According to parenting and teaching educator Barbara Coloroso, childhood anxiety is an issue facing an alarming number of youth today. The subject is hit head-on in Small Things, an amazing and emotional new wordless graphic picture book for ages 8-12, by Australian artist Mel Tregonning.
I received an advance copy from the Canadian publisher Pajama Press. It immediately reminded me of Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival, published in 2007. I never forgot this migrant story. Also wordless in graphic book style, it was the perfect way for the “reader” to really feel what it would be like to arrive in a foreign country, not able to speak or read the language or understand the culture. It would look like an alien world.
Mel Tregonning was obviously inspired by Shaun Tan’s work and created a similar opportunity for readers to see what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a child suffering from debilitating anxiety. This poor young boy is uncomfortable around kids and just doesn’t fit in. He struggles with his school work and his relationship with his family. We are shown that he’s being eaten by little demons that haunt him at school and follow him home. A classmate, his teacher, his parents all try to help, but it isn’t until his sister confides in him that she too has anxiety that we begin to see some hope. He starts to have some relief after talking to his parents. The final pages show the boy recognizing that many of his schoolmates also have demons chasing them. In turn, the boy shows compassion to a little girl who is also suffering.
Sadly, the author passed away before the book was finished. Her family was determined to see the book completed and turned to Shaun Tan, who completed the final few pages and made sure the book reached publication. An afterword by Barbara Coloroso tells us that reaching out to others for help is the first step. This is an important book for pre-teens and young teens that deal with or know someone that deals with anxiety. A must for middle grade school libraries and would be an ideal conversation starter for classrooms.
Like The Arrival, Small Things is also a book this bookseller won’t forget.