Category Archives: The Review

The Boy who Built a Wall Around Himself by Ali Redford – A Review

Today we bring you a review of a new children’s book written by Ali Redford and illustrated Kara Simpson, called The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself.

boy and wallThis book is a picture book, and the story is about a child who hides his emotions by build a metaphoric wall around himself. The wall is gradually dismantled through a “kind person’s” perseverance in offering help and understanding.

I read the book myself first and then, I asked a number of other people to read it and also I read it through with my twelve year old son.

On my first read through of the book ,I felt very emotional. The book is beautifully worded and illustrated, and of course I could instantly relate the story to both of my sons.  I really enjoyed the intelligent and yet simple metaphors used to describe emotions.

“Heavy words tumbled out in waterfalls until some of the bricks came loose”.

In the illustrations, the clever use of colour really assists the story and the understanding of the feelings. At the start of the story all the graphics are monochrome and as the “kind person” enters the story, colour is gradually introduced.

It’s safe to say I loved this book the first time I read it.

When I read the book through with my twelve year old son, I was a little concerned that he might find it a little young for him, but his first exclamation was “amazing graphics” and that’s when I understood just how clever the illustrations are. There is an almost graphic novel look to them and it therefore can appeal to older children. I can see how this could be useful as older children often need the simplicity of the word in the book but don’t want to be considered to be reading something “babyish”.

At the end of reading it through with my son, I asked him “can you relate any of the book to yourself”.

“Yes, I have wall around myself and you are helping to bring it down, she even looks like you” he said pointing to the kind person. A happy coincidence but I was impressed with his understanding none the less.

I also showed the book to my mum who used to work in school library services for our LA. Part of her job was selecting books to go into school libraries. She was very impressed with the book and suggested that “every school library should have a copy of this book; there are so many children that could benefit from reading it”.

My mums referred to the fact that lots of children may relate to the story but also it would assist other children understand the emotions of some of the children whom struggle in school.

“It’s a great book to base an assembly on” she suggested.

In all, I think this book is a sensitive story which will bring awareness to children of how emotions can be hidden behind  challenging behaviour. I have to agree that this would indeed be a good book for schools to own, particularly for use with children key stage 2 and upwards. In fact if you feel that your child’s school would be receptive to this book, why not invest in a copy for them, it would make a lovely end of year gift for a teacher.

Buy This Book.

Review: University of Sunderland CPD courses

Today’s review is of a series of short courses run by the University of Sunderland. Many thanks to Suddenly Mummy for this review.

This series of continuing professional development short courses, Children Who Have Experienced Loss or Trauma (CEL&T), is available for study online through the University of Sunderland’s website. There is quite a range of material available, including units designed by looked after children, adoption professionals and adoptive parents.

I have completed two units, Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting 1 and 2, developed and delivered by Sally Donovan. I can honestly say they were excellent. Each unit came with a Powerpoint presentation with a recorded voiceover by Sally, a selection of online reading material accessible from the learning space, and a reflective booklet to complete. A few weeks after submitting my work for unit 1, I received a lovely, good quality certificate in the post, and I’m looking forward to receiving my certificate for unit 2 soon.

If you have read any of Sally Donovan’s books, you will already know what a powerfully honest insight she gives into the world of adoptive parenting, and these short courses did not disappoint. They were packed full not only of theory, but of real-life practical application, all delivered in a sympathetic manner which acknowledges that adoptive parents and foster carers are real people, not just automatons with endless reserves.

Other courses available cover the BioPsychoSocial model of trauma, designated teachers, attachment, foetal alcohol syndrome, and using multi-agency partnerships to support children and young people. New units are being added ready for starting in July. Each course allows ten weeks to complete the material, and is priced according to how many hours of CPD it counts towards.

I think these courses are well worth considering for anybody working or living with a child who has experienced loss or trauma. In particular, I think prospective adopters could benefit enormously from completing Sally’s Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting units as part of pre-approval preparation. They are more thorough, more practical and more realistic than much of the training I have seen elsewhere.

As a foster carer, I am able to use completion of these courses to count towards my annual training requirements. As an adoptive parent, I have found the material helpful, informative and reassuring.

(I paid for my own courses and was not asked to write a review – these are my own, unsolicited opinions!)

Book review: Billy Says series by Joanne Alper

Today we have a review by adoptive parent Amy who has read the Billy Says series by Joanne Alper…

This is a set of 6 easy to read, colourful books for children to guide them through some of the issues relating to adoption and fostering. They are written by Joanne Alper, Director of Services at AdoptionPlus.

Aimed at children aged 3-8, I personally think these are better for children age 5-10. But could be used by parents, social workers, therapists or teachers.

20160616_124826Book 1 focuses on helping the main character 5 year old ‘Kirsty’ realise that the shouting in her house is not her fault, and the visitors that come to see her mum are social workers who are trying to help her mum. The books all use the character of Billy – a soft toy who can speak, to help Kirsty verbalise her worries and to help her understand in child friendly language what is going on around her.

Book 2 explains what happens when Kirsty needs to go to foster care, and explains why (that her mum can’t look after her properly). Billy introduces Smudgy the cat who shows empathy after moving away from his own family.

Book 3 talks about the foster carers and acknowledges that Kirsty will have muddles and worries, especially about her brothers who are at different placements. It really focuses on talking about the good, kind things that foster carers do.

Book 4 is called ‘What you think matters’ and it talks about courts and guardians. Billy describes the type of meetings that have to happen and what goes on in them, and also reassures Kirsty that her views are important.

Book 5 is about waiting. Kirsty explains that she’s been making a life story book with her social worker. It also covers a little about the wait for a new family. I do feel that between books 4 and 5 there should be another book about the adoption decision and the feelings that come with that as by the time you get to book 5, it’s clear that adoption is the plan, but it hasn’t been stated anywhere.

Book 6 talks about what it’s like to live as a new family. Again, the bit between foster family and adoptive family has been missed, and we start book 6 with Kirsty having lived with her family for a  little while. Sadly there isn’t anything about packing and moving, introductions, or the early days of settling in.

I find these books brilliant at explaining the bits they cover. They use child friendly language, bright colours, a lovely character in Billy, they are short enough to hold attention. My only disappointment is the bits they miss, which in my mind are just as important.

 Amy received these books free of charge in return for an honest review. You can buy the set here at Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly

Today we bring you a review by Sarah from The Puffin Diaries, of the book Banish your Self-Esteem Thief by Kate Collins-Donnelly

This book aims to teach young people, from aged ten, to use cognitive behavioural therapy to build positive self-esteem. The book can be used by a parent or a practitioner with the young person and is a combination of segments to read and activities to carry out.

self esteemWe have had this book some time, over a year, however we have used the book on and off through out this time. One of the main reasons for this is that we’ve accessed sections of the books which have I have considered age appropriate. So whilst my son at ten could access the first three chapters, which explored the concept of self esteem, he seemed less able to grasp the concepts of following chapters which delve deeper into how self-esteem develops. We have however returned to these sections at a later date.

The book is highly interactive and easy to follow, making a logical progression for the reader, building on one idea to the next. It was easy to break into smaller sections, which suited my son, as whole chapters include quite a lot to digest in one sitting for a younger child. That said my son asked on a number of occasions if we could work together from the book. He enjoys the one to one time and also the opportunity to explore himself with someone that feels safe by his side.

My son particularly enjoyed designing his own self-esteem vault, where you keep safe all the positive beliefs you have about yourself, from the self esteem thief, who you can also draw your own version of.

There are activities and parts of the text that are much more suited to teenagers than young adolescents. For example, there are case studies from older children which include incidents of self harming. I think this is particularly important to take into consideration when dealing with children who have suffered early life trauma and have a younger emotional intelligence than their physical age. My own son struggled a little with some of the list of emotional labels unable to differentiate between words like, embarrassment and shame or sadness and a low mood.

Another good reason to work in small sections was that reading about all the bad things you feel about yourself as you tick a long list of words you agree describe you, can be upsetting in itself. Sometimes I’d see we need to switch mode so that a dark mood didn’t stay with my son.

As the parent or teacher it is worth reading through to the end first and finding sections you can turn to and use to create positive endings to your sessions. There are some deep breathing and relaxation exercises which we introduced earlier than the progressive stage in the book because they were enjoyable to use. 

So in conclusion, this book is a really thorough and useful workbook to help young people understand how their own self-esteem works. I do consider the whole book suited more to teenagers, however I found there were sections that can still be useful for  those younger. My own son is turning thirteen soon and I’m sure he will ask me again if we can look at it again.

Book Review – Seahorse’s Magical Sun Sequences

This week I was able to use this book to teach yoga to a group of primary school children.

The Stories are all about how the magical seahorse uses yoga to help his friends in the ocean. You will meet The Starfish Brothers, Eel, Crab and Octopus, each has their own story and their own version of the sun sequence.

I used the first story featuring The Starfish Brothers as I was working with fully able bodied children aged five. The other stories adapt the sun sequence for children in wheelchairs, Children with Autism and older children who may also struggle with standing.sun sal

The characters are very friendly and easily accessible for the children to be involved with. The colourful illustrations help to engage the children with these characters.  The words are easy to follow and easy to read to the children, or for older children to read themselves. I think this makes the book work on lots of different levels and can be used in school but also at home. I like the fact that in the stories yoga is used to help with physical and mental difficulties that the characters are facing and has a very positive message about yoga. 

The illustrated movements of the sun sequence are also very clear and easy to follow. You can also print off a copy of the posters with all the movements on, via a related website, which is a great resource for teachers and parents alike.

Once you have performed the sun sequence with the children, the story continues and suggests that someone else leads the group through the sun sequence. I didn’t do this with my group of children because it was a large group which I had not previously worked with and felt, I needed to remain in charge. However with a smaller group or a group I was maybe more familiar with I could see how this might be fun.

The only thing I wasn’t overly keen on was the version of the sun sequence used in the first story which was supposed to be for the age group I was teaching, three to five. I instead used the full version of the sequence which appears later in the book, in a second story featuring the Starfish Brothers. I felt that it offered more movement and more fun for the children and they were more than capable of following the sequence.

I would recommend this book to teachers and parents alike and feel you need to have no real experience of yoga in order to use it.

Mood Cards – A Review

Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries reviews a box of mood cards called The Mood Cards by psychotherapist Andrea Harrn

This is a collect of forty cards and each card represents a single emotion or mood, some positive and some negative feelings. The emotion is illustrated with a simple graphic which is not unlike an emoticon, with a short explanation or statement which represents the emotion. So for example on the card representing CONFIDENT the statement is “I am who I am. Comfortable in my own skin”.

On the reverse of each card there are three questions, under the heading Ask yourself, about the feeling, to help a child explore what that emotion means to them. An example of a question on the CONFIDENT card is “In what area of your life are you most confident?”

Then at the base of the card there is an Affirmation for the child to use to overcome a negative emotion or support a positive emotion.


I bought these cards to use with my children, especially my youngest who often can’t tell me what the emotion is that he is feeling. He may seem angry but I’m aware that there is often an undercurrent of other emotions. What I really like about them is the range of emotions which are represented which offers you the opportunity to explore the subtle differences between certain types of emotions. For example there is a card each for anxious, worried, wary and stressed.  

Also I realised that I tend to concentrate my study of my children’s emotions on mostly there negative feelings but, there is a huge range of positive feelings we can also explore. So I’ve tried to use them during positive times too.

The children seem to really like them, I was worried they might seem a little young for them but at eleven and twelve they have both engaged with using the cards.  In fact to understand the questions and the idea of an affirmation, I think they are more suited to an older child. However, for younger children the front of the card and the simple explanation of the emotion could be used to start with and as they get older you could move onto the back of the card questions and affirmation.

We have used them successfully on a number of occasions to help me understand how both my children feel. My youngest was recently upset when we had guests to stay at fairly short notice. He didn’t deal very well with the unexpected arrangement and was very rude to our guests. Using the cards I discovered a range of emotions he felt about this, instead of just being angry, he was annoyed, worried and stressed.

On the whole I would highly recommend these cards to use with children who struggle to identify their emotions and the subtle differences between some feelings. The only negative thing I have to say is that the use of an affirmation is not easy for my children to grasp and it often hard for them to believe the positive statements about themselves. However that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

You can find out more at

EMDR Therapy- My Experience

Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries shares her experiences of a fairly ground breaking therapy.

