Simple, Solid, Predictable: Interview with Child Psychologist and Author Shona Innes

Image 4Meet Shona Innes from Australia – wife, mother, clinical psychologist and children’s book author. I recently reviewed Shona’s two new children’s books, Life is Like the Wind and Friendship is Like a Seesaw, and they are outstanding. Today Shona takes us inside the life of a child psychologist, which you are sure to find as enlightening as I have. You’ll also learn what inspired Shona to write these children’s books, which provide invaluable life lessons for the youngest readers, and parents too.

Can you explain to our readers what forensic psychology is?

Forensic psychology is the application of psychological knowledge to the Law. So, this means, on a day-to-day basis, I may be working with young offenders, or victims of crime, or those who are being raised in Government care systems– assisting them to understand their behavior, emotions and histories so they can lead safer and happier lives. It also means I’m often called upon to advise courts or various other important bodies about the treatment or support a young person may need to reduce the risk that they will re-offend or experience any sort of further harm.

Since you work with children in the welfare and justice systems, how do you manage to stay objective and not let your emotions take over when you encounter children who have been severely abused or neglected?

Separating your issues from the child’s issues is a really, really important part of being a psychologist, and our training gives us strategies to help and our professional consultation networks assist us if we need support. It certainly doesn’t help if helpers are “contaminated” by being emotionally reactive about the trauma a child may have experienced. It’s equally important that a helper isn’t cold and frosty. Self care and knowledge are important to keeping a healthy balance.

Image 5

© Image of the author and her husband, Michael, courtesy of Shona Innes

It must be difficult to find that balance at times.

Holding tightly to the principle that child safety is paramount is the basis of many of my moment-by-moment decisions with clients. I also heavily rely on a solid understanding of the research and psychological theories about trauma and child well-being, as well as lots of time just being with young people. While it may not be visible to others, I spend a lot of headspace organizing my thoughts and plans into certain categories of understanding and then mapping these strategies to the child’s needs. Then, it’s about ways of explaining this complexity to a child (and their important people) in a helpful way. My head can be a really busy place!

I can only imagine how overwhelming that can be. What is age of the youngest child you have ever counseled?

I have had sessions with pregnant mothers, and mothers with very young children. When a child is very young, it’s their people and environment that I tend to work with to help them settle. In fact, working with a child’s team is always a really big part of the work.

My individual sessions with children might start at around five years and become a bigger part of the treatment package as the child ages. Young children usually start with work about identifying feelings, asking for help from safe people and behavior and as their brains mature, the work becomes more about their thinking and their beliefs.

“A long explanation is not always a good explanation. Children like things to be simple, solid, predictable and factual.”

life-is-like-the-wind-7Death is quite possibly the most difficult subject to discuss with young children, yet you managed to write about it in Life is Like the Wind a most beautiful way without frightening your young audience. Did you find it challenging to get the words just right, especially without the luxury of lengthy explanations?

A long explanation is not always a good explanation. Children like things to be simple, solid, predictable and factual. With Life is Like the Wind I really wanted to make a connection with something that children would know. The concept of life, or death, can be really hard to grasp because it’s not something you are able to see or touch. Once I had the “wind” bit sorted in my head, the rest just spilled out.

What was your inspiration for that book?

Life is Like the Wind was written as a letter to a little boy who had a history of significant abuse and neglect and had been permanently adopted with his siblings by a very warm woman. The child had so much to ask the adoptive mother about her own mother and, as her mother had passed away, she found it a difficult subject to talk about. They both needed a simple way to relate, so that they could talk about it. Putting it in a letter meant that they could read through it together in a quiet and special moment and go back to it if there were more questions that needed answering. Also, many children like to repeat things over and over again as they learn and they often ask things over and over again. If it’s written down in a special place, it can be a “go to” resource.

Image 11

© Image of Shona in her backyard, courtesy of Shona Innes

“Children rely heavily on the reactions of others to guide their behavior and responses. If there is a change in routine or something that is upsetting someone they are more likely to be upset themselves.”

Generally at what age can children comprehend that someone they know has passed away and they will not be able to see that someone ever again?

