The ‘Hug your heart books’ by Bryony Irving

Review by Kim Golding

Stories are a very ancient way of soothing and calming and talking to the imaginative mind, providing new and more useful imagination, uncoupling the old associations and putting in place new more positive ones.

Rob Parkinson, Transforming tales. How stories can change people, JKP 2009, p52

How many of us, parents, and therapists, have sat down with children and tried to talk them out of their worries or challenging ways of being?

We give wise advice; we offer guidance; we suggest strategies, and we notice our feelings of failure as the children continue to be anxious, controlling, angry, demanding and/or full of shame. We despair as our dream of offering these children a way out of their troubles seems as impermanent and ephemeral as the nighttime dreams which fade upon waking. We need to find another way.

Therapeutic stories are one way that we might reach and help these children. And there is a bonus, both consciously and unconsciously we all change, heal, and grow through the power of story. It is therefore always welcome when creative individuals, like Bryony Irving, offer us stories that we can use when supporting children. These stories can fit our children as snuggly as a well-fitting sock unconsciously helping them with a tricky challenge they are facing, or the story may wrinkle and squirm, almost but not quite suiting the individual challenges that our children face. Either way they offer us a way forward, unleashing our own creativity as we adapt them for the unique child in front of us. Stories – written, visual, told, created, can facilitate change in a way that is not as effective nor nearly as engaging through other means.

Storyteller and therapist Rob Parkinson (ibid. p. 28) tells us that: “Reframing is at the heart of the effectiveness of stories. We put together our personal stories largely unconsciously ….. All kinds of influences and experiences affect what we become, some of them apparently benign and possibly wonderful, some of them harrowing and even traumatic. But the most central element is how we view those influences and those experiences. This is the frame, the story, the angle. It is more or less inevitably a limited perspective, which may be modified in time by new influences and experiences. The new story that is introduced to us at the right time in the right way provides that influence and experience quickly, extending our perspectives in a way that is unthreatening – since, after all, it’s only a story.”

Dan Hughes, founder of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) tells us that: “As human beings, we have no choice but to create stories.” Within DDP we witness the “jagged stories of shame and terror that arose from relational trauma” and we create stories of connection, strength, and resilience. These integrative stories lead the child towards a sense of self that is integrated and a narrative that is coherent. (Hughes et al, 2019, p7). As a Practitioner of DDP I have helped children who have experienced trauma to discover their own stories whilst also exploring the use of metaphorical stories.

Bryony Irving shows us how metaphorical stories can be healing for all children with the range of emotional worries that is part of the human experience. She has created the ‘Hug your heart books’ to provide us with a range of stories that we can draw on. These provide us with influences and experiences to offer our children who are managing a range of emotional difficulties. These read at the right time and in a way that engages their imagination, open up new possibilities without adult pressure to change. Supported by a range of young, and young at heart, illustrators, these books are imaginative, vibrant, suspenseful, and engaging. Children will want to know what is going to happen next absorbing ideas, perspectives, and strategies along the way.

The ‘Fizzy Friends Series’ introduces children to a range of stories with likeable characters struggling with a range of diverse issues. This includes the child who always says no, the child who needs to please everyone and the child who is full of shame. With culturally neutral illustrations and everyday settings children will recognise themselves consciously and unconsciously as they witness the children finding ways out of their situations, supported by loving parents.

The ’Let’s Celebrate Adoption’ series aims specifically to support children who are adopted including by a single parent, and same sex parents. These books highlight the fears and anxieties of adopted children alongside the sadness inherent in moving on from nurturing foster placements and the hope for permanence that adoption offers.

Therapists – have these books on your bookshelf ready for that special child who will feel less alone when recognising a character in the book. But you’d better be prepared to buy multiple copies as children may well need to take the book home with them!

Parents – seek out the book or books that will engage you and your child and be prepared to read it many times as the child becomes absorbed in the story and the characters.

Thank you, Bryony and your group of illustrators, for offering us the gift of your imaginations.

Bryony Irving is a children’s therapist with over 20 years’ experience of helping children with trauma, attachment, loss, and stress. She is DDP informed in her work alongside other emotionally focused treatment models.


Parkinson, R. (2009) Transforming tales. How stories can change people, JKP

Hughes, D. A.; Golding, K. S.; & Hudson, J, (2019) Healing relational trauma with attachment-focused interventions. Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy with children and families. Norton.

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