“This is the worst day EVER!” has become a common refrain in our house.
Since Baby Bookworm turned four, his emotions have been permanently close the surface and ready to burst out at any moment. Even the smallest setback can send him into an Oscar-worthy wobbler.
(I wonder sometimes if he is actually fourteen. And how we will cope when he really is fourteen…)
We’ve tried all sorts of tactics to turn that frown upside down (note – telling him to turn that frown upside down does NOT work).
Trying to tell a reception-aged child that it is not the end of the world because their hoodie is in the wash or you’ve made noodles for dinner won’t cut it at all.
Distraction, humour and letting him work through the feelings tends to yield the best results. Or failing that, bribery.
So we can all relate to Sophy Henn’s gorgeous new book The Best Worst Day Ever and main character Arthur who packs his suitcase and runs away to almost the end of the garden after stomping, huffing and roaring at his family.
After all, vowing to leave home after a tantrum is a childhood rite of passage.
But what happens to Arthur is rather magical because when he decides it is time to go back, there is a dark forest surrounding him and his journey through it sees him meet a bear, an elephant and a lion.
The animals each represent one of the expressions of his anger and as he stomps, huffs and roars along with them, his feelings of upset and frustration turn to happier outpourings, like skips, hoots and songs.
Before he knows it, Arthur has made three new friends and his day has flipped from the worst to the best worst ever.
Could it be that life isn’t so bad after all?
There are so many reasons why we adore Sophy’s books – the charming, brightly coloured artwork, the delightful text, the retro touches.
But she also has a wonderful ability to step into the shoes of the reader and get them thinking about deep feelings in a supportive and caring way.
The process of how Arthur overcomes his emotions and his anger isn’t through judgement, shame or punishment. He learns to master them himself, an approach that is gentle and wise.
It also shows children that everyone has a “worst day” sometimes and your loved ones won’t think worse of you for it.
If you know Sophy’s books, you’ll be aware of her superb attention to detail and little characteristic quirks, like a penchant for fez hats, a nod to vintage style and hiding a little Where Bear (the lead character of her first published book) within the illustrations.
I especially love the way the darkness of the wood gradually gives way to brighter hues as the animals arrive and cheer Arthur out of his fug, life getting lighter the nearer he comes to home.
There’s another subtle piece of symbolism in the image of him running away in an old pilot’s hat and goggles, a toy spitfire in his retro suitcase.
Ultimately the story is demonstrating to both child and parent that these things always pass quickly, providing you feel safe and loved.
The book concludes with Arthur sitting down for tea with his family, the tantrum forgotten – and if you notice the discreet clock on the kitchen wall, you’ll see that The Worst Day Ever turned Best Worst Day Ever was only 20 minutes long.
Let’s hope all tantrums blow over that quickly. Especially when they turn fourteen.
The Best Worst Day Ever by Sophy Henn is out now. £6.99 (paperback), Simon & Schuster. Buy from Amazon