By Katie Engen, M.Ed.
This review is part of a series that examines different types of anxiety portrayed in picture books, offering readers an opportunity for social-emotional learning.
Wrestling with worries, loss, and anxiety is hard work. Finding a way to take a mental break – to escape into imagination -- can help protect us.
The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst.
Isabel has a best friend named Simon, who is very good with newts. But one day Simon moves away in a truck and never comes back. For a while Isabel hates everything and decides it’s better to be by herself. After all, she has a parrot who likes to sit on her head, and she has a system, sorting all the things in her room into boxes.
But now she faces a new problem: the parrot worries about a box that is full of wolves, and Isabel secretly worries too. Can Chester, a boy who has a way with umbrellas and sticky tape, help?
The escapism (play and pretend, until things get better) and symbolism (what does the parrot represent for Isabel?) may need some explanation, but the art lends itself to easy, brief discussion points. Younger Readers will be sad about the loss of a friendship, but equally happy about the new one.
Older readers may need a bit more of a push than younger folks to accept that Isabel’s openness to change – letting go of her escapist habits to embrace a new friend with new ideas – does not have to be that hard.
Ask the young reader to think about a time in their lives (or in a story they read/saw) where they felt worry and loss, and if they tried to escape thinking about it. Did that help? Let the thoughts and feelings soak in without pressure.
Katie O’Brien Engen, M.Ed, currently works in private practice to mentor students with executive functioning and language processing challenges. She also writes stories and cross-curricular lessons to engage young minds with big ideas, does writing work for hire, and reviews books for various kidlit outlets. Katie is fueled by faith and laughter, and rarely is she too busy for family, sports, or ice cream. She lives in Maryland where one of her favorite runs is the ~10 miles to the Washington Monument in D.C. Learn more about Katie here.