First Day of School Dogs
Increasingly, children are experiencing anxiety. Perhaps it has always been there and we are just now recognizing anxiety for what it is and no longer labelling children as difficult or shy or any of the other labels historically placed on children when they are experiencing anxiety. The wonderful author Deborah Kerbel introduces us to Molly in her new book When Molly Drew Dogs. One day, just before the first day of school, some dogs moved into Molly’s head and she could not stop drawing them everywhere. At home, in school, with her tutor Mr. Russell, she had to draw dogs which made it really hard to concentrate and learn, the dogs were a bit wild. One day when the grown ups reach the peak of their frustration with Molly’s constant drawings of dogs, Molly runs away. She spends the night in a shed with a pack of dogs in sweaters she drew. In the morning, the strangest thing has happened, a pack of dogs in sweaters has scared off a neighbourhood thief. Ms. Shepherd, Molly’s teacher, can’t really believe it.
There is a lovely message in this story about the need to help children explore their feelings. I think it’s more a message for educators and parents rather than children. Creating an environment where children can feel successful, acknowledged, and safe is so incredibly important in education and life. When the grown ups in the story stop fighting against Molly’s dogs and embrace them, Molly is happier, she is contributing to her class and is being treated with compassion. Children need to learn emotional regulation and coping skills and it’s our job as adults to help them. We need to let children know their feelings are valid and true and help them manage them in an appropriate way. Molly uses the drawings to help her manage the big feelings that manifest themselves as dogs: her feelings of anxiety over starting school.
Dog lovers will enjoy the little Easter eggs Deborah Kerbel leaves throughout the story in the names of her characters. All of the surnames are dog breeds, so fun!
The art by Lis Xu is lovely. Soft and textured perfectly featuring the dogs in Molly’s head like shadows and line drawings. The art may not leap right off the pages but it is subtle and calming, an attempt to calm anxious feelings.