BOOKS THAT HELP Clare Helen Welsh


The start of a new year can be exciting for some but tough for others and for any family experiencing difficulties, books can be a great source of comfort and help. Here, Words & Pictures' Production Editor, Tracy Curran speaks to picture book author, Clare Helen Welsh about why she set up a resource called 'Books That Help' and how families can engage with it.

Author Clare Helen Welsh has set up the resource 'Books That Help'

Hi Clare, you recently set up Books That Help – a resource on your website that recommends a range of picture books which can help families facilitate discussions around social topics. Examples include books that focus on mental health, grief and loss and moving house (to name a few). What was the inspiration behind setting up this resource?

Every so often I get an exciting idea that runs away with me so fast that I can barely keep up. This is exactly how ‘Books That Help’ came to be! The aim was to use my platform to promote picture books doing important and difficult things, advocating stories as a place for safety, empathy, and honesty when it comes to life’s ups and downs. I am a firm believer that picture books can be used therapeutically by encouraging reflection, generating discussion, and supporting connection. In short, books help when words fail.

I wanted to champion books and the teams behind them and for the site to be accessible to booksellers, librarians, school staff as well as parents, carers and family members. I am excited that this is now live, with new reviews being added regularly.

Why do you think books are a good way to explore these topics with young children?

A book can be a gateway into a safer world, where it might be easier talk about and unravel emotions because we are in another character’s story. They can be safe places to explore our worst fears.

Of course, there are no easy fixes for most of the things that life throws at us but recognising and communicating how we feel is a healthy first step. Stories are also a great way of letting a child know that they are not alone in feeling the way they do. There is nothing more comforting than knowing that someone, at some point in time, has had a similar problem to you.

You, yourself, have written The Tide, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay and The Perfect Shelter and Everything Changes, illustrated by Asa Gilland.  These picture books were published by Little Tiger and explore the topics of dementia, child illness and divorce. What has the reader response to these books been?

The Tide won The North Somerset Teacher’s Book Award 2019, SCBWI-BI Crystal Kite Award 2020 and an Honour Award for Illustration at The Children’s Book Awards, Ireland.

The Perfect Shelter uses the analogy of sheltering from a storm to explore child/sibling illness

Both of the books pictured above were written from personal experience, so I’m always delighted to hear that they have resonated so well with other readers. It’s also heartening to know that good things have come from hard times. One such example sticks in my mind. Alexia (below) got in touch on social media after reading the French version of The Perfect Shelter.

It’s with huge thanks to the teachers, librarians, bloggers – and people like you, Tracy – that these books have reached the families who need them. Ultimately, I know everyone involved in the making of these books feels very proud.

An example of the enormous impact these books can have

"books help where words fail" – Clare Helen Welsh

You recently announced that you are offering, in partnership with Little Tiger, a mentorship to help one aspiring writer develop a picture book manuscript that falls into the category of ‘Books That Help’. What was the thinking behind this and is there a demand in the industry for writers to pen these kind of picture books?

Yes! With some very fantastic and generous people, I am super excited about the first 'Books That Help' mentorship. I’m hoping to help creatives create books that help children and their families navigate today’s world. The Guardian published an interesting article recently about the runaway trend of mindfulness books. You can read the whole article here. If I’m honest, when I started the mentorship, I’d not heard there was a particular demand for books of this kind. In fact, I felt they were often overlooked and considered niche. But I think they need to be in the world and I what to do my upmost to support them.

Have you found there is a shortage of books for any particular topic? What would you like
to see more of?

As part of the mentorship, Ellie Farmer, (Editorial Director of Little Tiger's picture book
studio), offered a live webinar where she shared what she felt were great examples of
picture books that help. It’s well worth a watch and still available here. She also spoke about
topics she’d like to see more of that included war and conflict, neurodiversity and disabilities. Opening up the industry to unrepresented groups is especially important to me.

Your books have a very gentle approach, linking your topics to analogies such as the tide or the weather. Do you think it is important to find a subtle way in or can you tackle these topics head on?

I think they can be done in lots of different ways, which is what makes storytelling so exciting. Funny, beautiful, all dialogue, no dialogue. I think its very story specific and there’s scope to approach 'Books That Help' in a myriad of ways. This is good news for us because nothing is off limits and good news for readers because there’s something to suit all tastes and situations.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Clare. Finally, could you give one top tip for aspiring writers who would like to broach these topics in their manuscripts? Are there any ‘must reads’ you would recommend?

My top tip would be to think as specifically as you can. There isn’t room in a picture to do or say more than a couple of things. Take divorce for example – you could write about living between houses, changing schools, missing pets, growing families... Zoom in on one thing you want to say and do it with hope.

Thanks so much for inviting me to answer your great questions. Your support doesn’t go
unnoticed. We really appreciate it!

Books That Help can be accessed here and at the top of the page. 

                                                                                                  *Images, including Header image, provided by Clare Helen Welsh


Tracy Curran is Production Editor for Words & Pictures and author of Pumpkin's Fairytale, illustrated by Wayne Oram and published by Final Chapter. She writes picture books, chapter books and lower middle-grade and runs a children's book review blog, The Breadcrumb Forest


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