Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Facing Fear: Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel

Here’s the story. Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his home in the nut tree. He prefers to live a lonely existence. He follows a redundant schedule, rather than encountering the germs, sharks or green Martians that may wait outside his tree. Scaredy is neurotic, but he’s also a loveable children’s character created by Montreal author and illustrator Mélanie Watt.  Scardey Squirrel was introduced in 2006 by Kids Can Press. The book has since sold more than 400,000 copies, has been published in 11 languages, and become a literary series that is now an animated TV program.

The Scaredy Squirrel series humorously mirrors many of the irrational (and sometimes rational) childhood fears. Each book begins with a warning label, asking kids to wash their hands with antibacterial soap, brush their teeth, or check under their beds for monsters prior to reading the book. It then follows the obsessive compulsive rodent as he confronts his fears and learns a little bit more about himself. While the series is recommended to pre-schoolers, parents may also find a bit of comedic relief in it, too. As May is mental health awareness month an issue that continues to be dangerously ignored the themes presented in Mélanie Watt’s books provide a lighter, humorous take on issues that so many of us struggle with.

In Scaredy Squirrel at Night (2009), Scaredy refuses to sleep because he’d “rather stay awake than risk having a bad dream in the middle of the night.” To avoid having a bad dream about monsters, unicorns or fairies, Scaredy busies himself with such activities as scrapbooking, knitting, and playing the cymbals. This lifestyle takes its toll on Scaredy, as he begins to suffer from moodiness, hallucinations, and confusion. After a few mishaps he accidentally falls asleep, waking eight hours later – without having nightmares – refreshed and ready to go. This scenario is all too familiar to those of us who push ourselves to stay awake, perhaps not over fear of bad dreams, but the terror of not doing enough in a day. Scaredy's story offers a simple solution to a complex issue

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend (2007) revisits Scaredy’s isolation due to anxiety issues. Since he fears getting “bitten,” he refuses to make friends. Spending day-in and day-out alone, Scaredy spots the perfect friend: a goldfish. While goldfish aren’t known to make the most exciting friends, they are one hundred per cent safe! After compulsively composing his signature to-do lists, Scaredy leaves his nut tree to introduce himself. While outside his comfort zone something unexpected happens: he meets someone new! A hyper-active, toothy, germ-laden dog. After not being bitten and experiencing a little fun, Scaredy actually re-evaluates his friending policy. By reading the story, children can confront their own anxieties over meeting new people (adults who have been hurt in the past and have apprehensions about being “bitten” again can also benefit).

The latest instalment, Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party (2011), visits Scaredy’s phobia of social engagements. The furry little control freak meticulously plans a party – for one – to avoid being surprised by such things as confetti and ponies. (That’s normal.) While he is the only one attending said party, he does not skimp on the details. He even makes George Costanza-like lists of small talk topics for him to use. Of course, things go awry for Scaredy and, once again, he finds himself having a good time.  

While Scaredy’s fears are made to seem ridiculous, to help us make light of the fretful world we live in, they are also quite inspiring. Mélanie Watt cleverly examines the stresses of a wide range of common psychological issues from occasional anxiety to debilitating agoraphobia, but all with a sense of empathy and humour. In the end, it’s clear that, like so many of the worries we had when we were children, everything usually turns out alright.

 Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment