Writer: Susan Whelan
Illustrator: Gwynneth Jones
Published by: EK Books, an imprint of Exisle Publishing (2015)
Karen’s Plot Summary: When Sophie’s worries keep her from sleeping, her family suggests solutions but the only one that works is Mum’s idea to not think about purple elephants.
Character: Sophie is a regular, ordinary kid who goes to school, plays with her friends and spends time with her family. She discloses on the very first page that she sometimes worries, but then we learn about the times she doesn’t worry, which gives us a lovely little insight into her world. As the key theme of the book, Sophie undergoes significant change from start to finish as she learns how to manage her thinking when the worries do come.
Sophie’s family are also very important characters in the book with each family member suggesting something helpful (or not-so-helpful) to help her with her worries. The family were supportive and concerned and I loved the fact Sophie’s fears weren’t trivialised by anyone. It’s a really lovely exploration of a family pulling together to help a child through something difficult.
Story arc & pacing: The story arc is strong with the problem identified early on and some back story given to provide contrast between the times when Sophie worries and when she doesn’t. From the turning point when we discover Sophie’s worries arrive at bedtime, the tension builds nicely through the middle of the book to a lovely resolution.
Sophie worries about simple things initially, such as her favourite t-shirt being in the wash which means she might not be able to wear it, but then the worries increase in complexity when family members try to help her. Her brother gives her a book to help take her mind off her worries, but the title is rather scary and makes Sophie worry even more. I really liked the added depth and tension that the second half of the middle of the story brings. It’s such a good technique for each solution suggested by Sophie’s family to actually create an even bigger worry for her. I particularly liked the final worry before the climax. Dad suggested a nice drink of warm milk with honey but Sophie worried she might need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, or even worse, wet the bed. This is such a genuine concern for a lot of kids and I think it would resonate soundly with the intended audience.
The end of the book runs over a few spreads as Sophie tries her mother’s suggestion of NOT thinking about purple elephants and has a great night’s sleep as a result. There’s also a lovely twist on the last page that I really liked, which is hinted at in the previous illustration.
BEGINNING: Spreads 1-4 (Characters and the problem are introduced/developed.)
We learn that Sophie is relaxed and happy most of the time, but sometimes she gets worried.
TURNING POINT: Spread 5 (Problem is clearly identified; working on a solution)
Sophie’s worrying starts at bedtime and stops her from sleeping.
MIDDLE: Spreads 6-10 (Setting of the scene, increase in tension.)
Sophie shares some of the things she worries about and her family tries to help her, but accidentally give her more (and bigger) things to worry about.
CLIMAX: Spreads 10 (Trouble at its worst)
Sophie can’t sleep, none of the suggestions have worked.
END: Spreads 11-13 (A resolution to the problem.)
Mum suggests NOT thinking about purple elephants. Sophie goes to sleep dreaming of purple elephants, then wakes up happy and full of energy to face the day.
CODA: Spreads 14-15 (A lovely final image or reversal)
Sophie tells Mum she doesn’t need to not think about purple elephants that night. She’s going to think about something else instead (I won’t spoil the surprise!).
Language: The book opens strongly with a simple, 3-word statement: “Sometimes Sophie worried.” I really liked the beginning, which was followed by a three spreads dedicated to times when Sophie didn’t worry. The use of the Rule of 3s gave a good rhythm to the story and it was great to read aloud. There was also some good examples of alliteration like ‘worry on weekdays’.
There’s a nice balance of sentence length and structure through the middle with the more simpler worries represented in simple sentences and the more complex worries expressed in a greater volume of words.
The ending is great and I particularly liked the last page where Sophie decides to think about something else the next night as it put Sophie firmly in control of her story again. It was a really lovely note to end on.
Illustrations: The illustrations have a lot of depth to them and it took me quite a few readings to pick up on all the hidden bits and pieces.
I really liked the way Gwynneth Jones has played with the representation of the individual worries. Each worry that Sophie describes is disproportionately large on the page. For example, there’s a giant apple the size of a beach ball sitting on the bench to illustrate Sophie’s fear of forgetting her lunch. The light and shade of these pages really jumped out at me, especially as they are black and white except for the single object depicting Sophie’s worry.
There was a lot of variety in perspective and angles in the illustrations, as well as different types of frames used both around and within illustrations. There’s some really lovely deft touches, such as the cat that appears somewhere in all the scenes that take place at home. It took me a while to find him at times!
I also really liked the way the resolution has been handled. When Sophie finally goes to sleep thinking about purple elephants, the elephants in her dreams are playing with all the elements of her worries that appear earlier in the story. There’s an elephant sitting on the toilet drinking a cup of warm milk and honey, another elephant carrying a lunch bag, another one wearing her favourite t-shirt. This was a great technique to tie all the elements of the preceding pages into the ending, providing a really cohesive reading experience.
Design and layout: The cover is unmissable with purple elephants galore, which of course is in direct contrast to the text. I think this juxtaposition will definitely make people pick up the book and find out exactly what it’s about.
The font choice inside was playful but very readable and there’s a lot of variety of layouts in the book and I think it holds up well to multiple re-readings.
Lessons for my writing:
– be authentic. Not everything has to be overdramatised. Each of the worries presented were real and genuine concerns for young children and I think the authenticity of the book is what makes it work so well.
– don’t shy away from addressing issues. It’s always hard in therapeutic books to find the balance between telling an authentic story and teaching a skill or addressing an issue, but it is possible to do!
Karen’s final thought: DON’T THINK ABOUT PURPLE ELEPHANTS is a fun read with a serious message at heart. The day I received my copy of the book my Miss 4 couldn’t go to sleep because she was scared of the dark. Talk about perfect timing! We read the book together and she and her brothers chatted for a moment and giggled about what they were going to NOT think about, and then she drifted off to sleep without another worry. Little people can have big worries and this book is an excellent way of introducing a great strategy to keep the worries at bay.
(DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary review copy of DON’T THINK ABOUT PURPLE ELEPHANTS from the publisher.)
Crunching the numbers:
(For information on how to interpret these graphs, please see the graphs on SOMEBODY’S HOUSE.)
Total Word Count Graph:
Word Count by Spread:
Structural Elements Graph: