Publishers see demand for kids’ books on trauma

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Demand for picture books explaining traumatic events such as school shootings has grown dramatically, according to publishers. Experts say these books can help kids process their feelings.

Using picture books and puppets, Ian Ellis James, known by his stage name “Electric,” works with children on gun violence prevention in New York City.

“If I could just use a puppet, if I can write some books, if I can use some songs and then go out and start with a five year old, six year old… I think I can change behavior, so that’s the strategy,” James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer, said.

As anxiety and depression rates rise among young Americans experts say demand for resources like children’s books dealing with trauma are also increasing.

“I think it could be very effective,” Aryeh Sova, a child psychologist, said. Sova works with children who attended a parade in suburban Highland Park, Illinois, where seven adults died and many others including children were injured in a mass shooting.

“I think it could be a great way to help kids become more of a partner in the therapy, because a lot of these books involve activities that they could participate in,” Sova said.

Michele Gay lost her daughter Josephine in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She says the “challenge” has been finding authors who are able to write about tramatic events “in a way that is psychologically safe, that is trauma informed, that truly serves our kids, and that it empowers them.”

Kindra Neely, a school shooting survivor, wrote a graphic novel detailing her experience during a mass shooting when she was 19. “So the combination of comics with the pictures and the prose I think is a very unique opportunity to help all readers, especially younger readers, to connect, express those emotions, or just be able to identify with emotions with other people that are going through similar things,” Neely said.

The editorial director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers points out every time a major event happens in the world, it makes its way to children’s literature. “There was probably an effort a while ago to keep children’s literature sort of light and happy, and kids shouldn’t have to experience trauma in their books, but the fact is, kids do,” Andrea Colvin said.

James is encouraged that schools and parents are embracing the idea as a way to help kids cope.

“If I could get you on board to not have a gun, to not pull a gun on your friend or neighbor and realize that this gun is not a good thing. If I can turn you around. We got something,” James said.