We Can Do Hard Things: A Review of The Struggle Bus

The Struggle Bus
Julie Koon
Kind World Publishing
March 8, 2022
Ages 4-8

Sometimes, when life gets really hard, the Struggle Bus shows up at the door. It grumbles and rumbles and seems completely hopeless. Lost in the fog and frozen by indecision and on its way up the mountain, the Struggle Bus breaks down. It is only with the help of friends that it can be set back on its way. And even then, it’s a hard and bumpy journey, but eventually, it finds the path, and arrives at the top of the mountain.

The Struggle Bus is a gentle rhyming story acknowledging big feelings and encouraging readers to never give up. Koon’s illustrations, a mixture of simple line drawings and watercolor, are rendered in soft, soothing colors that complement the supportive message of the text. Even amidst fog and uncertainty, the struggle bus continues on, reminding readers to feel their feelings but not let those feelings stop them from moving forward. With rhythmic text and onomatopoeia sprinkled throughout, this book is ideal for young people who need a little help to understand big emotions. At the end of the book, there are reflection questions and ideas for calming behaviors to utilize when “your bus breaks down” (p. 37). A diverse cast of characters and buses of all shapes, sizes, and colors let readers know that everyone rides the Struggle Bus sometimes, and that even the tallest, foggiest mountains are not insurmountable.

How Do You Feel?: SEL Picture Books for All Ages

Managing emotions can be hard, whether you’re 4 or 44, but successful social emotional learning can help all of us learn how to identify and express our feelings, and support others in handling theirs. Fortunately, 2021 picture book authors are here to help with this roundup of titles just waiting for their chance to shine in an SEL themed story time or a lesson for older kids.

A Cat with No Name: A Story About Sadness
What a Feeling Series
Kochka, Illustrated by Marie Leghima
Parent notes by clinical psychologist Louison Neilman
Quarto/words & pictures
Ages 3-6

Olive cares for a lost kitten that she quickly comes to love. When he doesn’t return one day, a neighborhood search proves he’s been reunited with his owners. Olive’s dad helps her realize that it’s ok to be sad about missing him and how to find peace in remembering. Originally published in France, the line drawings limited color palette have a European sensibility. End notes from a psychologist provide information and tips on recognizing and supporting a child handling sadness.

Big Feelings
Alexandra Penrose, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Penguin Random House/Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 4-8

A diverse group of children have big plans for the day, but when things don’t go as planned, frustration, anger, and fights get in the way. As they work through their differences and work together on a new plan, respect, kindness, and excitement bring them together as a team. Bright mixed media illustrations and expressive little faces show a range of emotions and illustrate some great ways to express them in healthy and productive ways.

How to Apologize
David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Candlewick
Ages 3+

It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but this sweet instruction manual is a specific and silly how-to guide. Whether you’ve made a mistake, been mean to a friend, or had an accident, this step-by-step guide shows the do’s and don’ts of apologies. Hilarious illustrated oops-moments help soften the instructions on how, when, and why we should all learn to apologize.

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appe
Candlewick
Ages 4-8

Albertini and George have been shipwrecked. Albertini is upset, but George keeps looking on the bright side and after each new misadventure (storms, flying fish, ghost pirates, and a hungry whale) declares “It could always be worse!” Vibrant digital illustrations and outrageous situations provide levity in this silly series of catastrophes, proving that attitude is everything and even a bad day can feel better when you face it with a friend.

The Power of Yet
Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Abrams/Appleseed
Ages 3-6

A small piglet knows the frustration that comes with being a kid. You’re not big enough, strong enough, experienced enough—yet. But trying and growing and practicing leads to learning and success. Pen and ink drawings with pastel watercolors gently follow piglet’s persistence and celebration as yet turns to now.

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Peachtree
Ages 3-6

The market is an exciting place when there is pocket money just waiting to be spent. When a sudden collision sends a small boy’s change down the drain, his hopes of a treat are dashed. But in the Smile Shop, the kindness of a shopkeeper proves that money can’t buy happiness, but human connection sure can. Soft-focus line and watercolor illustrations shift palettes as the boy goes from excited to despondent to hopeful and finally cheerful as he discovers all the smiling faces that surround him.

A Mini Mindfulness Lesson: A Review of Too Many Bubbles

Too Many Bubbles: A Story about Mindfulness
Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma,
Illustrated by Mags DeRoma
Sourcebooks
July 6, 2021
Ages 3-6

Chased through her day by one grumpy and persistent thought, Izzy isn’t bothered by it (too much). But when one grouchy thought becomes two and three and a whole cloud of the shadowy things; something must be done. This clever mouse escapes to her happy place at the beach where a polar bear with a bubble wand inspires an idea—just blow the thoughts away. A deceptively simple and strikingly perceptive illustration of how it feels for nagging and uncomfortable thoughts to take over, and one calming way to break free. Vividly colored digital illustrations and interactive text, reminiscent of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, engage young listeners and caregivers alike in a breathing exercise that leads directly into back matter definitions of mindfulness and additional exercises. Too Many Bubbles is the first title in the Books of Great Character SEL series by Peck and DeRoma, founders of the Silly Street games and toys. A sweet and valuable addition to social emotional learning tools for the preschool to kindergarten years.