The Boy Who Built a Wall Around Himself
Written by Ali Redford, illustrated by Kara Simpson.
This book follows the story of Boy, a child who builds a wall to protect himself after living through a "dark time" where "everything was scarily wrong" and no one seemed to care.
The book doesn't specify what happened to Boy, talking only vaguely and in metaphor. This leaves space for the reader to come to their own conclusions, and for children to relate to the story in a way that makes sense to them.
The story begins in black and white and slowly more and more colour creeps in as Someone Kind comes along to try and help.
Again, the story doesn't specify who Someone Kind is, and therefore they could represent any safe, caring and kind adult in the child's life.
In fact, once, a child I worked with pointed out that I was like Someone Kind from the book, and it was probably one of the greatest compliments I've ever received.
Because Someone Kind cares deeply, and does not give up easily. She returns day after day, trying lots of different ways to connect with Boy. She bounces a ball against the wall, plays music and paints it in beautiful colours. He rejects her time and time again, getting angry and sad and scared and pushing her away, but she is patient and she doesn't give up on him.
Eventually, Boy's tears begin to break down the wall, and they build bridges from the bricks. Colour begins to come into his life (and onto the pages!) And as Someone Kind and Boy play, talk and share together he learns that he doesn't need his wall so much.
The book is suitable for 4-9 year olds, although I would say the message in the story is something older children, teenagers and adults could very much relate to. As with any therapeutic story, I recommend you read through it alone first before sharing with a child, to assess whether it is suitable.
I'm just in love with this metaphor. As a therapist I have lived through this story with so many incredible kids. Every single brick that's removed is a huge, brave step that we cannot underestimate. If you don't yet have this book in your collection, I really recommend it.
I find using Lego is a great way to help process these concepts with children. You can create walls, knock them down, experiment with creating doors/windows, make something new out of the bricks instead of a wall... The opportunities are endless! Plus, you can use the different colours to express different concepts. Suddenly the red Lego block isn't just a red Lego block, it's a brick that represents anger!
Here is a step by step activity you can use with children after sharing the story. Feel free to amend it as you see fit!
1. Talk about the book together, asking what they think might have caused Boy to build a wall around himself. What might have happened to him?
2. Line up different coloured Lego bricks and see if they can think of a different possible reason to build a wall for each different coloured brick. Give them some time to think first, but you can always help with making suggestions such as: feeling scared, people saying mean things, people doing mean things etc.
3. Ask the child to create a wall using these different coloured Lego bricks and then place a little character inside. (Notice any colours that are used more than others and stay curious about what this may reflect for the child.)
4. If it feels appropriate you can ask the child to give the character inside the wall a voice, e.g. "what do you think they are thinking/saying/feeling in there?"
5. Now ask them about the things that might help to knock the wall down (E.G. Kind words, friends, happy memories, feeling safe etc) giving a different example for each different coloured brick.
6. Explain that the character needs their help to break the wall down! To remove a Lego brick, they need to give an example. E.G. If they want to remove a red brick, they share a happy memory, and if they want to remove a blue brick, they tell you about someone kind they know.
7. They then have the option to create a new Lego sculpture out of these new 'positive' bricks. Let their imagination run wild!