Seeking ways to offer comfort through story

Waiting Out the Storm, by JoAnn Early Macken. Candlewick: $15.99.
     Each day this week, the media has posted pictures and stories of yet another funeral at Sandy Hook. Teachers and parents across the country pause and listen and pray for the families and that this scene–the terrible mass shooting and the many, many funerals, one right after another–is never played out again.  Still, we’re fearful.
   Teachers, writers and media specialists are seeking ways to ease that fear. Jamie Pittel, a friend and Boston area library media specialist posted on facebook yesterday about using story time to ease fears. She wrote, “Picture books about kindness, caring, love, and generosity: Do You Know What I’ll Do? by Charlotte Zolotow, Thank You Bear by Greg Foley, What’s the Matter, Habibi, by Betsy Lewin, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, How Kind, by Mary Murphy, So Much by Trish Cooke, and The Peace Book by Todd Parr (missing because someone went and borrowed it: Shall I knit You a Hat by Kate Klise)  I believe it was a great comfort to the adults present.”
    There is another picture book that should be added to this list of books that comfort parents and kids alike. JoAnn Early Macken’s Waiting Out the Storm was written, she says, after the terrible events of September 11, 2001. “I wanted to try to offer some comfort to children who were afraid. I decided to write about a thunderstorm because I thought the story should take place in a situation that children would recognize. I wanted them to see familiar animals snuggling together in cozy places. I wanted to tell them what the mama chickadee sings to the babies tucked beneath her wings: ‘There, there. You’re safe now, and I am right here.’ Susan Gaber’s gorgeous illustrations show the kind of warm, loving environment I wish children everywhere could enjoy.”
   This stunningly personal and hopeful book opens out on a hillside as a storm moves in with a young girl and her mother observing the raindrops falling, the thunder rumbling, and the lightning flashing. As they approach their house, the girl asks where the turtles, chipmunks, and birds go during a storm and her mother explains. Indoors, they settle down in a chair together to watch the rain fall.
   The natural rhythm and flow of dialogue, from the child’s questions and fears to grown-up answers and reassurances, provides a poetic exchange between mother and daughter. From the story to the relationship, the softly rendered illustrations, this story soothes and comforts. JoAnn wanted to do just that. She said, “I hope readers enjoy the rhyming call-and-response format and the concept of animals braving and even enjoying the wet, windy weather. Above all, I hope they find the message reassuring, especially in difficult times.”
JoAnn writes poetry, picture books, nonfiction, and novels for children and young adults.  She speaks about poetry and writing to children and adults at schools, libraries, and conferences and has recently created Write a Poem Step-by-Step, a teaching aid available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as through special order. You can learn more about JoAnn and her books by visiting her web site at
Write a Poem Step by Step

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