My friend told me that in her daughter’s Social Studies class, the teacher has allowed the 15 year olds to choose their own discussion topic for the past few weeks. Without fail, they have chosen to talk about the Islamic State, and also without fail, each week a few of her classmates are in tears.
My first thought was that neither I nor my kids are well-read enough to sustain an intelligent discussion about the Islamic State (apart from “H&ly $h*% they’re scary!”). My second thought was, that is for the best. ISIS is a terrifying external threat, beyond my kids’ and my control, which can only make sensitive folks like us feel nuts.
I think I’m in luck: when I do try to begin a conversation about current events, it is quickly sidetracked to sports or Legos or “What’s for dinner?” But I know that doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t worrying about it. How do I ask my children if they are afraid of something, without inadvertently introducing a scary topic they may not have been worried about?
Enter a new book by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.
A story within a story, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm introduces us to a mouse who is terrified by a terrible storm, and whose wise Papa reads her a book called…The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm.
The story is a point of entry for talking about feelings that can overwhelm. The illustrations and poetic story-telling express the roiling feelings that we sometimes don’t have words for. Its mission is to help parents and children deal with external fears and anxiety, without once using words like fear and anxiety.
I don’t have the littlest of children anymore, but we all have worries, no matter our age. I’m happy to have this book to read to my kids (and to myself), to introduce a conversation we may need to have now or years hence, with imagery and language that are as reassuring as anything I could want. It won’t stop the terrorists, or hurricanes, or crazy gunmen, but it can help us get a handle on how not to swallow up and internalize those worries.