Fen’s Drop of Gray, by Brian Wray/Illustrated Shiloh Penfield, (Nov. 2021, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764362194
A hedgehog named Fen loves to paint with bright colors, but one day, a drop of gray gets into her paints and colors her entire world: her paintings and everything around her lose their color, slowly turning gray and adding to her sadness. It’s not like Fen doesn’t want color in her world: she looks through her mother’s art books and tries to find rainbows in the rain, but the gray persists until her mother gives her new, colorful paints. With the color back in her life, Fen takes back her happiness and knows that when the gray tries to take her colors away again, she’ll be ready. A gentle story about how depression can sneak up on us, Fen’s Drop of Gray is Brian Wray and Shiloh Penfield’s latest intuitive story about managing emotions. Using the metaphor of a drop of gray finding its way into our colorful worlds is a great way of explaining those unexplainable “sads” that can show up unexpected, stripping the color in our lives. Try as she might, Fen can’t find her colors and she doesn’t know how to ask for help. Sometimes, all we need is someone – in Fen’s case, her mom – to reach through the gray. It’s not a cure-all, but knowing that someone is there to listen and help is the important message. It’s also important that Fen knows the gray may try to come back, and creates her own coping mechanisms for when that happens.
An important acknowledgement of childhood depression, Fen’s Drop of Gray is another must-have to put into your social-emotional collections and a good starting point for discussion.
Maia and the Very Tall Wall, by Brian Wray/Illustrated by Shiloh Penfield, (Sept. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764360800
Maia is a curious little girl who wonders out loud about anything that interests her. She especially wonders about a strange stone wall that’s behind her house. She notices that wall grows as she gets older; as that wall grows higher, Maia grows shyer, keeping her questions to herself. After multiple tries to get to find out what’s on the other side of the wall, she gathers her courage and states that she wants to know what’s on the other side of the wall: and a voice responds! The voice offers to lower a rope; Maia climbs it, and meets another curious girl on the other side. Having found one another, and their voices, the two are free to discover and explore and invite other children to make their own climb. Maia and the Very Tall Wall is an inspiring story that kids will see themselves in as they may have moved from inquisitive to quiet, worried about speaking up in public. It inspires children to embrace their curiosity and encourage it in others. Author Brian Wray and illustrator Shiloh Penfield create thoughtful stories together; here, Shiloh Penfield uses deep and soft colors to keep the story gentle and calming for readers. Brian Wray has a talent for writing about big emotions and feelings for young people; here, he’s captured the apprehension some children develop for fear of “asking too many questions” or “bothering people” and keeping their thoughts to themselves; this story is his way of nudging those worries away. Sharp-eyed readers will notice one of their precious characters, the stuffed rabbit in Unraveling Rose, riding in a baby carriage.
Max’s Box, by Brian Wray/Illustrated by Shiloh Penfield, (Sept. 2019, Schiffer Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764358043
A young boy named Max receives a box from his parents; they tell him he can put everything in the box, so he starts putting his favorite toys in the box but quickly discovers that he can put feelings and emotions in the box, too. Unfortunately, as Max adds feelings to the box – hurt, embarrassment, frustration – the box becomes bigger and heavier to bear, and Max’s quality of life is affected: he can’t do things he used to enjoy, like riding a bike or climbing trees, because of the unwieldy, enormous box. Luckily, a prospective friend and a ladybug lead Max to a joyful, creative solution.
Max’s Box is a clean, easy-to-understand story about emotions, and how suppressing them can cast a shadow over everything we do. As the box first becomes loaded with Max’s physical clutter, his parents buy him a wagon to tote it around, asking him if the Box is getting too big for him. Max’s response, “I can carry it”, will resonate with adults and kids who feel like negative emotions can be a burden on others. All it takes as a boy willing to keep Max company and a surprise visit from a ladybug to lift Max’s spirits and give him an idea: to create the image of a balloon, floating away; other see this and contribute their own balloons, communicating the value of creative visualization. The grey and white artwork gradually fills in with bright colors as Max and others lighten their loads, sending physical and emotional baggage free. As Max’s dad says, “It’s ok to have all kinds of feelings… but once you feel them, their job is done”. An author note about expressing emotion offers tips for adults who want to help children healthily manage and express their emotions.
A good read-aloud for younger grades that invites discussion. I’d love to see some parent-educator resources for this.