by Kristin Maher
Illustrated by: Robert Dunn
Published on: August 22, 2019
A picture book that focuses on how to help children address and respond to those negative thoughts that float through the brain when we feel like we’ve done something wrong or don’t live up to our own expectations.
In The Awfulizer: Learning to Overcome the Shame Game, author Kristin Maher gives shame a name and face, showing just how real and big it can be for children; how it keeps them feeling isolated and alone, and makes them question their self-worth.
“I feel like there’s a monster in my head. And all he does is say awful things to me. He tells me all the things I am doing wrong and how I am wrong, and it makes me sad and scared.”
Shame is a powerful emotion for children, and when they get sucked into the Shame Game and start believing lies about themselves – that they don’t just MAKE mistakes, but they ARE a mistake – their world can become a dark place.
In The Awfulizer, James is on his way to school when The Awfulizer (a green monster who wears a bowling hat with a purple flower) introduces himself. James thinks it is a bit weird that no one else on the bus can see or hear him. Later at school, The Awfulizer pops up again and reminds James of when he got in trouble in front of the whole class. Suggesting to James that everyone now knows he is bad. Again and again, The Awfulizer shows up reminding James of all the bad things he has done. Each time James thinks about them and becomes embarrassed and ashamed. What is worse, he begins believing all the negative things The Awfulizer is telling him. As James begins to listen more and more The Awfulizer grows larger and larger in size until he is all James can see.
The Awfulizer is happy, but James is not and it is becoming apparent to his friends, teacher, and family. The parents realize they need to see what is bothering their son so they come together and ask him. James finally lets it out and tells them everything that has been going on – The Awfulizer, the negative thoughts, the negative feelings…everything. But as James talks and talks he notices The Awfulizer growing smaller and smaller and smaller. James’s parents tell him that they too have met The Awfulizer and have at times listened to his words, but learned that when you do something wrong, ‘you apologize, learn from it and let it go.’ His parents provide him with tips on how to fight The Awfulizer – such as talking about how he is feeling, which in turn makes him into a type of superhero – The Awesomizer!
Let’s be honest. Adults and children alike both listen to and fight against the negative thoughts that are in our heads. Even as adults we make mistakes, can say the wrong things, and act thoughtlessly at times. When someone points out of these moments it can so easily become an embarrassing or shameful moment that reverberates in your head over and over. Sometimes the thoughts can become too overwhelming and other times we as adults know exactly how to handle it. No one is perfect and we are all going to make mistakes.
At the end of the book is a list of several tips for parents and adults to use to help children become ‘awesomizers.’ I can easily see this book being a good conversation starter with a young one. Although this picture book is for children to help developing skills to work through the negative thoughts and shame, it is a good reminder for adults as well.
Thank you to Netgalley and National Center for Youth Issues for the reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.