New Children’s Book on Anxiety and Mental Health: A Conversation with Author Shereeza Boodhoo

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is an award-winning therapeutic book based on three major therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and Narrative Therapy.

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is an award-winning therapeutic book based on three major therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and Narrative Therapy.

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is an exciting new children’s book that is revolutionary in many ways: it has managed to capture the seriousness of mental health and combating anxiety while teaching children (and parents) how to navigate through these hardships with faith, love, and dedication. 

The book, colorfully illustrated and wonderfully engaging, takes us through a journey with the main character Talaal, who finds himself facing the previously unknown feeling of anxiety. He explains to his sister:

I started to hear in my head: ‘What if I’m not smart like the rest? Maybe they’ll take all the good answers and I won’t have anything left’. Then it felt like something was moving in my tummy, like a bunch of busy butterflies and I felt really yucky!”

Seamlessly explaining what anxiety often feels like to children while at the same time taking the reader through Talaal’s journey of self-acceptance and understanding, Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is a tribute to the strength of children and their pure faith.

Credit: Talaal and the Whispering Worrier

To make him feel better, Talaal’s sister explains that the feelings of anxiety were in fact the Whispering Worrier, and that the only way to combat the Worrier’s negative whispers was to whisper back helpful thoughts.

Talaal’s sister explains:

You know what else helps? In my head I recite the Quran. It sounds so beautiful, better than any song. I listen to the melody, I feel it in my chest. When I remember Allah, my heart is at rest.”

The book beautifully ends with Talaal encouraging the readers themselves to learn how to whisper to their nervous feelings, and tells the reader: “When you feel the drum-drumming or butterflies, recite a verse that you really like. Hear its sweet sound, deep down inside. Oh! And don’t forget to think helpful thoughts every time. Practice these tips over and over again, until the Whispering Worrier becomes your calm little friend.”

With a final note to parents and caregivers on how to help children who may be experiencing anxiety or stress, Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is a one-of-a-kind book that helps children come to terms with their own feelings as well as learn how to embrace their faith in Allah.

You can find our conversation with author Shereeza Boodhoo, a registered clinical counsellor, below, where we discuss all things mental health, children’s anxiety, and faith in our modern world today.

You can also find Talaal and the Whispering Worrier here.

It feels like the conversations around mental health are only just taking off in our communities – but what about children and mental health? Do you think there is enough conversation around this in particular?

Shereeza Boodhoo: We are breaking out of the mold of understanding ‘health’ to be purely physical, and we are beginning to understand that health also includes our psychology and spirit. However, the mainstream conversation about mental health is mainly being discussed in the context of teens and adults, and is not often inclusive of children.

As mental health is part of our overall health, it also impacts children too. Many people don’t believe that children have stress because everything is taken care of for them. Children have stress too, but it’s just a different type of stress. Children deal with academic stress, social stress, and stress that may stem from what may be happening at home.

In addition, some children also deal with stress from chronic health issues too. Unaddressed mental health concerns that occur in childhood will carry throughout our life and influence so many aspects of our life, which is why I wanted to empower children with skills that will create the foundation for healthy self-talk and coping throughout their life.

What is the story behind you writing down this book – was there anything specific that happened that inspired you or was it a longer process of reflection and thought?

I experienced a lot of anxiety in elementary school, and never felt comfortable speaking out in class. I would have rather melted into the background. I didn’t have the positive self-talk that Talaal and the Whispering Worrier teaches children. 

Those maladaptive thinking styles I had as a child continued to carry throughout my life in work meetings and social gatherings. It wasn’t until I started studying psychology in my 20’s that I learned about the power of my thoughts. I don’t want my little Muslim brothers and sisters to have to miss out on enriching life experiences due to their low-confidence, so I’ve written this book for children ages 5-8 to teach them proven coping skills, including Qur’an recitation.  

Because I experienced what Talaal and a lot of children experience, I wanted to use my education and specialization to empower them with knowledge and skills to manage their emotions and build their esteem at a formative stage in their life.

Inclusion and diversity are important matters in the media when looking at systemic issues. How do you reflect that in your book?

You will notice that the book includes a diverse population at the school and in public spaces. I wanted to ensure that every child could somehow see themselves in this book. It also features children of different abilities including a young girl in a wheelchair who enjoys basketball. Readers will also note the modern gender roles of the parents.

In addition, Talaal’s sister is a practicing Muslim who does not wear hijab, which forces us to acknowledge that we cannot judge someone’s faith or wisdom by their appearance. Also, in North America we live on First Nation land, so it was important for me to have a First Nation woman represented in a position of leadership, which is Talaal’s teacher.

It can be challenging to create awareness about a niche resource like this. How has it been received so far?

I’m happy to share that Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is now an award-winning children’s book! In 2020, it won an award for Important Topic with the Daybreak Press Awards. It has also been sold worldwide in Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Britain, and the U.S., to name a few.

Stress and doubt impact us all, and I’m excited to bring healthy coping skills to Muslim children all across the world.

Why do you think children, in particular, might be more susceptible to mental health issues? How do you hope your book might help combat this?

The way children behave when they have anxiety and low-moods may be misunderstood as disobedience and behavioural issues. As a result, as adults, we may put more labels and pressure on these children, only exacerbating those behavioural presentations. Avoidance may just be anxiety. Perhaps they don’t feel confident and their Whispering Worrier is telling them they will fail. The Whispering Worrier is our frantic and unchecked negative self-talk, and Talaal’s sister teaches readers how to calm and subdue the Whispering Worrier.

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is an award-winning therapeutic book based on three major therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and Narrative Therapy. These empirically proven techniques teach children to be aware of their body when they become nervous and anxious, to challenge their negative thoughts with helpful thoughts, and to use mindfulness through Qur’an recitation in order to keep calm and hopeful.

When looking for support from a clinical counsellor, the fees can be costly. Talaal and the Whispering Worrier condenses the therapeutic strategies for children and their caregivers into one cost-effective, easy to understand and fun, engaging piece of literature.

Do you have any personal advice for those children or parents of children who might be struggling with mental health issues?

One major lesson from Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is that anxiety and low-confidence is something that we all experience, no matter the situation or our age. The story also teaches children that with persistence in small efforts and patience, we can make improvements.

Talaal’s growth also serves as a reminder to parents and caregivers that they will not see change quickly, and they must also have patience with their children. It was only after one month that Talaal was ready to begin opening up in class after making many small changes and utilizing healthy coping skills.

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier also has a unique, bonus feature that educates caregivers on how to support and coach their children. The book includes questions that a therapist might ask a child when using a story to engage them in a thought-provoking and self-reflective conversation. It also gives parents Do’s and Don’ts to ensure their own success in supporting their child. 

I didn’t want this book to give caregivers and children the false belief that reading a story will change their life, but that it will be a resource that walks them through their journey of calming their Whispering Worrier.

How can people learn more about Talaal or how to support children with anxiety or low confidence?

I post regular tips for parents and caregivers on my Instagram account @TalaalsWhisperingWorrier. I touch on topics like the behaviours of anxious children and how to support them, and how to open up the communication between adults and children.

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is an essential resource for every household, Islamic school, and counsellor that serves Muslim children, and I recommend Muslims purchase a copy for their home, local Islamic school, and family and friends.

Finally, if there is one thing you want readers to take away from your book, what would it be?

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier is a therapeutic Muslim children’s picture book that teaches healthy coping through positive self-talk and calming Qur’an recitation. One thing I want children and caregivers to take away from my book is that we are able to overcome our challenges with knowledge, patience, and of course the help of Allah.

You can find Talaal and the Whispering Worrier here.



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