Written by Andrea Sonnenberg for MagicBeans Bookstore
It is hard to pick up a newspaper these days and not read about the mental health crisis facing our young people. We are desperately in need of creative solutions. After the loss of my 21-year-old son Bradley from psychiatric drug interactions, I became an avid mental health advocate, on a mission to create a de-stigmatized and supportive environment in which innovative solutions and ways to cope can be developed.
Kids with mental health challenges are much like other kids. Bradley was funny, smart, and talented. He also was very complicated, experiencing issues from a very young age. Due to what I perceived as a judgmental environment in our community, I was very private about what we were going through, concerned that it might taint his reputation. While I am sure there were others who were struggling, they certainly were not sharing. I felt alone and unsupported and had difficulty finding resources.
When a child has a physical ailment, the community immediately comes to the family’s aid, baking cakes and casseroles and driving carpool routes. But with my son, there were only whispers and silence. I wish people had reached out to see if there were ways to support us, even if it was just offering a hug or an empathetic ear.
As the founder of a literacy program for underserved students, I am personally
committed to the power of books and education. After losing my son, I realized how helpful it would have been if there were a children’s book discussing mental health in an age appropriate and non-threatening way. As the saying goes, a “picture is worth a thousand words.”
Through reading a simple story with colorful and engaging characters,
children can learn that we all feel sad sometimes—and some feel sad more than
others—but healing is possible, just as we heal from physical disorders.
The wonderful thing about children’s books is that they are not just for children. Due to their approachability and simplicity, they set the stage for meaningful conversations for children and adults alike. By introducing the topic in a creative and playful way, we can normalize the experience so that we realize it is no different than a problem with any other part of our body. And it has a universal appeal by opening up the "hurt on the inside"concept to so many other types of pain such as losing a parent or friend, moving to a new place, or feeling like you just don't fit in.
In an effort to help others in memory of Bradley, I decided I would write that children’s book that I wished had existed when he was young.
The premise of Panda’s Helping Paw that everyone needs a helping hand is particularly apt when remembering Bradley. He was preternaturally sensitive to the needs of others, with a special ability to get people to open up and share their personal anxieties. He always listened patiently and offered up helpful advice. He was always there with his helping hand, a sentiment and skill set that we can all work on improving.
It is my hope that this book will serve as the conversation starter that I so
desperately needed when caring for Bradley and become a tool to teach children how to understand their own emotions and show support for others. Educators, librarians, and psychologists alike have identified the book as a powerful resource for social-emotional conversations.
I wish with all my heart that Bradley was still here with us. But the truth is that he is with me every day, in every moment. Bradley is inspiration for this book and is my trusted partner as we together work to make a difference.
If you, your child or someone you know is battling mental health, please reach out to a helpline, support group, someone you trust, Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor.
To find this book and other great self published children's books, visit our website @ www.magicbeansbookstore.com
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