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New book is a conversation starter for young children

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Author Emma Cahill with parents Brian and Geraldine and brother Barry

Author Emma Cahill with parents Brian and Geraldine and brother Barry

Author Emma Cahill with parents Brian and Geraldine and brother Barry

A Wexford author is generating a considerable amount of praise for her latest publication, a children's book focusing on mental health.

'Under the Mask', by Gorey native Emma Cahill, is a colourful story which teaches children how to recognise and cope with sadness, anger and worry, through the adventures of three superheroes, Blaze, Crash and Rustle.

The book has been created with the input of Child and Adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) staff and has been recommended by mental health charity Pieta House as well as a handful of celebrities.

A large crowd gathered at the Book Centre in Wexford town recently for the launch of Emma's book, which sees the three superheroes coming together to help one young boy realise that he and others have their own superpowers to overcome emotional difficulties in a safe way, providing helpful tips and advice in a way that is easy to grasp and remember.

Emma has been away teaching abroad for the past seven years, working in schools across the world, from Spain to the Middle East to Brazil.

While home in Ireland for Christmas, she was able to visit local schools in Wexford and surrounding counties to showcase Under the Mask, but she said that the book launch at Wexford Book Centre was a highlight for her.

On this journey to publication, what has surprised Emma the most is the real need for a book like this for young people.

'I've taught in Barcelona, Qatar and I'm now working in Brazil in a management role. I've met children from every background, with different cultures and family dynamics, and they have all sorts of things going on, yet it was the same problem everywhere I went.

'Children are really struggling to deal with their emotions and some children are living in fear and suffering with anxiety. It was always tiny things that happen, they were completely overwhelming them and ruining their entire day.

'These were things that they should have been able to self regulate and bounce back from, but they were not able to do that'.

Emma said that she hopes the book will cause reaction and engage a conversation, and feed in to the idea of children building resilience.

'I narrowed the book down to the three emotions of sadness, anger and worry as that is what I was seeing most of.

'We want our kids to have resilience, but having suffered myself from anxiety and depression, I noticed that there's this view of as this heroic stoic, pretending you're okay when you're not.

'The way I see it that's not resilience, but rather it's about learning that these things happen and there's nothing we can do to stop them but we can learn the skills and the tools on what to do, to bounce back and get on with the day'.

From what began as a personal project with a few ideas jotted down during Christmas 2018, Emma said that the book also helped her personally.

'I started from what I wanted kids to get out of it and worked back from that.

'I was writing it during quite a bad time in my own mental health, and I nearly gave up on it at one point. But when I was not coping myself and I was dealing children who were not coping, it just broke my heart even more when you're feeling it yourself.

'It made me think there's got to be something to do about this and it kept me going because you're doing good for someone else'.

Emma described being overwhelmed by the response to the book.

'The reaction has been really positive, and I never imagined it having the impact at all.

'On one hand it's worrying to see how much need there is for the book, but it also makes me feel like it was something worth doing.

'I'm getting a lot of feedback from teachers who have used it with particular kids, such as those with special educational needs or learning difficulties who have communication issues. They seem to have really related to the book and the characters.

'Teachers said that it has created a lot of communication from them, and that alone would have been worth doing the whole process'.

Emma said that she chose the superhero characters and the rhyming style of the book very much on purpose.

'I wanted to write about coping mechanisms, but I felt for children to be independently aware about how they deal with their emotions, it couldn't be boring.

'Children are mad about superheroes so I wanted to create these likeable characters for children to relate to, and the superheroes can teach them that they have these powers within themselves.

'Kids also love something that rhymes as they can really get into that from an education point of view. Children are taught about rhyme from a young age, so if we're talking about a core coping mechanism, if they have it rhyming it helps a little bit and it's easier to remember'.

With the celebrity endorsements rolling in, from Keith Duffy to Suzanne Jackson, Emma hopes that the book will reach children who particularly need to read it.

'I wanted the book to reach as far it can as I do genuinely believe this will help mental health.

'Six to ten is probably a good age for the book, to get the idea of mental health into their head'.

As her first book, Emma self-published Under the Mask with limited resources, but she had help from a school friend, illustrator Paul Nugent, who was educated in Gorey.

'Paul was fantastic from start to finish and he went above and beyond to help me. It was a nice little Gorey collaboration'.

Over 100 schools have been in contact with Emma since hearing about the book, and she has even had support from her own former teachers at Bunscoil Loreto, Gorey.

'I want the book to be a resource of some kind but so far teachers have been saying that this is exactly what they need.

'Ireland tends to have a bad name for mental health, but the amount of people that have supported me and have been willing to help with getting the word out there about it, from strangers to locals, it's huge and it makes me very proud to be Irish'.

Emma hopes to continue trying to break down the shame and stigma that has been associated with mental health difficulty in adults, and her next title aims to be a tool that both adults and children can use together.

Although at the early stages, it will explore a parent suffering from a mental health issue from the perspective of a child.

She hopes it will be a starting point for families to talk openly together about emotions and mental health.

To find out more about Emma's work, visit emmacahill.ie

Wexford People