For September Book Club, I read a kids picture book. And I read it over and over and over.
Anna Walker’s beautiful and deceptively simple Mr Huff is a sensitive portrayal of complex childhood emotions. I love this book so much that I had planned to part with it when someone in my life turned two. But that was a month ago.
From the moment Bill wakes up and looks at the grey sky outside, he knows that it’s not going to be a good day. He can’t find his favourite socks, he spills his milk, his cereal gets gross and soggy, and the little grey cloud that’s following him gets larger and larger and larger. As the day goes on, Bill starts to feel worse and worse, and when adults ask him what’s wrong, Bill can’t find words to describe what’s he experiencing – he just feels sad. Bill tries lots of different things – avoidance, fighting it - but can’t seem to find any way to get rid of the dreary, grey feeling.
SPOILER ALERT - But when Bill takes Mr Huff by the hand and they go home, walking through puddles, smiling at the other children, watching the friendly dog in the street Bill begins to accept the presence of his emotions (or Mr Huff) and the next day he wakes to a cloudy day but with the promise of sunshine.
This is a wonderful story and beautiful book for so many reasons. The seemingly simple tale of Bill accepting the cloud which sometimes hangs over him is so much more. For all of us, the attempts to control our emotions can be endless and often paralysing, but when we can make room for our more uncomfortable feelings there will always be hope for tomorrow.
I think that Anna Walker does a great job in assisting young people (and older people) process some of our more uncomfortable feelings through the presence of Mr Huff. Whether it be anxiety or worry, or depression or sadness, the characterisation of the emotion has been beautifully done. Acknowledging that it is both normal – and expected and required – to experience periods of darkness and sadness in our lives is something I think Western society can be so very poor at doing. But this book is a good reminder that all emotions – both good and less good – are a part of being human and not something to be ashamed or guilty about. Trying to ignore or repress these feelings rarely leads to long term health or joy.
But most importantly, this book is an excellent reminder to acknowledge our feelings. Like really acknowledge them. Name them. Look them in the eyes. Give them a face and teeth and a colour if required. Talk about them. Talk to them. Acknowledge them for what they are. Feelings. Things that come and go. Things that are there. Things that are not us. When we acknowledge our feelings they will always become less daunting.
For everyone. The young. And the less young.