A shy groundhog learns how to get in touch with his feelings and stand up for himself in this kids’ book by debut author McCarthy and illustrator Dettman.
Gilbert the Groundhog loves music and enjoys collecting things, but when it comes to interacting with his peers, he gets nervous—especially when the sharp-toothed and -tongued Peter Opossum teases him. When no one offers Gilbert a seat in the school cafeteria, he runs across the playground to an old oak. Luckily for him, this particular oak is a wise old tree who offers him advice on how to feel better. After the tree leads Gilbert in a deep-breathing exercise with an awkward mnemonic (“Breathe-in-for-four. Hold-this-heaven-till-count-of-seven. Exhale-for-eight-and-you-will-feel-great!”), the groundhog finds that he does feel better. But that technique isn’t all he needs to overcome his troubles at school: when his peers mock him for stumbling through his book report, for example, the deep breathing doesn’t help. The tree gently coaches him to listen to his body: “You are feeling your emotions….They can be in your heart, in your stomach, or anywhere in your body.” But just recognizing emotions isn’t the final step; the old oak tree advises Gilbert to practice expressing them, too, so that he can manage them when troubles arise. That practice turns out to be the key to the groundhog’s becoming comfortable with himself, making friends, and standing up to a bully. There’s plenty of material available out there for kids about dealing with bullies, but this title goes beyond that particular situation to offer a guide to handling uncontrollable feelings by breathing, feeling, and practicing. Such guidance offers young and middle-grade readers a fantastic resource for learning how to cope with their problems at school or at home. McCarthy’s use of the sympathetic Gilbert and his wise oak mentor makes the scenario feel detached enough from the real world to be comfortable for children struggling in their own lives. The illustrations of the anthropomorphized characters are charming, and the bullies are given appropriate menace without being too scary. Although the text is dense, especially for beginning readers, the message is encouraging and accessible.
A great resource for an elementary school counselor’s office to have on hand for kids who need help managing their emotional responses.