I know it’s a psychologist’s fav0rite answer, but “it depends.” If the child has had a very close and secure attachment, a very young infant will likely know that something is not right or something is missing and they may need additional soothing. There are a number of phases that children go through in their cognitive and emotional development and not all do so at the same time or rate. A three or four-year-old will often want to speak lots about the person who has died and will do so in a very matter of fact way. They understand the concept, and they know about feeling sad, but they may not link it to consequence and feelings in a way that helps them to know the best times and places to talk about it. For instance, they might introduce themselves to strangers in the supermarket and tell them – “Hi, my name is Lucy and my Mum’s mum just died and she’s sad.”

Usually as they start school, children start to know that something is sad and that it might also make others sad if they talk about it. They can start to keep feelings in and hold back from expressing them to look after others.

Children rely heavily on the reactions of others to guide their behavior and responses. If there is a change in routine or something that is upsetting someone they are more likely to be upset themselves. The ways that they react can vary greatly.

Friendship is Like a Seesaw is full of life lessons that are invaluable, and I have never read a book for young kids quite like this before. What made you decide to pick this particular subject for the book, and was it your idea to use animals for the characters in the book?

friendship-is-like-a-seesaw-2Thanks Debbie – that’s lovely! The concept of balance is important in all kinds of relationships. The seesaw is a metaphor I have used lots with clients of all ages, including my own children. The central tenet is that you shouldn’t try to make yourself feel better by making someone else feel lousy. I’ve pulled the seesaw or balance metaphor out in sessions over and over again for children of all ages who have experienced being on the high end or the low end of friendship issues. I have also used the seesaw imagery for people who have issues with interpersonal problem solving, anger, couples counseling, workplace upset, or managing those super strong emotions associated with first love.

Using Irisz’s beautiful animals meant that any issues associated with gender, race or even age where taken away. I think it takes some effort and maturity to focus on balance and not just go with gut instincts about retaliation. I think animal pictures somehow also strip things back to basic instincts.

In addition to friendship woes and the loss of a loved one, what other challenges are most common for the young children you counsel?

Oh, so many, but the important thing to remember is many children cope and grow stronger through dealing with the most awful of situations.

If I check in on my calendar, the week ahead has me seeing young people with fears and worries, autism spectrum concerns, body image issues, attention problems, family breakdown, school refusal, exam stress, anger, misbehavior and tantrums, bullying (cyber or playground), neglect, abuse and trauma, learning disabilities, parents with mental health concerns and childhood depression.

“It bothers me that we have insufficient resources to support children who have major mental health issues, or insufficient respite for careers and it especially concerns me when the children seem more grown up and sensible than their adults.”

Oh my goodness, that is an overwhelming list. Do you ever get “stumped” when encountering an unusually challenging situation with a child, and in general, what is the most challenging aspect of counseling children?

It’s not often that I’m stumped. If I’m stumped, I just need to listen more, watch more and get more information.

If I’m pulling my hair out, it’s usually about the grown-ups or services in children’s lives and not the children. It bothers me that we have insufficient resources to support children who have major mental health issues, or insufficient respite for careers and it especially concerns me when the children seem more grown up and sensible than their adults.

Image 9

© Image of Shona enjoying one of her quieter moments, courtesy of Shona Innes

And what is the most rewarding aspect for you?

Ooohhh – this is probably where I do get a bit emotional. I live in a regional town so I often bump into past clients when I’m going about day-to-day activities with my family and friends. I get quite emotional watching young clients performing at school assemblies, playing sports or doing things that are actually really very normal, but I know that they have pushed past lots of barriers to do so. To see them gaining joy from simple, regular things can be my undoing. It’s beautiful and makes me want to sing – but I’m a really bad singer, so I just have to quietly glow (or silently weep happy tears) for them.

If you could give new parents three pieces of advice on raising well-adjusted, happy and kind children what would they be?

  1. Provide them with a safe base.
  2. Encourage them to explore beyond the base, test limits, get dirty, observe life and other people, make mistakes, laugh and play.
  3. Provide boundaries and swift, firm, appropriate consequences if they are crossed.

That’s simple, solid and invaluable advice we can all use. Are there more children’s books in your future?

There are two more Big Hug books due for release in Australia in January. The Playground is Like the Jungle explores the dynamics and interactions of others in the playground and encourages wise observation and safe friendship choices. The Internet is Like a Puddle addresses happy and safe use of electronic/cyber media. Two further manuscripts are currently being edited and are all about families experiencing family breakdown and different types of family structures.

Image 10

© Image of Shona at her backyard chicken coup, courtesy of Shona Innes

I’m thrilled to hear that you are writing more titles in this outstanding series! What do you most enjoy doing when you are not working?

