No Matter What Happens ~ Read
By Pam Leo

As parents, it is our job to protect our children from harm, but we cannot protect them from the emotional hurts that are simply a part of living. Anticipating new experiences, even ones that children are excited about, can cause feelings of anxiety. When children are facing new experiences, like going to the doctor or dentist, or big changes, like starting a new school, the arrival of a new sibling, moving to a new house, or their parent’s impending divorce, we try to prepare them for those changes by talking about them before they happen. However, experiences like an accident, an illness or the death of a beloved pet or family member, are challenges that we don’t always get to prepare them for, but we will need to help them get through it.

When my children were young, we lost our beloved dog, Fancy, when she was hit by a car. After a few days, I went to the library and found a children’s book, The Accident, by Carol Carrick, which was about a boy whose dog had died the same way. Reading that story together gave us another way to talk about our sadness and to learn that other families felt just like we did when their pet died. From the time I became a parent, I always looked for children’s books that were relevant to whatever was happening in our lives. I only recently learned that there is a word for the way I was using those books. Bibliotherapy is the use of books to help children understand and cope with changes and challenges. According to Wikipedia, “Although the term ‘bibliotherapy’ was coined by Samuel Crothers in 1916, the use of books to change behavior and reduce stress has a long history, dating back to the Middle Ages.”

Now that I know the term, I credit Mister Rogers with being a pioneer in the field of bibliotherapy for children. His long list of children’s books include stories about the new baby, going potty, adoption, divorce, going to the hospital and the death of a pet. He was the children’s champion of validating their feelings. Fortunately for children (and parents), we once again have a champion who writes children’s books that talk about the things that can be hard to talk about. Todd Parr is the author and illustrator of more than 40 children’s books. His books all focus on “helping children and families feel good about themselves, no matter what they are dealing with,” and his books are filled with heart. His ability to “present things that can be complicated to understand in a simple, fun way,” combined with his brightly colored, humorous illustrations draw children and parents in like a powerful magnet.

Since I love all his books, it would be hard for me to pick a favorite. But if I could only own one Todd Parr book, it would have to be, We Belong Together, and this is why.
Although all children face their share of life changes and challenges, children in foster care face far more than their share. Can you imagine being a child and having to leave all that is familiar to you, while being separated from your siblings and parents? They are removed from the only security they have ever known. This typically happens with no warning. They are then left to live with total strangers, sometimes with only the clothes they are wearing. That is more trauma than any child should ever have to cope with, but it is the reality for at least 2100 children in Maine.

Thankfully there are resource families (formerly called foster parents) who welcome these often traumatized children into their homes and give them a safe, loving place to live until they can either safely return to their parents’ care or be adopted. I am not sure which is more challenging, being the child in foster care, or being the adult providing foster care. Both need many more resources than is currently provided for them.

I have had the privilege of introducing Todd Parr’s life-healing books to some of the foster care community. Although the We Belong Together book is often featured as an adoption book, and foster care does not always lead to adoption, I chose this book to feature because of how it begins. “We belong together because... you needed a home and I had one to share," and ends with, “There are lots of different ways to make a family. It just takes love. Share your home, and share your heart. Love, Todd” And that is exactly what foster families do.

If I had the funds, I would make sure that every foster family would be given copies of We Belong Together, The Family Book and The Goodbye Book, when they attend their licensing training. These books would assist foster families in helping the children in their care feel better about themselves and their circumstances. Since I don’t have that funding, I am doing the next best thing by writing about the benefits of using books to help children cope with life’s changes and challenges, and featuring the best ones I have read. If any family wants to donate any of these three books to foster homes, you can donate them to the Book Fairy Pantry Project, at our donation station at Birth Roots, 101 State Street in Portland, and I will pass them on to resource/foster families.

On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018, in the Hall of Flags in Augusta, I will be joining resource families to support birth, foster and kinship families by shining a light on the need for more resources for these children. There will be 2100 handmade hearts on display to represent each and every child in foster care, in the state of Maine. You are invited to come and show your support.

This Valentine’s Day let’s give some extra love to the children who are most in need of it. As Todd Parr says in We Belong Together, “....you needed someone to say ‘I love you’ and we had love to give.”

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."