By Manka Kasha
Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha is on sale now.
I was an extremely anxious child. Saying “hello” or “thank you” to adults, phone calls, interacting with other kids—all these day-to-day activities were my personal hell (and, who am I kidding, in many ways they still are). But I never told anyone—growing up in Russia in the 1990s—no one talked about these things, people were just struggling to get by. Unpacking this baggage now, all these years later, I’m really glad that we as humanity (in various parts of the world) are slowly getting better at these conversations. However, there’s still a long way to go for us to be able to help ourselves and our children.
Because every child has experienced anxiety at some point in their life. Whether they’ve been through a traumatic event or a big change like starting a new school or moving, many things can cause anxiety.
So how can a picture book help? Probably in more than one way. We all know how important it is for kids to see themselves in cartoons, books, or movies. And that doesn’t just apply to appearance and culture—reading about a character who is experiencing the same emotions can help normalize them and offer a child some much-needed reassurance. Not only that, it can serve as a starting point for a conversation.
It can be difficult for many kids (and adults too actually) to talk about their emotions. And that means instead of reaching out and asking for help, some might try and hide their feelings out of fear of not being understood or taken seriously, or shame. But sometimes seeing a character in a similar situation can help kids open up about what they are going through. “What is this character feeling?” “What could possibly cause it?” “What can they do to overcome it?” “What can be done to help them?” Asking such questions and discussing them with a parent, caretaker, or teacher might help children to feel seen and safe and accepted, while also helping adults understand the emotions the child is experiencing.
My debut picture book Small Knight and The Anxiety Monster tries to explore this idea of feeling helpless and terrified and then finding courage within oneself. Small Knight has to go through a lot of things that make them anxious and as a result, has to face the Anxiety Monster. The tricky thing is, the monster is invisible to everyone but Small Knight. And that’s how it often is with anxiety. How do you explain that there’s a giant monster following you when no one else can see it? And what do you do if, unfortunately, it refuses to be defeated for good? Can it be tamed or gotten under control?
I hope that people will enjoy Small Knight’s story and share it with their kids. I also hope to see more books that allow a scared child to say “oh. If this character feels that, it means that it’s okay, and there’s nothing wrong with me”, and can lead to more discussions that let us all emphasize that feeling anxious sometimes is normal, and our anxiety doesn’t define or characterize us as people and doesn’t make us less brave. Because normalizing anxiety and talking about mental health with our children—especially as we’re going through all the challenges and grief of these hard times—will help make them feel safe and understood, and therefore make our world a little bit better.
Maria Biktimirova, aka Manka Kasha, is a University teacher born and raised in Russia. She has a postgrad degree in English Language and Literature, and is reluctantly trying to work on her PhD in her free-from-drawing time. When she is not teaching her students (who are absolutely the best), or drawing, she prefers to read, listen to cast recordings of some musicals, or binge-watch TV-shows. Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster is her debut picture book.