When teacher and psychology masters graduate Hannah Sharrad came to us to get her children’s book printed, we had one read of Rufaro the lion’s mental wellbeing journey and knew there was more we needed to do to help her publish her book.
To help do our bit, we’re giving Rufaro’s Walk – and children’s mental health – the platform it deserves to help Hannah build awareness for her cause and spark important conversations between children and their caregivers.
1. What is Rufaro’s Walk about? What are the key messages?
Rufaro’s Walk is a story based around a journey between a lion cub and its mother. This journey takes place on a morning in the African savanna. Along this journey, they meet some of Rufaro’s friends. Whilst walking, Rufaro opens up to his Mother about worries he’s had and by doing this, Tahiqi (his mother), is able to talk through these worries and concerns and make Rufaro feel more at ease.
The key message of the story is that it’s okay not to feel okay sometimes and that you show real courage by talking about your worries.
2. Why did you decide to write Rufaro’s Walk? What inspired you?
When working as a teacher, I noted children as young as 4 would have worries and concerns that seemed to impact their mental wellbeing and stop them from doing things they wanted to do. It was because of witnessing this first hand that I was inspired to do something to help and writing a children’s book seemed like the best solution.
This was solidified when completing my master’s in Psychology which provided me with a deeper understanding of child development, grounded in theoretical understanding and evidence-based practice.
3. Who should read Rufaro’s Walk?
The target audience is children between the ages of 5-8; however, any child within the primary age bracket of 5-11 could benefit from it. It’s designed to be read to a child by an adult, enabling key messages to be discussed together.
Alternatively, a child can read it themselves and enjoy the story without going into too much depth of the message. As well as being a book which encourages opening up and talking about worries, it’s also an enjoyable story in its own right, about friends and friendships with beautiful illustrations!
4. How do you hope Rufaro’s Walk will help children to express their feelings?
I hope that, by seeing and hearing Rufaro discuss worries with his mother, it may encourage children to feel comfortable enough to do the same thing. Rufaro is able to name feelings too which is so important when understanding and managing emotions.
I would love to see Rufaro’s Walk in classrooms as a key text for open discussions!
5. How did your experience of being a teacher feed into the story?
Working as a teacher, I experienced and witnessed high levels of anxiety from young children that made me question why this was so apparent at such a young age. I also realised that many children did not want to open up about how they were feeling and would shut down any attempt at discussion.
I felt that as a professional, I had a duty of care to support children’s overall mental health and writing Rufaro’s Walk was a positive and engaging way of addressing these issues.
I believe children can read and enjoy this book with an adult, whilst beginning to open up about any worries.
6. Why is now the perfect time to launch this book?
After the pandemic, so many individuals will be suffering with their mental health, and children are very much a part of that raised figure.
One in six children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, of which many continue to have into their adult life. Think about that for a second… put into perspective, that means, on average, five children within an average class of thirty children have a diagnosable mental health problem. Diagnosable. So how many are suffering (in silence mostly) with increased anxiety and worry which is not quite at the diagnosable level?
Most children have been isolated from their friends for months on end during the pandemic and have had no social contact other than over a screen, which we all know is not the same! They have also been aware that something devastating and terribly anxiety-inducing has been happening but they may not have been fully aware of what it was and how it could affect them and their loved ones. This is incredibly worrying; children need a way to release this worry and concern and Rufaro’s Walk could be the starting point for this.
7. What is the significance of Rufaro being a lion?
I thought long and hard about what animal Rufaro should be. I decided upon a lion because they are stereotyped as being a brave and fearless animal, evoking fear in others.
This is the prejudice that I want to bring to the forefront of mental health.
Having difficulties with your mental health is not a form of weakness; a footballer is not labelled as weak when they break their leg. Instead, there is such strength and bravery in being able to say I am not okay and I need time and support to get better. Rufaro is a lion because of his bravery to talk, but also because everyone can struggle at times to keep their mental health positive.
8. Is Rufaro’s gender significant?
Although I refer to Rufaro as he, I purposefully made sure Rufaro is non-gendered throughout the book as it was very important for the readers to know that anyone can experience anxiety. All genders can have worries and anxieties and it is crucial that we include all in our message. It is very much down to the readers to gender Rufaro, if they so wish.
9. What kinds of conversations do you hope Rufaro’s Walk will spark?
I hope that Rufaro’s Walk sparks conversations full stop. That is the most important thing; just talk! Talk about you, all of you, and talk with pride! Let someone know when something wonderful has happened in your day; it will make them smile. Let someone know when you have something on your mind, even if you think it is small and unimportant, nothing ever is!
Then listen. Listen to others who are talking to you. An active ear can be all the therapy some people need. Children learn through watching and copying so it is crucial that we as adults are modelling what talking and listening should be like. Children need to know they are loved, they are safe and they are listened to, so let’s make sure that we, as a world, do that.
Bion’s theory of containment poses an excellent theory to support this. As adults, we can provide a container for children’s strong feelings, in which we are able to hold them, then pass them back in a more manageable way for them to process and understand.
10. How has instantprint supported you in printing Rufaro’s Walk?
instantprint have been so fantastic in supporting, not just the printing of Rufaro’s walk, but the message behind the story and have joined with us in the desire to get more people talking and supporting our young minds.
11. Where can we buy a copy of Rufaro’s Walk?
Please visit our Instagram page - @rufaros_walk - and message us through there to buy a book. Payment will be taken through PayPal.