CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009
Butterflies in My Belly, a brightly illustrated book, is written by a child therapist to help children cope with feelings of anxiety. The author uses Tommy's voice to describe his day at school - what makes him happy and when the familiar feeling of butterflies fluttering overcomes him and renders him speechless. One day, Tommy overhears his teacher inform his parents that he has anxiety, but he misinterprets the word as ang(sigh)ety, believing it has to do with him sighing too much. His tentative inquiry to a grandmotherly neighbour is dismissed in a well-meaning manner, his peers are of no help, and he is unwilling to reveal to his parents he was eavesdropping. Tommy finally gathers his courage and asks his gym teacher who handles his query with sensitivity and reassurance. Tommy is astounded to learn this cool, strong man knows the problem intimately, and from him. Tommy learns breathing techniques that dispel the fluttering.
This book admirably deals with the topic of anxiety in children. Most children experience some form of anxiety - from the separation anxiety when starting school to stage fright at concerts and performances - and will identify with Tommy. The dialogue is very natural, and both the text and the colourful, well-executed pictures include enough details of Tommy's daily activities that the focus is on Tommy rather than his problem.
Artist Brenda Whiteway has composed lovely illustrations with pastoral and school scenes full of butterfly motifs. There's a butterfly mobile in the art room, a butterfly illustrating the letter B on the classroom alphabet chart, a butterfly-patterned tablecloth and so on. She excels at portraiture, and Tommy's face is very expressive; alternately looking anxious, happy, worried or perplexed as the story requires. Hopefully, we will see more of her illustrations in future children's books.
Alison Mews is the librarian at the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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