Helping children understand “the butterflies in their tummy sometimes"

The debut book from Brighton author Reka Hall explores children’s mental health – “the butterflies in their tummy sometimes.”

Reka Hall
Reka Hall

When Millypop and Her Mummy Visited Ice Cream Land comes from Olympia Publishers, £4.99 paperback on Amazon, Waterstones and on Olympia Publisher’s site.

Reka, aged 35, said: “My six-year-old daughter was never a good sleeper. She had trouble being alone in her room during the night and her nightlight always had to be on. One winter night, she was five then, she got really scared, she had a bad dream, and for weeks I had to sleep in her room to calm her down.

“I was worried about her anxiety, so I researched forums, and children mental health sites, and I found a method called, control the thoughts.

“The idea behind was to ask questions that would prompt her to think about something else. The positive use of imagination, to think about something calm and fun, meant she could take her mind off the scary dreams.

“Whilst asking questions about her favourite place in the whole wide world, she introduced me to Ice Cream Land. She described this wonderland with every little detail; from the ice cream trees, marshmallow bouncy castles, chocolate slides to the candy floss clouds, colours and shapes; you name it.

“I was listening to her and all I could think of was how happy she was…We repeated this exercise for months. Her sleeping improved and she started sleeping through the nights. This method also made her more confident and open, and she talked to me more about how she felt more regularly.

“I wanted to raise awareness of children’s mental health issues, specifically of the little ones who are not sure why they feel butterflies in their tummy sometimes, that feeling scared or anxious is ok, we all felt that way once I am sure, especially in the middle of COVID-19 However, with this method and using their own imagination they could create their own safe place and get through this.

“Mental health is close to my heart, I myself went through a period when I had to find solutions for my anxiety.”

Reka added: “After I’d seen Ice Cream Land through my daughter’s eyes, I wanted to create something that would capture this beautiful wonderland. She loves reading and we always enjoyed picture books that had an adventure.

“With some encouragement from my friends and family I decided to make this happen. I wrote a first draft. I wrote short stories before. I always loved fiction and fantasy lands. I also started writing a blog, but was never brave enough to submit any of my work.

“I realised how much I enjoyed this project when I stayed up late evening after evening, not being able to stop. The first draft was ready by Christmas 2018. I tried to imagine what the pictures would look like and with little tweaks and added elements I wanted to try and draw the pictures myself.

“Next day, when I was drawing some of these ideas, my daughter walked in the room smiling. ‘Mummy, are you drawing pictures of Ice Cream Land?’, she asked. That made me more confident. She didn’t know this would become a book back then.

“I sent my manuscript and sample pictures in spring and by autumn 2019 Olympia Publishers accepted it. They assigned an illustrator to the book, who made my draft pictures come alive and my first book got published and the dream came true.

“I would like to let mums in my shoes know that this method exists, and who knows how many wonderlands would come alive if they tried it out with their little ones. I am certainly grateful as my daughter reminded me how much fun it was being a child and how great it is to have a place to escape to, especially in these extraordinary times.

“The book is aimed at four to seven-years-olds and hopefully will prompt them to love reading even more, and who knows they might also think of their own favourite places too.

“At the moment it is a stand-alone book. However depending on the upcoming year, I am hoping to make a sequel if the first book will do well.”