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Book Review: The Problem with Problems

Title: The Problem with Problems

Author: Rachel Rooney

Publisher: Rodale Kids, New York

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 2-5 years…but really, anyone on the struggle bus

Lexile reading level: suggested 4-7 on Kirkus Reviews years, no Lexile found

Anxiety? Worries? Butterflies? Nerves? Problems? No matter what these big feelings are called in your house, there’s no doubt that teaching your child how to handle them can be tough. We get it. We’ve been there. Talking from experience, we burned through a LOT of books about anxiety at different points with our children. With each read, we hoped one would be the perfect combination or text and visual support that our kids could latch onto. In short, we think this is the book that would have done it. 

Rachel Rooney, a former special education teacher, helps children attach a face with a feeling, in the form of blobby, colorful monsters that annoy and keep the kids from being happy. One of the best ways to introduce new vocabulary words to kids is to have a corresponding picture in which to associate the word. Rooney does just that, which would certainly help when the image of a butterfly doesn’t exactly fit the feeling your child is struggling to overcome. 

Whether the kids in the story are fighting over a toy, feeling lonely, or worried about trying something new, Rooney gives directions in simple, yet direct text. This is important. From years of training, it’s important to know that when a child is upset or having a meltdown, one of the worst things the adult in the room can do is overtalk. Calm, consistent, messaging is key. 

One of the Raising Real Reader kids was famous for asking, “But what if…” during the anti-anxiety talks. Rooney seems to anticipate those “what ifs” by taking the reader from a start with this approach to a “and if that doesn’t work, try this” approach, a few times over. I love what that says to kids, like, “I hear you. I understand you know these are complicated emotions. There needs to be a back up plan in case step one doesn’t work.”

Even if your child is as carefree as can be, this book should be shared. Every child will most likely face each scene depicted in the book at some point or another. A discussion of this book will allow you to feel like your child is better equipped. Ask him or her to recall the monsters in the book and some of the various strategies Rooney gives for sending those guys packing. Many times kids just need to be reminded that they have a choice in how to handle conflict or worry. 

The diverse group of children featured in this book face monsters that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. 

Social stats for this book publishes in 2020 are strong, with 4.9/5 stars on Amazon, 3.96/5 stars on Goodreads.

Kirkus Reviews states, “The slippery concept of “problem” aside, rhyming verse and peppy illustrations make for a fun and funny ride.” In summary, Kirkus felt that some of the strategies were not sustainable for legitimate problems, such as ““Some you can sleep on. They wake in the night, / then quietly tiptoe and slip from your sight.” While I understand the point, for many kids, this is simply what happens. What is a big deal one day, dissolves later simply by the passing of time. Clearly this isn’t the case for serious problems, but who hasn’t experienced a post-preschool meltdown only to realize after waking up from nap time the child no longer even remembers what happened?

Other picture books we’ve tried and also recommend for those with a case of the worries: 

Ready to work through some nagging issues with a workbook style text? Try these: 

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids)
A Smart Girl's Guide: Worry: How to Feel Less Stressed and Have More Fun (Smart Girl's Guides)

While the pictures in this book will inspire, we feel it’s important for kids to process a current problem out loud or on paper after reading this book. Take out some paper and crayons, and draw out some examples of problems in your own lives. Yep, you too. Pick a strategy from the book and decide how to handle it. Model what you will do if that strategy doesn’t work. 

We also have tried many of the activities listed on the Therapy Basics website.

While our kids have mainly outgrown the separation anxiety that plagued our families, it’s important to think about how books, images, words, and activities can help set kids on a lifelong trajectory to becoming problem-slaying masters! Start with this book.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at raisingrealreaders@gmail.com. 

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