Bailey beats the blah by Karen Tyrrell
Ill. by Aaron Pocock. Digital Future Press, 2013. ISBN
9780987274045. ebk ISBN 9780987274052.
Bailey has moved to a new school and he HATES it. He drags himself around the house getting ready feeling worse and worse as the time to leave gets closer. He has a real dose of the blahs. Even his dog can't cheer him up. But this isn't just a case of Monday-itis - Bailey is lonely and isolated and he thinks all the other kids are laughing at him and whispering about him. How can Bailey change his blah to ha-ha-ha? It seems impossible until Miss Darling introduces another new boy to the class . . .
Author Karen Tyrrell has taken a very common situation and turned it into a story that will resonate with Baileys (and Barbaras) across the nation at this time, as school starts to get into full swing. There will be many children in new schools who are trying to find their feet in a new environment and create new friendship groups amongst kids who seem to have too much in common to share that they don't notice the outsider. For many, there is no hope that they will ever break the code of friendship and even though they are not bullied, they beat themselves up and drive themselves down into what can develop into childhood depression.
There is a strong message in this book, not the least of which is hope, and scope for discussion about how we can make newcomers welcome particularly in situations like school where there is no choice about attending. It's a wonderful opportunity to start helping students develop empathy and compassion and the skills to reach out warmly to newcomers, embracing them rather than isolating them. There is also the opportunity to help students start to look within themselves for their own strengths and how they might use these to build their self-worth and help others. Tom teaches Bailey how to dribble a soccer ball, Bailey helps Tom build a rocket - it shows you don't have to rely on common experiences to have friendships; you can build new ones on new experiences.
A visit to her website shows that she is a strong advocate for kids' mental health and in Bailey Beats the Blah she shows how a sensitive and astute teacher can subtly intervene before a small thing becomes a huge thing. Having travelled her own personal path of a psychiatric illness after being so harassed by parents she could take it no longer, she is now making mental health a focus through her writing. A percentage of the profits of the book are going to Kids Helpline.
Aaron Pocock's cartoon-like illustrations are very appealing and the perfect complement to the text. He makes Bailey's anxiety palpable, bringing it to life in a way that text, no matter how well written, can. There's a real sense that this character could be Any Child at Any School.
This would be a very timely purchase for a school collection to be drawn to teachers' attention so they can touch base with all their new students and see how they're settling in, and, like Miss Darling, intervene if necessary. It is aligned to the Kids Matter program, a national mental health and well-being framework for primary schools and early childhood education and care services.