Frustrated, excited, nervous, sad, jealous, embarrassed – sometimes we forget that kids deal with many of the same feelings as adults. Teaching them emotional awareness is important and can be complicated. "Reading fiction is a great way to develop empathy and social skills," says Melissa Morrissey. In her books, Morrissey creates characters that speak to both kids and adults while teaching emotional regulation and other self-awareness skills.
An educator for more than 20 years, Morrissey writes books intended as a resource for counselors, teachers and parents. "My love of children and education gave me insight on things that I feel really needed to be taught to children," Morrisey explains. "My books are simple with happy endings, but diving into the issues and the work they address can be a lifetime project."
In her newest book, Travis Finds The Truth, a little boy finds himself with a big problem when his storytelling gets the better of him. "All my books are based on things I've experienced or witnessed in my life," Morrissey explains, "I have seen little boys be branded as liars, when really their behavior was trying to address a need they have."
A feelings journal is a great way for kids to build an emotional vocabulary. Kids learn ways to talk about different emotions through Travis as he struggles to express his thoughts. "I believe strongly in journaling to uncover our feelings. I wove that into the story as a way to introduce this technique to children," Morrissey explains. "School writing can be so formulaic at times to address the requirements of standardized testing. I want people to know that it doesn't have to be so complicated when it comes from the heart.
Springfield artist Michelle Smith brings Travis to life with her colorful illustrations. "The description of Travis is a bright, very active little boy, and I wanted the colors to portray that," Smith explains. "My hope was that the bright colors and the expressions would grab the attention of kids. It was important to me that the pages express the adventure and personality of Travis but that the children reading the story could somehow find themselves in the pages."
All of Morrissey's books are printed with a special font, which is designed to be easier to read for learners with dyslexia. "Dyslexie font emphasizes the parts of the letter that are different from each other so that they are more easily distinguishable for people with dyslexia," Morrissey explains. "The baselines are clearer to draw your eye to the bottom of each letter, instead of flipping them. Some of the letters actually have longer sticks. White space is also increased. Capital letters and punctuation marks are bold to emphasize them."
In the digital age, Morrissey still feels it's important for kids to get off the computer and connect with physical books. "Several studies show harmful effects of technology on young minds and that reading online makes retention and comprehension more difficult, "Morrissey explains. "I can't say whether or not our brains will evolve to make up for these deficits. However, right now you cannot beat the smell, feel, and visual satisfaction of a great book."
Melissa Morrissey has two more books in the works and is currently working on setting up the High Road School of Peoria, a school for students with emotional disabilities. Her books can be purchased online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble or at melissaunderwoodmorrissey.com.
Michelle Smith is a member of the Springfield Art Collective and is a frequent contributor to the HD Smith Gallery in the Hoogland Center for the Arts. You can find her work on social media @MichelleSmithArtist or at thedrawing-room.com.
You can find more information on Dyslexie Font at dyslexiefont.com.