When Talya and I connected, I could not be more excited to share her stories and her journey. Focused entirely on creating a therapeutic reading experience for children during lockdown, the literature felt aligned with Book Therapy's goals and values and I had to dig deeper!
Talya Bruck is a Dramatherapist, Creative Arts Supervisor and Systemic Practitioner who works in a CAMHS service in the UK. She also has a private supervision practice and works for OurTime helping to run Kidstime workshops. She has over 20 years experience working with children, young people and their families. She trained initially as a Drama Teacher in her native South Africa. She is the founder of Savanna Therapeutic Stories, whose aim is to help open up conversations that can be tricky through the aid of story for primary aged children. A full list of Talya's books can be found below, after the Q&A.
We did a short Q&A chat with Talya to find out a little bit more about her and the therapeutic literature that she writes. Here's what Talya shared with us and why we're super excited about the power of her stories to help young children navigate their own mental health.
Q1: I love the idea of creating specifically therapeutic stories for children - it's very aligned with the work that we do here at Book Therapy :) What are some of the principles/guidelines that you follow to ensure that each story immerses the child in a therapeutic experience?
The main idea of all the stories is to open up conversations that can be difficult. There are lots of things in life that are a part of life and that we adapt to. However, some of these things can be difficult to talk about. So our aim is to tell a story and then be able to talk about it after. At the back of most of the books are helpful questions to guide these conversations.
Q2: All of your stories use animal protagonists - which I love (especially the illustrations!) Was this a deliberate choice? And if so, why?
Yes, it definitely was, we used animals to create some distance. Some of the topics we address like autism, disability to name a few can be tricky to talk about. So, using animals creates aesthetic distance. Stories are wonderful in their use of metaphor which then allows the children who read the stories to create their own connections.
Q3: I really thought Talulah's rules is such a wonderful book on a protagonist who has autism - we don't have enough neurodiverse characters in children's literature and it's so lovely to see this one! What inspired you to write this?
The neurodevelopmental team where I work approached me after I released Silo’s Sadness. They were keen to collaborate on a book that could be given to children newly diagnosed with autism. I was lucky enough to collaborate with two very talented colleagues who both have extensive knowledge of autism, Dr Stella Mo and Rachel Ryan. We decided deliberately to also make the character female to highlight that girls can have autism too.
Q4: What's your favourite story out of all the ones you've written?
Ooh that is a very difficult one and one I probably can’t answer as they all feel like my children to me. What I do love about each one is that they are all inspired on some level by the children and young people I’ve worked with over the last 20 years. I also love that the characters develop as we write more stories.
Q5: What are you writing next and when can we expect to see this in print?
Literally at present our next one, called Silo’s Roar, which is about worry, is at the printer. We do have another one which has just been sent for illustration which I’ve co-written with a very talented colleague Dr Gail Sinitsky. It’s a book about bullying and will be released in the autumn. There are also several ideas for further books, so I definitely don’t see an end…
Q6: And for people who are interested in finding out more about your work, is the best place your website and/or social media channels?
My work can be found on my website Savannah Therapeutic Stories or my social media channels on Instagram at @savannatstories, on Twitter at @savannatstories or on Facebook at Savanna TherapeuticStories
Savanna Therapeutic Stories - The Full Collection
Tiana the beautiful black and white zebra and her family move across the Savanna in an attempt to leave behind the troubles they had encountered. The wildebeest on the Southern Savanna had bought in new rules that keep different animals apart. Tiana and her family feel this is unjust and unfair, they believe that the animals should all live together in harmony. Tiana struggles with the reasons they had to move. El the wise elephant is on hand to welcome and listen to her.
Silo the lion cub has lost his grandfather due to the illness on the Savanna, El the wise elephant helps Silo explore and manage his grief.
Hugo’s Hops is a story about a young hippo, with a physical disability. When hearing news of a Savanna Sports Day taking place, Hugo is hopeful to join in. By sharing his feelings with his family, friends and community, he enables communication and support for all. This is a story about difference, inclusion, courage, friendship, family dynamics, competition, cooperation, communication and feelings.
Silo’s Roar is about one little lion cub’s big feelings of worry and disappointment. El the wise elephant of the Savanna is again on hand to help Silo think about what might be happening for him. Why is he worrying and what he can do, these are some of the questions to be answered. Read and find out what little gems El helps Silo to uncover.
Talulah the baboon visits the watering hole on the hot Savanna to drink and mingle with the other animals. What the other animals do not realise is that Talulah finds the noises, sights, smells and the hot Savanna sun too overwhelming. This is a story to help autistic children and young people, their families, friends, educators and therapists to understand the ways autistic people may think and the difficulties and challenges they may experience.
Gerry the giraffe is feeling rather sad and glum as he ponders his relationship with his father. He wonders does his father love him? Why does he not spend more time with him? Luckily Leonard lion and El the wise elephant are on hand to explore with him what is really happening with his father. A story about having a parent with mental health difficulties.
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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.
You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.
In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish a book called The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.booktherapy.io.
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