I got to a point where I would shake when my twelve year old son got angry. I utterly feared the possible outcome. Mass sort of hysterical thoughts, of the worst possible situations we had already experienced, and more, would flood my mind.image

I explained this to our social worker and later to the therapist assigned to work with us. The therapist suggested a course of EMDR, Eye movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Therapy.

So what is this and what does it involve.

Firstly I think it’s important to identify what was actually happening to me. Often in adoption the transfer of a trauma from a child to a parent, or main care giver, is called secondary trauma and this is what I was suffering from.

This is when the parent/care giver is exposed to constant behaviour which is angry, aggressive, impulsive, defiant and disruptive. As a result of this, the parent/care giver can feel over whelmed and unable to cope with the prospects of living through these repeatedly traumatic incidents.

The therapy involves working in detail with a particularly traumatic event. I was asked to describe in detail what had happened and verbalise my emotions and thoughts related to this event.

For me there was a very difficult night at the end of our last summer holiday when my son really lost it. I could see how it happened but what followed seemed inconceivable to me. The things he did and said were exceptionally painful. I knew I had never fully recovered from it.

I found it very difficult to relive and talk about how it had made me feel, it was like revealing my inner most awful self to someone. However, having been through numerous types of therapy, in the past, I was able to be open and honest. This is very important for this therapy to work; you have to be able to say exactly what it is in your mind at the moment you are thinking it. You can’t feel inhibited or awkward about these thought or the process will not work.

The therapist took a very detailed report of the event and asked me to pinpoint a specific image which was the worst moment of the incident. Whilst visualising this image I had to recall what my thoughts were about myself and my son. Bitter honesty is required.

I’d like to say that was the difficult bit out of the way but it’s not. Our next session we started the actual EMDR.

Whilst sitting across from each other the therapist holds up two fingers and moves them from side to side, almost as if she may be trying to hypnotise you. I watched the fingers and moved my eyes from right, left, right, left, following the fingers. I was able to do this; there are other methods (one is, the therapist taping your left and right knees alternately) which can be used if following the fingers is difficult for the patient.

Once the method to be used is established, the therapist asks you to recall the moment you have specified as the worst moment. When you are reliving the moment she takes up the method you’ve agreed. You keep with the memory whilst watching the fingers go back and forth. The therapist asks you to stay with the memory whilst she repeatedly moves her fingers back and forth. This process is repeated many times.

Initially this intensified the event for me, and I was flooded with fear and anxiety whilst I sobbed. After watching the fingers for what seemed an eternity but I’m sure was less than a minute, the therapist stops moving her fingers and asks “how do you feel?” She then records your reply. So initially my response was “I can’t believe it happened to us” or “why didn’t he stop.”

We continued this process for almost an hour, with brief breaks, in which the process took me through many aspects of the event, recalling the lead up to the event and the aftermath. I also went through my own range of emotions around the event and how it had impacted on all of the family.

By the end the crying had stopped and I felt a lot calmer when being repeatedly asked to recall that single image, in fact the image was starting to fade.

In our second session, we returned to the image again and continued to explore different aspects of it whilst I watched the fingers go back and forth. By the end of this session, I was thinking about how, as a family, we might be able to enjoy a family holiday together this year and the recalled vision, whilst I could still see it, had no huge emotional connotations for me.

We have encountered a couple of mid level outbursts from my son since the therapy and whilst there is a level of anxiety, it is appropriate to the situation. Also I have definitely felt more able to cope and been calmer in dealing with the incidents. So for me this therapy has definitely been really successful.

The science of how this works is not something I can explain but if you want to read more please follow the links below.

Book review: The Growing Up Guide for Boys

This book review comes courtesy of @methreeandhe – The growing up book for boys by Davida Hartman.

I have a 13 year old boy who was adopted by us at the age of 6. Although he is not autistic, his attachment difficulties mean that he is emotionally young, struggles to recognise social clues growing up boysand is very black and white in his thinking. Although this book is aimed at boys on the autistic spectrum, I am aware of some similarities between attachment and autism and was interested to read it myself and for my son to read it. We have a very open approach to all things “personal” in our family with any question answered, yet there is always room for extra resources, if only to save me repeating myself.