I love silly time with my family, going to the gym, running, growing veggies and flowers, my backyard chickens, learning to use my new camera, listening to my favorite music, baking cakes and biscuits, board games, jigsaws, a quiet cup of green tea with my husband, beach holidays, catching up with good friends and chasing sunshine. (…. my husband said I should add “worrying about work” and my youngest child said I should add “randomly breaking into song”).

Shona, I think our readers would get a kick out of hearing you break out into song – even if you can’t really hold a tune so well. Thank you so much for sharing the side of psychology we lay people are unfamiliar with. What you do is so important, and I am in awe of your dedication and work. What would we do without people such as you taking on such daunting work? It’s obvious that being a psychologist takes special strength, wisdom and compassion – and you possess all three of these. I hope to be among the first to read your new titles when they are published.

Readers, I can’t stress enough how incredibly wonderful Shona’s Big Hugs titles are for young readers. Buy them for the special child in your life. Also be sure to explore more Barron’s Educational titles; their books are really what make kids smart!

Read Shona’s blog here.

 life-is-like-the-wind-7 friendship-is-like-a-seesaw-2


Four B Small Activity Books – Pop-Up Scenes and Mazes – Review & Giveaway!

Enter to Win Four Beautiful and Creative Activity Books That Will Keep Your Kids Busy for Hours!


Truth be told, I hate to part with these four outstanding activity books from B Small Publishing in the UK. I feel like creating my own pop-up scenes and also completing the mazes myself, but I must spread the joy with my readers who can really put these to good use. If you’re unfamiliar with B Small, they publish books for young children specializing in activity and bilingual titles. The activity books are incredibly imaginative, interactive and nurture the creativity in young minds, for hours of fun and learning.

Scroll to the bottom for giveaway rules.

FB twitter

B Small’s Make Your Own Series

There are 17 titles in the Make Your Own series. Each one includes a page instructing the reader how to use the book. The cover and middle pages, printed in color, form the scene. The black and white pages are for coloring and cutting out to make your scene original as well as listing some vocabulary words fitting for the subject at hand. Other pages offer facts and illustrations about the book’s topic.

Book 1


Cover Image Courtesy of B Small Publishing

Make Your Own Fairy Garden : Pop-Up Fairy Garden Scene

  • Lower Elementary (Ages: 5-8)
  • Genre: Activity Book
  • Author/Illustrator: Clare Beaton
  • Publisher: B-Small Publishing
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 20 Pages
  • Retail: $7.99
  • ISBN: 978-1902915241


Image of Pop Up Fairy Garden Scene Courtesy of B Small Publishing

Nature Abounds in Your Very Own Fairy Garden

DSC_0025Readers learn all about fairies, what they are, where they live and some facts about famous fairies (Tooth Fairy and others). There are even instructions on how to make a fairy costume including a leafy crown, tunic, wings and wand as well as a skirt, ruffles and fairy dust. 26 delightful fairy figures including a Fairy King and Queen, Gnome, Elf and others await your child’s personal touch, as they can be cut out and colored before arranging them in the cheerful pop-up fairy garden. Once arranged, creative make believing begins with hours of fun.


Book 2

Image 1

Cover Image Courtesy of B Small Publishing

Make Your Own Farm: Pop-Up Farmyard Scene

  • Lower Elementary (Ages: 5-8)
  • Genre: Activity Book
  • Author/Illustrator: Clare Beaton
  • Publisher: B-Small Publishing
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 20 Pages
  • Retail: $7.99
  • ISBN: 978-1902915128


© Copyright B Small Publishing

Life on This Farm is Good!

DSC_0036Discover facts about the many different animals that live on a farm and how a farm helps feed and clothe us. There’s a page on scarecrows – why they are used by farmers, how they are made and a bit about one very famous scarecrow. There are 25 figures that include animals, a scarecrow, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer and a girl riding a horse. There are instructions and drawings to make surprise cards of a hen or a pig with babies. You can create your own lucky horseshoe too and learn some new vocabulary words. Hey, I’d like to live on this beautiful farm myself!

