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Mini-Review: Anxiety as Slow Progress in 'Captain Starfish'

by Katie Engen, M.Ed.

This review is part of a series that examines different types of anxiety portrayed in nine picture books, offering readers an opportunity for social-emotional learning.


It's important to remember that when anxiety is around, slow and steady wins the race.The brain's neuronal connections can be slow to change, especially if instincts toward self-protection seems threatened. Habituation is a process. In other words, kids who are anxious sometimes may just need some extra time.

Alfie wants to participate in the best parts of being a kid, from his friend Antoinette’s birthday party to the relay races at school. But his shyness keeps him from engaging. When Alfie wakes up with That Feeling on the morning of yet another big event—the underwater costume parade—his mom takes him to the aquarium.

There, Alfie meets a starfish who shines so boldly Alfie feels small. But suddenly, a tiny clownfish swims up to Alfie for a quick hello and retreats again. Alfie begins to understand that there’s a happy medium between hiding away and being the star, and that he needs to come out of hiding every once in a while to make meaningful connections. 

Parents and Caregivers, don’t miss this book! The gift of patience and time may be the greatest gift you can give an anxious kid. Milestones can be reached -- it's just that everybody doesn't follow the same patterns and pace, and judging all kids based on neurotypical patterns, well, that is not always helpful.

And having patience goes for adults, as well as kids. Even if you read this book only once with your child/student – keep it close at hand, so YOU can read reread, and refer to it often, as you recharge your patience to best support your young person, who may be taking a long... longer... longest time to shift from fear into that calmer, happier state.


For younger readers or older ones, activities can include breaking down ANY task or goal into smaller, component parts. The activity is to teach or model the methodology of how to do things, "bit by bit." Overcoming fear can ALSO be overcome, "bit by bit."


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.


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