I read the book from the beginning, although that is not necessary as the topics can be dipped into as required. What struck me was that it was full of advice that I find myself giving on a daily basis. Matters of hygiene, everyone is growing at different speeds, choose friends who are nice to you. It was good to have a book that reinforces our home messages about adolescence and gives another positive message rather than the variable ones heard on the playground.

The book is hard backed with illustrations facing every page of writing. It is divided into 14 very practical topics; bodies, hair, boy stuff, penises, hygiene, clothes, skin, emotions, crushes, friends, the internet, self protection, self acceptance, girls. Each topic is detailed in a clear way over two pages of text and two of illustrations. Often the first page of the topic details what is happening, the second page is saying what you can do to help yourself. It is written with one sentence per paragraph which I personally found quite annoying as it disrupted the flow of the text, however I do understand that for some of the young people the book is aimed at, this would help them to read it more easily.

The book has been billed for 9-14 year olds and I can see that boys of this age group would benefit from having a copy. For younger boys it would give them early information that they can revisit later, for older boys I think it will help to reinforce many of the good messages that they hear from their parents and answer some questions that they have become embarrassed to ask because they believe that they should already know the answers.

The book gives advice about appropriateness of information sharing, personal subjects and when/who to speak about them. There is a lot of practical information, such as putting a checklist in the shower to make sure you have done everything, putting your sheets in the wash if you have a wet dream, sitting down if you get an erection in public! Whilst much of the advice is encouraging independence and responsibility, the book often suggests that the boy speaks to their parents if they are worried or concerned about anything and encourages communication with people who can help.

The back of the book has a section with advice for parents and professionals on how to use the book, again encouraging communication.

I found it a delightful book to read, the illustration are great, especially the page of different penises! As a parent I found it affirming that I have been giving similar information and advice to my son. I am very happy for him to have the book to use for himself, there is some resistance to reading it but I think that is more about alternatives to reading, like computer games, than the book itself.

@methreeandhe was not paid for this honest review, but did receive a free copy of the book to review, and subsequently keep. Click here to buy the book.

Book review: The Growing Up Guide for Girls

Many thanks to MrsFO5 at The Family of Five for her review of The Growing Up Guide for Girls.

I was asked to review this book by the lovely ladies over at The Adoption Social. I have 3 growing up girlsadopted daughters all of whom have a diagnosis of Autism. I actually couldn’t believe it when they asked if i’d like to write a review, because they asked the same day that Big Girl, at just 10 years old,  started her first ever period. It was meant to be!

So first of all let me tell you about the physical aspects of the book. Its a hard backed book. Decorated beautifully using colors that aren’t offensive to your eyes. The pages inside the book are thick quality, gloss finished, smooth paper and the smell is just that lovely new book smell. You may think it strange that I’ve mentioned these things but actually the feel of a page in a book is important to Middle girl, she doesn’t like textured paper, she says it ‘feels funny’.  The smell of a book is something that Baby girl notices straight away, she will avoid reading books that don’t have a pleasant smell.

Now before I start, let me just get straight to the point, I love this book, I love everything about it and its been really useful for all of the girls, and the added benefit at arriving in our lives at just the right time.

I’ve bought several books in the past to use with Big girl to prepare her for puberty and the changes that were happening to her body. Unfortunately I never found a book (until now) that I’ve been truly happy with and have found myself saying to her things like ‘don’t worry about this section, you don’t need to know about that bit yet’.  Every book I bought covers sex and how to make babies, some in vast amounts of details that even I found shocking and some with brief descriptions about confusing ‘special cuddles’ that adults have. None of which I have felt were appropriate for Big girl. Whilst Big girl is now 10 years old, her difficult start in life has meant that she is no where near as socially and emotionally developed as most typical 10 year old’s. I tell people to think aged 6 or 7, when considering Big girls needs and quite frankly the idea of a boy putting his penis inside her vagina in what ever type of fluffy special cuddle they used to describe it, would just frighten her.

I started talking to Big girl about puberty just before her 9th Birthday. She was starting to show the physical signs of development so I figured It best to make sure she was as prepared as she could be. The austim support services were able to provide us with some useful visual reminder charts and her school worker was able to spend some time talking to her about it also. But as Big girl is rather avoidant about things, whilst she sits and listens to me, I cant be sure how much she takes in. So, I bought books, quite a few of them actually, I only gave her one though and it came with instructions from me about how this section and that chapter weren’t relevant and she shouldn’t worry about them, I’m sure she read them, probably got very confused as well.

