As the story unfolds, the book uses wonderful illustrations to depict the everyday consequences of a traumatic experience.
So, the kid racoon doesn’t understand the awful thing that has happened to him. He doesn’t feel right and does his best to forget it. And he manages for a while but then feels bad again. He loses his appetite, he has a tummy ache, he feels sad and anxious for no apparent reason and does everything to excess – he runs too fast, he sings too loud… to forget what’s weighing on him.
He can’t get to sleep and when he does, he has nightmares. It makes him angry and he starts having problems at school, he’s naughty and often gets punished, making him even sadder. He’s bewildered and he doesn’t understand what’s happening to him.
Luckily his parents take him to see a kind lady racoon who listens to him attentively. Sometimes grown-up racoons really know how to get kid racoons to talk about their complicated thoughts and emotions! While he’s with the kind lady racoon, he plays, he talks and he draws, which helps him find a way out of his confused emotions.
She asks him to explain his drawings and reassures him by saying that the awful thing that he saw wasn’t his fault and then she praises him because she knows it’s hard to talk about all the things gnawing away at him. He starts to feel better, stronger, less angry, he sleeps well and doesn’t really have tummy aches anymore. He hasn’t forgotten the awful thing he saw, but he no longer thinks about it all the time.
The illustrations in the book are delightful and very straightforward, so although the text is in English, the story is really easy to understand, even for children who can’t read. All I had to do was change the kid racoon’s English name to an Arabic one, Ahmed.
I gave the book to the little six-year-old who had seen her brother blown up. The interpreter and I told her the story and showed her the pictures. At the end, I asked her which pages she liked best.
She first showed me a picture of the racoon with his eyes wide open and who can’t get to sleep. The second picture she liked best was the one where the racoon is gripping his tummy because it aches so much. And then the one where he’s drawing pictures in the kind lady racoon’s consulting room, and lastly, the one where he’s stretching out in the sun after a good night’s sleep.
Naturally, she wanted to take the book away with her at the end of the session, and I was delighted to give it to her. I told her to read it with her mother and father! The pictures really helped her along the road to accepting what had happened to her, and we read the book several times during our sessions.
Tools like these are incredibly useful and easily accessible. All the children I shared the book with found it easy to identify with what happens to Ahmed and were able to better understand the emotions that overwhelmed them and prevented them from being the children they are.
Charlotte wrote this post at the end of 2013. In January 2014, five our colleagues were taken in Syria and we had to suspend all communications around the conflict for their safety. Now, our staff are safe and back home with their families.
We are publishing Charlotte's blog, and others from Syria and surrounding countries, retrospectively as we feel their stories should be shared.