As unique events that can leave people feeling vulnerable and helpless, disasters can take an emotional as well as a physical toll. Even those not directly exposed to a trauma may experience it secondhand due to extensive media coverage. While a growing body of evidence suggests that, in time, most will be resilient enough to handle a traumatic event, children may need the support of adults to help them make sense of trying times.
Adults can remind children that, as American broadcast journalist and former news anchor Daryn Kagan said, “bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
To highlight some of these positive actions and help children regain a sense of normalcy after a disaster, here are comforting that can be used as springboards for discussions.
‘Once I Was Very Very Scared’ by Chandra Ghosh Ippen
Children’s books sometimes use animals to add emotional distance between the child and the message of the story. In “Once I Was Very Very Scared,” a young squirrel admits to the other young animals in the woods that one time, he was very, very scared.
The other animals admit that they’ve been frightened, too, with each animal reacting in a different way. In response, the adult animals suggest different ways of coping.
This book makes room for all kinds of traumatic experiences and different ways adults can be of help in these kinds of situations. Expressive pictures add to the text.
There is a Spanish version of this book called “Una Vez Tuve Mucho Mucho Miedo.”
$14.95; published by Piplo Productions
‘Flood’ by Alvaro F. Villa
Rather than words, this book has incredibly detailed illustrations, by Alvaro Fernandez Villa, that convey the devastation caused by a flood.
The opening panel shows an idyllic scene. The next page reveals gathering clouds in a red sky. As the story progresses, the clouds become black, rain pours down, and eventually the sandbags stacked around a house are not even enough to guarantee the family’s safety. They go to a hotel. Then waves come crashing into the house and move menacingly toward the stairs.
The family returns to a destroyed house and looks grief stricken. Next we see them rebuilding. At the end of the book, things look idyllic once again.
$15.95; published by Capstone Young Readers
‘Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival’ by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
Hope and love exist even during the worst of times. Thousands of New Orleans residents were displaced following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and were not allowed to bring their pets with them. The true story of two such abandoned animals makes up this touching book.
Bobbi, a dog left chained up during flooding conditions, breaks free of her chains and runs off with the broken end of the chain still dragging behind her. She, along with her companion, Bob Cat, set out to find food and shelter. For months, they wander around a devastated city with only scraps to eat.
Finally, they come to a construction site, where a worker feeds them and then takes them to a temporary shelter. Placed separately at the shelter, the pair are so upset that volunteers at the shelter soon realize that Bob Cat is blind and Bobbi is her seeing-eye dog. They decide to keep them together.
Later, volunteers spotlight them on television to find a home that will keep them together. The animals are sent to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to wait for their “forever” home. A family on a ranch in Oregon adopts them, and they live very happily together.
The authors of this book donate 10 percent of their royalties to Best Friends.
$16.99; published by Bloomsbury USA
‘What Do You Do With a Problem’ by Kobi Yamada
This is the perfect book for an adult and child to read together after a disaster, especially with children who are not talkers. In gentle language, the book encourages the child to face their problem, express what is worrying her or him, and look for opportunities to handle it.
The reassuring message is that children can have some control over how they react to a situation. In fact, there may be some hidden opportunities in adversity.
$16.95; published by Compendium, Inc.
‘Jenny Is Scared!: When Sad Things Happen in the World’ by Carol Shuman
In this book, a young child named Jenny does the talking, an effective strategy to use with children. She describes what she and her brother think and how things have changed since an unnamed disaster. Looking at the world in a highly personalized way, she laments that her piano lesson was canceled, that she was unable to go to a birthday party, and that her TV shows are no longer broadcast.
When she asks adults what has happened, she is told not to worry—making her even more afraid.
Finally, her parents acknowledge her fears and tell her that they want her to return to her routine, which is so important for any child. They also tell her the inspiring thought that love will get them through bad times.
At the end of the book, psychologist Ann Rasmussen gives advice to parents, with suggestions for helping children feel safer.
$9.95; published by Magination Press
Linda Wiegenfeld, a retired teacher, welcomes readers’ comments. Her email is email@example.com