“Saving the planet is too big of a task to leave to grown ups,” read a letter from one of the children that psychologist Alexandra Delis-Abrams, Ph.D. worked with. It was just a short sentence but it carried a lot of meaning so it stuck with her. Years later, she remembered that very sentence when she decided to put the power of change in children’s hands with her new project, Endangered Species Have Feelings Too, a coloring book that teaches kids about endangered species and urges them to take action to protect them.
“I’ve always loved animals and my work’s emphasis was on children and it evolved into attitude,” explains Delis-Abrams, who has over 30 years of experience as a mental health practitioner. “I believe strongly that if a child is aware of these issues, there are children out there who are waiting to fulfill their purpose to make a change for these animals.”
The book features illustrations of 26 different endangered species done by Kim Howard, who’s illustrated Delis-Abrams’ previous book, ABC Feelings, which teaches kids different emotions letter by letter. That theme carries on to the coloring book as each animal explains in a short first person testimony their story.
A leather back turtle is “impatient” with so much pollution in her habitat. A polar bear is “exhausted” from swimming long distances in search of ice floats. A monarch butterfly is “zestful” for milkweed, which is being devastated.
As animals explain their feelings they also share their plight and why they’re endangered, which can include mentions of hunting, climate change and fracking among other reasons. To some, it may seem like a heavy topic to broach to kids, but Delis-Abrams argues it’s necessary for them to know the facts so they don’t live in such a harsh world in the future.
“I tried to introduce from levity here and there and some playfulness in the narrative,” she says. “I have grandchildren who are 10 and they’re up to this. They’re learning about climate change. They need to know about this, about irresponsible fishing techniques and methods that are endangering wildlife. There’s no time to handle this with kid gloves.”
For younger children of ages three or four, she does advise that maybe parents can introduce only certain simpler aspects of it at first. Since the book does carry a more complex message, however, she hopes the children’s book can also be useful for adults, whether they are parents or just grown ups looking to color and learn more about the subject.
Adults and coloring books are having a moment. A myriad of coloring books specifically designed for adults with themes ranging from Harry Potter to Doctor Who and mandalas are available online as grown ups are reaching to them for stress relief.
Psychologists have taken to prescribe coloring books as a way to deal with anxiety. The idea being that because you’re focusing on coloring and looking at the images, your brain stops worrying temporarily. The act of coloring also brings you back to a time of less responsibilities when coloring was a day-to-day activity. Since coloring activates a person’s brain in both hemispheres as they express themselves artistically and problem solve by coloring inside the lines, the activity also helps with focus.
Coloring, or “art therapy,” has even been shown in studies to help soothe physical and emotional pain in patients with cancer, depression and PTSD. Delis-Abrams hopes the book will not only have those calming and beneficial results on both children and adults but will help them foster a sense of moral responsibility towards their role in the endangered species’ plight.
“I believe that if people realize that these animals have homes and families and they’re entitled, just as we are, to thrive and live their lives and die not at the hands of humans, change can happen,” she adds. “I want kids to read through the book, learn about these animals and pick one and follow through. I want them then to go online and learn more and want to do something about it.”
Since its release in late 2015, Endangered Species Have Feelings Too has already been translated into Spanish, schools have reached out to Delis-Abrams to come speak to the kids who will be reading (and coloring) the book, and it has received the Creative Child Magazine Book of the Year Award and Best Green Dr. Toy’s 2015 award.
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