Author(s): Shereeza Boodhoo
Illustrator(s): Khalif Koleoso
Topics: Mental health, Anxiety
An engaging and vibrantly illustrated Muslim children’s book about healthy coping. Talaal felt strange at school and he didn’t know why? Was he sick? Nervous? or just shy? Subhan’Allah, his sister knows what’s going on! She taught him about the Whispering Worrier, and how to become confident and stay calm using helpful thoughts and the Qur’an. Purchase this book to teach your child the essential life skill of healthy coping. Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is authored by a Canadian clinical counsellor and is based on the Cognitive Behavioural Theory, Dialectical Behavioural Theory and Mindfulness practice. FREE BONUS: Coaching tips inside for parents/caregivers to support your child’s personal growth!!
The Story starts with Talaal coming home from school and saying that he is “feeling sick”. His sister goes to talk to him, and find outs that Talaal had to share what he was grateful for in class, and just couldn’t speak. He described how he felt and what his thoughts were at the time. His sister comforts him by saying we all have a “whispering worrier” with us whispering negative thoughts. She teaches him two very important coping skills. First that we need to tell the whispering worrier positive thoughts, and secondly reciting ayats from the Quran helps calms it down. After trying these two skills at school over a months period Talaal is able to be more calm, and even share during class!
Why I like it:
- This is an incredibly important topic written in such an easy to understand manner
- When talaal talks about his experience in the class, he doesn’t say “I was anxious or nervous”. He tries to describe a feeling with “something was moving in my tummy”, “really yucky”, and “played drums on my heart”. Little kids don’t know what the word anxious means but they can definitely relate to the feelings he described
- Talaal’s thoughts were very relatable. Kids during circle time often think “what if I’m not smart enough” or “don’t have any good answers left” or “what if the other kids think I’m weird”
- A nervous Talaal observed his “sister was praying Salah and looked calm”.
- When Talaal narrating his day, his sister was just LISTENING to him and encouraging him with “Tell me more” “I want to hear”. There was lots of empathy. That is such a good lesson for parents on how to listen to kids without interrupting and letting kids express their raw emotions.
- After listening to Talaal, his sister didn’t just “lecture” him on what to do, but shared that WE ALL have a whispering worrier and what her coping skills were.
- I absolutely LOVE the coping skills:
- The first coping skill was Cognitive Restructuring. This includes helping kids bring in an alternative thought to counteract the original thought which in this case was that the sister should just quit baseball. She chose to say “I know I don’t always hit the ball, but I’ll keep trying”. Plus I liked how the first example was a classroom setting, and the other was a sports one.
- The second coping skill (and the reason I recommend this book to everyone!) is teaching kids to use verses of the Quran to soothe their heart. I also like how the author gives examples of Quranic ayat, but leaves it to kids to pick their own favorite. Again it’s not in a lecture form, but the choice of words is “I actually think it really likes the sound of the Quran”
- After he had his talk with his sister, Talaal went downstairs to tell his parents what’s going on. It is very important to talk to your children that no matter what is going on with them – good or bad, they should talk to you about it. And again the author mentions that grownups also get nervous sometimes. This book is FILLED with talking points for your kids whether it’s in the words or illustrations. I love the choice of words and the illustrations are well thought out.
- His sister said that reciting the Quran is better than any song. One of the common coping mechanisms in contemporary books is listening to a song you like to calm down. Love this alternative!
- The author chose his sister to be the one to talk to him. Many children (especially closer to their teens) feel their parents “won’t understand” , and while they should be encouraged to talk to their parents, they should also have other trusted ‘designated’ adults (ie. aunts/uncles/older siblings etc) that they can talk to.
- Near the end of the story Talaals mom reminds Talaal that Allah made everything and then his dad adds how Allah made Talaal special too. I love how both parents talked to Talaal together reassuring him and increasing his self-esteem.
- I also liked the fact nowhere does it say that the coping skill will work immediately. The author consistently uses phrases like “day by day it gets easier” and “practice the skills”.
- Talaal practiced the ‘helpful thoughts’ he would say the next day in case he got nervous. You can incorporate this into your kid’s bedtime routine – talk about how their day went, their achievements of the day, what things they are grateful for, etc. This will Inshallah lead to higher self-esteem and an overall “happier” kid.
- The parents section at the back has awesome advice! The questions are great, and “what can you whisper back” is an activity that needs to be repeated every few months.
Let’s talk Illustrations:
- My favorite page has Talaal in a warrior pose holding a shield with “I can do this” on it and a flag with the Ayat 7:126 on it! The page summarizes the entire story!
- The whispering worrier for Talaal was a cute panda, and his sister’s was an owl! You can tell your kids that everyone is different and has their own unique worriers. I also appreciated the “visual representation” of a feeling making it easier for kids to understand. I like how the panda represents your own thoughts constantly whispering to you, and as illustrated on one of the pages – control you like a puppet (when Talaal’s hands were jittering).
- The “whispering worrier” isn’t shown as some scary monster that just goes away and never returns. It’s a cute panda that can become a big worrying worrier, but with practicing the coping skills it can turn into “your calm little friend”. I think one of the lessons that kids should take away is that “anxiety will always be with you, you need to learn how to deal with it”.
- Talaal’s class at school was diverse, with one student in a wheelchair! Like I said – this book has soo many talking points, and I love the inclusivity.
- On a personal level the Blue Jays cap in the illustrations made me super nostalgic!
- And lastly, what is up with that incredibly cute cat!
Things that could be improved:
A parent objected to the word “melody” of the Quran, but honestly I don’t know of a better word to describe it when someone “recites” the Quran in a beautiful manner. In my opinion melody is not a ‘wrong’ or ‘disrespectful’ word.
- Talk to your kids about what the character was feeling in the beginning, and how what he learnt?
- Have your child make a list of all the special things your child can do, and then have them make a list of things that give them “anxiety”. From the initial list that they made have them WRITE DOWN what they will say to themselves next time they start to feel anxious.
- Just like Talaal recites several Quranic verse, have your child memorize a Quranic ayat that they can read when nervous. If your child is older, this is a good opportunity for both parent and child to go through the Quran and highlight ayats that are duas (and yes I mean with a highlighter!) This will be a great reference for them.
- For younger kids, make a calm down or cool down corner in their room filled with resources to help them recognize their emotions and then choose a coping mechanism for their situation. (there are lots of ideas on google and pinterest)
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Every child feels some form of anxiety. I believe that children’s mental health is just as important as their Physical Health, Academics, Islamic Knowledge, etc if not more so! and we as a community need to have more books that promote mental health awareness. I know some parents realize that it is important to teach kids coping skills and mindfulness but do not know what to do about it or how to talk to their kids. This book is an excellent resource for that! There are many books available that cover coping skills and mindfulness for kids. This is the only one that I’ve read so far that teaches kids to include Quranic ayat as a coping mechanism!
Also I’ve never seen my husband (who happens to be a psychiatrist) this excited about a book. Whenever I get a new book for the kids I have him read it as well, and his general response has always been “it’s good” or “yea, it’s good”. With this book, his eyes lit up and his response was “this book is really amazing!” He liked that the authors description of Talaals symptoms met the DSMV criteria. Lol I’m not going to go into details of that but we literally had an hour long conversation of how this book incorporated so many details and how wonderfully the author explained it at a kids level. He will also be recommending this book to his Muslim patients Inshallah.