Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay- Esther Marshall Book Review by Eleanor

(image: Esther Marshall/ Sophie Says)

I am absolutely delighted to read and review this incredible childrens book from the Sophie Says series by author and award winning campaigner Esther Marshall (with illustrator Buzz Burry).

Esther’s story is close to my heart as not only is she from my own community but her late sister Rebecca z’l was a doctor who had bipolar disorder and sadly passed away a few years ago, while Esther was writing her second book. Esther has shared that it was her sister who encouraged and inspired her idea to write the childrens books that she couldn’t see for her own child (in terms of positive messages, inspiring rolemodels and diverse characters in terms of both race and gender). Through her sister’s struggles, Esther also began to include positive mental health messages on talking and sharing emotions, self belief and self esteem too.

Esther has said,

“I knew from the second my son was born I wanted to teach him that girls were just as strong and powerful as boys, that people from different backgrounds to him could teach him things and he should listen and be kind to everyone.
The problem was, all the books I could find to read to him had:

  • Mostly male characters (even the animals)
  • Little to no diversity or representation
  • No female role models he could look up to

So I decided that if I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read to my son, I’d better write my own.

I want all children to know and believe that they can achieve their dreams regardless of gender, race, religion or class”,

Esther at Sophie Says has not only thought about what stories she wants to tell through the books, but what messages children reading them will take and absorb. She has partnered with illustrator Buzz Burry and comments, ‘we are helping children bypass harmful stereotypes before they set in by changing the face of children’s literature. Our mission is to enable all children to grow up feeling equipped and empowered to face their futures. To learn more about themselves, others and the world around them. We are helping parents to teach their children positive messages and providing a toolkit to navigate some of the trickier conversations.

These books teach children about:

• Emotional Resilience
• Mental health
• Equal opportunities
• Relatable representation 
• Diversity and inclusion
• Self-belief
• Responsible messaging 

Esther very kindly gifted me copies of her first two books- Sophie Says I Can I will– which is about a little girl Sophie with big dreams and no limits. and Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay which focuses on Sophie, Jordyn and Jamie on their journey as they learn that it’s okay to talk about their feelings and it’s okay not to be okay. The books are for children in the early years, ages 3-7 years and reading the books with either parents, carers or teachers is recommended. Esther told me she has ‘tried to create books which cater to both home and school so that it can be embedded in both parts of a child’s life and become the foundation of them building resilience at an early age.’

Sophie Says It’s Okay not to be Okay is a very special book- and one of the first I have seen to address children’s mental health in an age appropriate way, to teach children about their emotions and that it’s OK to feel sad, scared or worried. The book follows Jamie who is looking down and feeling sad but whose best friends Sophie and Jordyn help him through and Sophie tells him ‘its okay not to be okay’. They take him to the zoo to help him feel better and speak to Sophie’s older sister Meghan who is wise and will give good advice. Esther named the character after Meghan, Duchess of Sussex who she met with Prince Harry and other young leaders and was inspired by (she gave them a copy of the book too!)

Meghan (the character) says this important message,

It’s okay to be sad and okay to feel down. Just make sure you have good friends around. There may be days when you feel you’re alone but around us, you’ll always be at home. Its Okay not to be okay”

The book also reinforces self belief and esteem , reiterating that ‘YOU are enough!’ and encourages children to talk about their feelings because it can help. Jamie then says he will speak about his feelings in a place he feels safe in the zoo,

I don’t really know how to describe how I feel
As I can’t work out what’s in my head and what’s real.

He said ‘ a smile may be what you see, but that’s not what I feel inside me

There are times I feel quite alone because these feelings are unknown

Some days I’m happy and some days I’m sad and other days I just feel so bad’

(image: Esther Marshall/Buzz Burry/Sophie Says)

His friends then show him support and love, take him to the funfair, all while reinforcing positive kindness and support- ‘Yes we can!” . The book talks positively about the kindness of friendships always being a safe space to talk. This is so important for children particularly in the early years who are learning to understand their feelings.

Esthers writing is beautiful- on one of the last pages of the book she says ‘Whatever you do, be kind, you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind’.

The book was informed by her sister Rebecca’s struggle with mental illness (bipolar disorder). Esther has said, ‘I had always planned to write another book all around mental health to help children understand their feelings and talk about them more openly, and I sadly lost my sister, Rebecca, to mental illness as I was writing it. So the second book Sophie Says It’s Okay not to be Okay is dedicated to her memory’.

Esther wanted to amplify the message and so it was released on World Mental Health Day. The book provides a toolkit for parents who want to help their children to express their own emotions.

She has been visiting schools and doing zoom readings of her book to share the messages for her. Esther told me, I would love that as a result of children reading the Sophie Says books that children understand these vitally important lessons through a fun way of learning and it helps them build resilience and confidence to go out and achieve their full potential whilst being able to understand and manage both their physical and mental health. .’.

Esther is a true force of nature and someone who inspires me so much. She has just released a third book in the series Sophie Says Be Proud of Who You Are which is about Sophie and the rest of the Sophie Says crew on their exciting seaside adventure as they help their friend Priya build her confidence, as they guide her through believing in herself and being proud of who she is. The perfect book to help your child build their confidence and self esteem!

I would recommend the Sophie Says books to all parents, teachers and carers of young children. I can’t wait to see how this brand grows and what Esther achieves (she has achieved so much already!). She should be rightly proud of her work and all she has created.

To learn more about Sophie Says and buy the books click here

You can read Esthers blog dedicated to her sister here: https://www.sophiesaysofficial.com/blogs/dear-rebecca. (If you are over 18 as contains triggering content)

About Esther

Hi, I’m the founder of Sophie Says and the author of the books within the series. The idea for the first book (Sophie Says I Can, I Will) came to me after having my son, Asher (who is the first and most important reader of all the books!).

I knew I wanted him to grow up understanding that both girls and boys could achieve anything that they set their minds to, but I couldn’t find any books that featured a female lead character (a human one, not an animal one!) that really represented the message I wanted to teach him. So I thought, if I can’t find the story I want to tell, I’d better write it myself.

I was gifted two books in exchange for an honest review. Any links are unpaid. These books are incredible.

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