information on Shona Innes can be found at www.shonainnespsychology.com.au
Worries are Like Clouds compares worries to the weather, acknowledging that some days are wonderful, filled with golden sunlight that calls us outside to run and jump and play with fresh air on our faces. But some days are not so wonderful and can be a bit tough.
The Internet is Like a Puddle attends to the wonderful aspects of electronic communication as well as gently discusses some of the possible pitfalls of sharing, chatting and using data. There is a need to be mindful of those who are naive to the potential problems without denying them the wonderful opportunities. The Internet is Like a Puddle describes ways to stay safe and enjoy learning and chatting time on the Internet and to keep life balanced.
Anger is a strong and powerful thing. It brings us lots of energy and can tell us that something is not right or that we have a problem. Anger is one of the ways our amazing bodies can protect and take care of us. Anger is a bit like armour.
Life is like the Wind focuses on the complexities around death, loss and grief. It acknowledges the range of feelings associated with losing a loved one whether human or non-human. This book aims to help children not to be frightened of their reactions, but to explore their beliefs, acknowledge that others may have different ideas and then work out the ways they want to acknowledge their loss and their feelings.
Friendship is Like a Seesaw explores the ups and downs that occur in friendships, or indeed, in many other kinds of relationships. This book acknowledges that even the healthiest of friendships can have their tricky moments.
The Playground is like the Jungle was written with a view to opening young minds to the rich variety of human personalities that exist in their world. Readers are encouraged to take time to observe the behaviours and moods of others and to make wise and safer choices about play mates. The strategies promoted encourage tolerance and acceptance of interpersonal different and wise choices with respect to interpersonal safety.