© Copyright B Small Publishing

Book 3

Image 2

Cover Image Courtesy of B Small Publishing

Make Your Own Coral Reef: Pop-Up Coral Reef Scene

  • Lower Elementary (Ages: 5-8)
  • Genre: Activity Book
  • Author/Illustrator: Clare Beaton
  • Publisher: B-Small Publishing
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 20 Pages
  • Retail: $7.99
  • ISBN: 978-1905710393


© Copyright B Small Publishing

All the Colors of the Reef

DSC_0033First learn what a coral reef is before you make your own. Discover the difference between hard and soft coral, the different types of reefs and some of the many unique species that thrive there. There’s a page about what is threatening the world’s coral reefs and what we can do to save them. Plus find some glossary words for budding marine biologists. There are 24 sea creatures to color and cut out, and by the time you set up your pop-up scene you’ll have an underwater wonderland bursting with color and life. There are directions to make and play your own fishing game and a crafting project to make your own beautiful box decorated with seashells.

© Copyright B Small Publishing

Why You’ll Absolutely Love Make Your Own Series Titles

Growing up, my own daughter (now age 22 and a graduate student working toward a PhD degree in GeoPhysics) could never get enough of activity books. They not only entertain and educate children, but they stir creativity, which plays a crucial role in a child’s academic success. I’ve seen and reviewed many activity books, and these are among the finest. The art is beautifully done and the images are crisp and bold. Each book is a project in and of itself and teaches kids to follow directions, learn something new about the topic and be the engineers of a very lovely project they can be proud of. What’s there not to love about hours of affordable, educational and imaginative fun like this?

Oh, and one more bonus – these books would be perfect for packing in a suitcase to take on a trip.

About the Author of the Make Your Own Books Series

resize.phpClaire Beaton studied art at Hornsey School of Art and started her career as an in-house illustrator with BBC Children’s Television. She now works as a freelance illustrator and author. This mother of three loves crafting, and it shows in her many activity books for children. For B Small, she has written and illustrated all the books in the Seasonal Activity and Seasonal Fun series, the Five Idea series, the Free Time series, Let’s Pretend, Felt Pictures, the Pocket Money series, the Make & Colour series as well as the Make Your Own and Make Your Own Theatre series. She has also illustrated the Bilingual First Books, the Lucy Cat series and the First Language with Supercat series. Claire recently started creating illustrations by sewing a mixture of felt and other fabric, mostly recycled. These picture books are mainly published by Barefoot Books. She lives in North London.

Be sure to check out Claire’s website; you’ll be totally inspired by her artwork!

Photo of Claire Beaton Courtesy of B Small Publishing

Book 4

Image 3

Maze Adventures: There’s Only One Way Out!

Cover Image Courtesy of B Small Publishing

  • Lower & Upper Elementary, Middle School (Ages: 6 and up)
  • Genre: Activity Book
  • Author: Martin Nygaard
  • Illustrator: Jesus Gabon
  • Publisher: B-Small Publishing
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 32 Pages
  • Retail: $8.99
  • ISBN:978-1908164698

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 8.40.06 PM

© Copyright B Small Publishing

Dare You to Find Your Way Out of This!

There isn’t a kid out there who doesn’t love mazes, and in this book, readers can have adventures in many different settings and locations. Jack and Jessica are explorers who find themselves trapped in 12 different mazes. There’s only one way out, and you’ve got to be the one to find it! Each detailed and colorfully painted maze has a theme, such as cave, desert, town, river and even a Jurassic island. There’s a short introduction to what Jack and Jessica are trying to accomplish on each maze, and this teaches readers about unique places and settings around the world. It’s a combination of geography and a skill challenge that’s a whole lotta fun!

Download the FREE History of Mazes.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 8.39.38 PM

© Copyright B Small Publishing

Why You’ll Absolutely Love Maze Adventure

Children love the challenge of finding something missing or solving a mystery, and mazes are a great way to do just that. Did you know that mazes also help kids develop fine motor skills and improve hand-eye coordination? This book is both challenging and fun and will provide a lot of fun to readers. In the back of the book are directions to make your own maze and even share it with the publisher on Facebook or Twitter.

 About the Author of Maze Adventures

MartinNygaardMartin Nygaard is ranked as one of Norway’s top authors. Since 1995, he has published 6 volumes making up a total of 138 critically acclaimed short stories and modern fairy tales for children. His first novel came out in 2005 after 30 years in the making. The book was initially met with some discomfort as it talks very candidly about a very real 14-15 year old boy – warts and all! The book was an instant hit, especially with reluctant boy readers. The ‘Laurence Moth’ trilogy has now been completed.

