Experiencing emotions and learning what they mean can be a challenge for kids. That’s why author Jessica Urlichs and illustrator Rebekah Ballagh created The Rainbow In My Heart, an accessible and engaging rhyming picture book that illuminates the rainbow of feelings that live in our heart.
We all have lots of feelings, it’s OK to let them show.
They all live in our heart, as our very own rainbow.
What does your body do when you’re sad or angry? How do you show someone you’re proud? For children, experiencing new emotions and understanding them are two vastly different things. In The Rainbow In My Heart Jessica and Rebekah explore emotions through the use of wonderous rhyme and evocative illustrations to help little ones express their feelings. Also a qualified counsellor, Rebekah has provided notes for parents and teachers at the back of the book to help caregivers start conversations around understanding, identifying and navigating emotions.
To understand more, Kidspot talked to Jessica and Rebekah about the creation of the book.
Meet the author: Jessica Urlichs
Jessica Urlichs shot to stardom on social media with her honest and heartfelt poetry centering around her family and motherhood. Jessica met her husband in Australia where they lived together for many years and are now raising their children in New Zealand. She continues to connect with the world with her writing via Instagram. Follow her @jessurlichs_writer.
Kidspot: Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to write this book?
Jessica: I was inspired to write this book because of my three year old son and his big feelings. He is a deep thinker and we get so much enjoyment out of reading together so I wanted something that was going to be accessible, poetic, fun, colourful and would help him unpack his feelings. I also wanted something that was engaging for us both, it can be so hard to express feelings! Even as adults! That’s why there’s also a parent section at the back of the book, by Rebekah which really provides a space to keep the discussion going after the story has ended.
Kidspot: How did you select the colours that represent the different emotions?
Jessica: It was a little difficult at first because some colours to emotions may be more obvious than others so I went back and forth a bit with my ideas. But in the end I closed my eyes and just wrote down what I visualised. So when I imagined being angry and clenching fists and stomping feet I thought of frustration and fire and lava, so I built on that scenario with orange. With calm I imagined a bubble bath, fluffy clouds, deep breaths and lavender, so that scene unfolded and calm became purple. And obviously there are many more!
Kidspot: The book deals with the full spectrum of emotions – did you find any of them to be hard to put into words that children will understand?
Jessica: It was something I worried about initially, but I just thought of my children, I knew that they were having trouble understanding their big feelings and I realised simply having words to attach to those emotions would be a huge breakthrough, and it was. So this is the key theme throughout, but I wanted to incorporate metaphors to explore their imagination, because feelings are complicated sometimes and it can be nice to look at them in a more engaging way. I think between the words and the pictures they tell a story that every child will be able to see themselves in while they learn.
Kidspot: What outcomes do you hope will come about from parents/caregivers sharing this book with their child?
Jessica: Ultimately I hope this helps with their child’s emotional regulation by simply telling an engaging story. There are so many emotions and some young children only know how to express a few, like happy, sad or mad, so I hope this expands their vocabulary and they feel less frustration around their feelings. I hope it it becomes a great resource for further discussions and that it makes for an enjoyable and fun read for both.
Meet the illustrator: Rebekah Ballagh
Rebekah Ballagh is a talented illustrator as well as being passionate and dynamic mental health counsellor. She created the hugely popular Instagram community Journey to Wellness as a platform for wellbeing, mental health advocacy and self-care. Join her @journey_to_wellness_.
Kidspot: Tell us about how your background as a counsellor helped with the illustrations?
Rebekah: My aim with my illustrations is make mental health tools and information accessible and digestible. So the characters I draw are all meant to be approachable, non-threatening and clearly show emotions to help build emotional literacy. I sort of “fell into” illustration really … I started off illustrating therapuetic concepts and tools and posting them on my Instagram page @journey_to_wellness_ to help my clients, and it sort of exploded from there. So I guess people do find the illustrations help make the information easier to understand. Most people are visual learners, so illustration is a great way to connect and learn.
Kidspot: Did you find it difficult to illustrate any particular emotion?
Rebekah: Not really! I’ve spent a lot of time developing emotional resources, feelings charts etc and have a resource where I illustrated 72 different characters each expressing different emotions, so I’ve had a bit of practice. Emotions can be shown through eyebrows, eyes, mouth, body language and posture etc, so there are many ways to show different emotions to help people understand and identify the feelings the characters (and themselves) may be experiencing.
Kidspot: Do you see this as a book that kids will pick up and read for themselves as well as sharing with a parent or caregiver?
Rebekah: Absolutely! I often find my own wee girl flicking through the pages or through emotional literacy resources I’ve made, and she’s not quite two yet! She will proudly exclaim “happy!” or “angry!” And I can see her showing empathy for the sad looking characters.
It’s an easy book for kids to read or look at the pictures themselves and then of course its always lovely to read with a parent/caregiver. Reading it with a parent also offers the opportunity to use the questions in the parent section I included in the back. It opens up more discussions and helps little ones explore their own emotions. Mikah, my daughter, and I act out different emotions and have a lot of fun with it.
Kidspot: What advice do you have for parents/caregivers who may find it difficult to talk about particular emotions?
Rebekah: Our children learn about emotions and how to handle them through watching us model both how we deal with our own emotions and how we respond to theirs. Though it may feel difficult to manage certain emotions, like anger, shame or sadness, the more we practice it the easier it gets. Allowing space for all emotions to ‘just be’ helps not only our kids, but ourselves to process these things.
Remember, you don’t have to ‘fix’ anything when your child is having big emotions. You can help them by simply naming and acknowledging an emotion; “you’re feeling really sad”, “you’re angry because I won’t let you stay up late tonight” etc. This validates and shows empathy. You can ask older children “what do you need?” Or say things like “when I feel sad I like to snuggle up with a warm blanket and a hot cholcolate, would you like to try that?”. You can model strategies like deep breathing or you can talk to them about your own experience such as, “mummy got really angry then and yelled, I’m sorry about that, next time I’ll work on taking big breaths and helping myself to calm down before I talk to you.”
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”