This book is like no other book I’ve come across, it is exactly what It says on the cover ‘A growing up guide for girls’. It doesn’t just cover puberty, it covers friends, crushes, the internet, it even covers stranger danger. It covers everything I think girls need to know about when entering adolescence, without filling their brains with too much complicated babble or terrifying them with things they don’t need to know about yet. I will add that the section that covers ‘Periods’ is a great section that provides you with an introduction, allowing you the opportunity to talk about this in more detail when appropriate.

As I said at the start, this book arrived at the time Big girl has started her 1st period. Whilst I’d taken every step possible to prepare her (which I’ll add seems to have done the trick, she coped remarkably),  I hadn’t prepared Baby girl or Middle girl for the changes they would see happening to Big girl.  For example, those first few days they asked ‘Why is Big girl eating sweets in the toilet?’, They could hear the rustling of packets and assumed she was eating. ‘Why is Big girl’s bedroom door shut?’ etc etc you get the picture.

So this book was a great opportunity for me to introduce them to puberty and adolescence in a very basic and age appropriate way for them. There was an interesting moment when reading the section on ‘breasts’ that Baby girl very innocently asked me ‘whats tits?’, poor Daddy nearly choked on his tea. After reading the whole book with Baby girl and Middle girl and answering the very few questions they had, I passed the book to Big girl. She read it, cover to cover, I doubt there was much in there she didn’t already know, but I’m confident it served as a great reminder for her without being too overwhelming. Her reply as she handed me the book back was ‘I like the idea of puppy fat’. You’ll just have to read the book yourself to see what she was talking about!

I’m sure this book will be one that will be revisited by us over and over again, with 3 girls in the house there will be times when we need to talk about all of the sections in this book, from boobs, hygiene and crushes, to friendships and internet safety, It really does cover so much. I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone who has girls entering adolescence, autistic or not. Although there is mention of autism within the book, I think the bulk of the book would be useful for any girl. In fact I think it would be great if they published a ‘general’ version that excluded the few references to Autism. Its a must have for any girl aged 7 upwards I feel.

My only regret with this book, is that we didn’t find it sooner, I could have saved a fortune on books!

The Family of Five did not receive payment for this book, although did receive the book free of charge in order to review it. Click here to buy the book.

Mindfulness for Kids 1 – Book Review

Today one mum reviews a book of meditations for children.

I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation myself for a while now. It suddenly occurred to me that this practice might be useful to my hyper vigilant, very bouncy 12 year old. I therefore set about doing a internet search to find a book which would help me teach my son how to meditate and be more mindful with the hope of increasing inner calm and grounding him more.

My searches lead me to this book, Mindfulness for Kids 1 by Dr Nicola Kluge. It contains seven meditations to do with children, each themed and for each theme there are a number of additional activities you could carry out.mindfulness

It’s not a long book at only forty pages but the price of £2.90 ON Amazon, seemed very reasonable.

I decided to start at the beginning, with the first meditation, Water Lily –Gentle Relaxation. I decided to include some of the additional activities to do with my son before the actual meditation.

Using pictures of water lilies and lily ponds I printed off the internet, we discussed various aspects of the pictures. The book includes questions for you to ask like “What does a water lily need to grow?”

We used the questions but I found others to ask based on how I conversation went. It was an enjoyable thing to do with my son and felt like we were spending some quality time together.

We found words to describe the flowers and the ponds and then used a thesaurus to find other alternative words as well.

At the end my son lay on the sofa and I read the meditation script. He was calm and peaceful throughout and seemed very relaxed. He said afterwards that it made him feel really good and he liked the experience.

We have since done a couple of the other meditations but not any of the other activities.  All the meditations have really positive and helpful themes, for example “Power Shield – Loving Kindness Practice” and “Treasure Island – Discovering Inner Gifts”. All the practices are for children aged between 5 or 6 and up to 12. My son is already 12 and I could see him still being happy with them for a little while longer.

I think for what I paid for this book it exceptionally good value for money and I know we will get good use out of it.