 Enter for a Chance to Win All Four b Small Activity Books


  1. Enter the giveaway by Liking our Facebook Page (if you haven’t already) and sending us an email to smartbooks (at) with your name and mailing address. In the subject line of the email write Activity Books Giveaway.  We will not share your email or address or use it for any other purpose than this giveaway. PLEASE NOTE: If you do not include your mailing address in your email your entry will be discarded.
  2. Optional: You will receive one extra entry for leaving a valid comment on this post on this website.
  3. Optional: You will receive three extra entries for sharing this giveaway from our Facebook Page. Go to the Facebook page and from there, click share on the link to this giveaway.
  4. There will be one winner for this giveaway selected at random, residing in the USA. No books will be mailed outside the USA.
  5. This giveaway starts on Friday, October 17, 2014 and ends on Wednesday October 29, 2014 at noon.
  6. The winner will be notified via email on Wednesday October 29.
  7. Books will be mailed by Friday October 31, 2014.
  8. Follow us on our Facebook Page to learn about more giveaways and read reviews and interviews.



What Would Seem Impossibe: Imani’s Moon


Cover image courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing

Imani’s Moon

  • Targeted Audience: Lower and Upper Elementary (Ages 6-9)
  • Genre:  Picture Book
  • Author: JaNay Brown-Wood
  • Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2014
  • Binding: Hard Cover
  • Dimensions: 8″ x  10″
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 32 Pages
  • Retail: $15.99
  • ISBN:978-1934133583

FB twitter

“A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it.”

Reach for the Moon

Imani is the smallest child in her Maasai village in Africa. She is teased and taunted by other children for her tiny size. One even tells her, “Mini Imani, you’ll never accomplish anything!” Imani starts believing her small size is indeed the reason she won’t be able to do anything worthwhile, and this makes her very sad. Her mama is the best storyteller in the village, and she tells Imani great mythological tales, including one about the goddess of the moon. This inspires Imani to set a goal that would seem impossible – to physically touch the moon. Of course the children in the town laugh when Imani tries to reach the moon by climbing in a tree and jumping higher and higher off the ground. But then one morning, something truly magical happens, and Imani returns from her life-changing adventure with a special gift to prove just exactly where she has been.


© Copyright -Inside spread image courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing

What This Book Teaches

Imani’s Moon may be a mythological story, but as with most well-told tales, there is a life lesson to be learned. Imani’s desire for greatness is something we all can relate to, including children. And her unfaltering determination inspires children to believe they too can “reach the moon” with their own lofty goals. As readers discover how a tiny girl is teased for her size, they can feel how important it is to be compassionate and kind themselves. In addition, because the story is set in an African village, there is a geography lesson here. I speak so often about the lack of geography education in America, and I celebrate when a book for young readers includes geography in its theme. After reading Imani’s Moon children will be eager to learn more about the Maasai culture and the mythological stories of its people.


© Copyright -Inside spread image courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing

Why You Should Read This Book

Imani’s Moon was the winner of the 2013  National Association of Principals (NAESP) Picture Book Competition. The story is told with great wisdom, and the richly colored illustrations by Hazel Mitchell are beautifully done. I am enamored with the way she depicts the night sky and the hopes and dreams of a little girl with great, big aspirations. In the back of the book is an author’s note about how JaNay Brown-Wood was inspired to write this story. She discovered that Maasai warriors have a ritual where they try to outjump one another. Imani’s Moon is sure to educate, inspire and motivate children to do something outstanding with their lives. We all have our own challenges and obstacles, but Imani shows us just how wonderfully they can be overcome.

About the Author


JaNay Brown-Wood dreams big. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s wanted to become a published author. Her determination has paid off. Imani’s Moon is her first book for children. JaNay is also a professor of early childhood education. She lives in California.

Photo Credit: Michelle Wood Photography

About the Illustrator

Hazel Mitchell has illustrated over 30 children’s books including All-Star Cheerleaders in the Tick Tock Owl and TurtleTaylor Series, Why am I Here? and Saby and Me, which was awarded Creative Child Magazine’s Picture Book of the Year in 2010. Hazel lives and works from her studio in Main.

Photo Courtesy of Hazel Mitchell

Further Learning

  1. Locate Kenya and Tanzania on a map.
  2. Find out more about the African Maasai tribe.
  3. Discuss with your child ways they can be kind and compassionate.