Children’s books aren’t my usual fare, but I decided to make an exception for this book based around childhood fears just in time for Mother’s Day. This is the third book in Fransie Frandsen’s Alexander’s Questions series, written with the purpose of helping parents and children explore emotions. Frandsen’s work as an art psychotherapist has given her so much insight into the need for tools like this for opening up communication. From my experience as a counsellor for adults, I know that it isn’t always an event that affects a child into their adult years, but being unable to talk about it. Frandsen knew that to foster healthy bonding or attachment good communication is vital so made these books in the form of questions and answers the cornerstone of her book series.
There are many reasons why healthy communication isn’t established. It could be through lack of opportunity to talk or a parent who doesn’t know how to initiate that conversation. Children may also lack the emotional language to express how they’re feeling. This is where a picture book like this is an incredible tool for establishing healthy communication between parent and child. It allows parent and child to look at the book and make meaning out of the pictures alongside the words together. Small children don’t always have a word for how they feel emotionally, but might recognise physical symptoms of that emotion such as crying and sadness. Reading together helps to explore feelings and start to put names to them. Frandsen believes this is an investment into their future, teaching them to have open conversations about emotions both with you and within their own adult relationships.
The book has lovely illustrations that introduce us to Alexander and his observations about monsters. He starts to make a list of all things monstrous – the monster under his bed, Daddy’s monstrous problems at work. Baby T is scared of his rumbling tummy and cries for his dinner. The neighbour is scared of finding poo in his garden. What he really wants to know though, is about Mummy, is she afraid of monsters? He finds out there are famous monsters and she’s not scared of those. He realises some monsters can be hidden, others can be seen and some live only in our heads. I think probably the most important thing he learns is that everyone’s monsters are different. They are in unusual shapes and different sizes, but what some people are scared of others don’t find frightening at all. We are all individuals with different monsters and that’s okay.
Frandsen’s experience as an artist makes this a thoroughly engaging book full of colour, different fonts, photographs and illustrations to engage young children. The story is funny – Alexander’s quest is started so he can avoid eating his broccoli. It showcases all of Frandsen’s skills in her field, working as a story while also helping parents foster better communication with their child. She has used the form of reading a book together, common in most households, so it doesn’t put pressure on the child to speak directly about their fears. It just opens the door to exploring what can be seen as a negative emotion, something that as adults we might dismiss (there are no monsters under the bed) or take away (mummy will keep the monster away). It is better to be there and help the child to conquer their own fear. Perhaps by inviting them to talk about what scares Alexander and whether it scares them. It could go onto interesting work in drawing or making their monster – something I’ve done just as successfully with adults who have disabilities. This lets the child know we all have things we’re scared of and ways of coping with that, the first one being to talk.