The last in a series of blogs from authors and illustrators published by Child’s Play – our featured publisher this month
Jessica Shepherd talks about helping children to understand dementia through picture books and provides worksheets for you to download
I have always been passionately interested in the happiness of people. Over the last few years this has led me to further explore the importance of communication, of heart to heart dialogue, as an essential foundation for happiness.
I started my degree at University College Falmouth, hoping to train to become an Art Therapist. Whilst simultaneously working on my degree and working part time in a care home, it became clear that I should challenge myself to combine these two aspects of my life that I felt very passionate about.
Since childhood I have always had a love of picture books. I know that is not particularly unique. Some people’s love diminished a little or a lot, while mine grew and GREW! Whilst studying it began to feel clear to me that this might be my route into ‘art therapy’. Using art to encourage dialogue, through turning a page together.
Stories and the arts provide a solid foundation for communication and ultimately help us to have a greater understanding of the world. They provide an opportunity for us to see life through another person’s eyes. Sometimes we can relate closely to this person and sometimes it brings us a new perspective and can enable us to develop our empathetic nature towards others.
I believe picture books are at the centre of this for parents and children. They act as a wonderful tool to bridge discussion and they can be beautifully gentle in introducing children to ideas, and parts of life that may be foreign and not easily understood- sometimes even upsetting.
I was fortunate to meet Child’s Play at Bologna Book Fair in 2012, along with Gillian Hibbs (Author/Illustrator of Tilly’s at Home Holiday), and there began the next stage of Grandma’s development. Thankfully they believed in the book in its rough stages and they really helped me develop it into something that I can happily say has exceeded the expectations I had when I first conceived the idea.
Shortly after meeting Child’s Play I began visiting an inspiring lady - Meg, who was living with dementia. She and her lovely family were instrumental in the production of the book as they compassionately shared their own personal struggles, from the point of view of child, parent and grandparent as they navigate their way together on their “dementia journey”. It has become very apparent to me that, while every journey is unique, there are a great deal of mutual struggles faced.
When I started writing Grandma the first thing that felt clear to me was the tone the book should take. It was important to me that it was a simple, real, honest and hopeful representation of the way a relationship can change when someone close to us is living with dementia. This meant, of course, addressing the emotional, and scary aspects of the changing relationship/environment, whilst hopefully providing that important support and encouragement along the way. Ultimately, the aim was to help people feel less alone on a difficult journey that, without communication and sharing, can feel very isolating. It was, therefore, very important that people could directly relate to the characters in the book – as though a friend was telling the story of their dementia journey.
It can be difficult to know how to begin a discussion about dementia, and I can imagine it is particularly tricky for parents who, naturally, want to protect their children. However, strength is not carrying problems alone and pretending everything is just fine, it is in maintaining humanity in the midst of life’s challenges. The best way to show our humanity is to be connected to other human beings, across divides of ability, age and background. We can share and learn from each other and help each other to grow, adapt and continue creating value for ourselves and others, no matter what.
I feel such gratitude towards Childs Play for helping me develop the story and get it into the hands of people who are truly benefiting from it. It has been very encouraging to hear wonderful feedback on how Grandma has helped families living with dementia and also have contact from parents who, fortunately, have not had to explain dementia to their children on a personal level but have found it important them to understand for the sake of others.
I feel so much hope for the future of dementia care. There are many initiatives that are ensuring communities are becoming more and more aware of the implications of dementia and, as a result, those living with dementia are able to continue living lives of great quality, in the environments they have always known and loved.
A recent addition to this fantastic Dementia Awareness movement is The Reading Well – Books on Prescription list, on which I am very proud to say Grandma is featured.
I hope people can continue to work together to help one another understand changing relationships as best possible and support each other as we adapt and embrace the moment just as it is.
Download a PDF of six colouring and drawing worksheets relating to Grandma and dementia awareness