I wrote about Francesca Sanna’s stunning work a couple of years ago when The Journey came out. I still hold that book to be an absolute must for everyone, championing a spirit of empathy and compassion for immigrants of all kinds. This new book from Sanna tops my list this year as well. A book about anxiety and fear. A book about challenges in daily life. A book about being new, being different, and just plain being afraid. Uncover the beauty of honesty, friendship, and bravery with Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna, 2018.

What is it about?

This is the story of a girl and her tiny friend called Fear. Fear has been a faithful friend, helping keep her safe. But Fear stopped being tiny and manageable when she moved to a new country. Fear grew. Fear became controlling. Fear began to halt life and growth for the girl. Fear became incredibly isolating.

Then one day a new, possible friend takes a chance and extends friendship with the girl. She is so tired of Fear controlling everything, she takes the risk and responds. Slowly Fear, and the girl, try new things, make new friends, and ultimately discover that they are not alone. Everyone has a fear too. 

Why I picked it

About a month ago a whole bunch of things happened over a short period of time and I suddenly found myself battling a measure of great anxiety in my life. Compounded by stress and lack of sleep, I felt overwhelmed about things that I normally took coolly in stride. I don’t know if my fears themselves or the fact that I was dealing with a sudden extreme fear was worse. During this couple day period, I took my girls after school to our favorite local bookstore for a rainy afternoon stop. My girls know how to handle bookstores as if they’ve lived in one their whole lives (which they kind of have. Ha!) They wandered off in the children’s section and got comfy perusing eye-catching books. I began slowly walking the perimeter, looking for anything that seemed new and interesting. I probably read a couple, but I only remember the moment I spotted this new one by Francesca Sanna. I immediately grabbed it and sat down on a pouf nearby. I devoured the whole thing quickly, delighting in the beautiful illustrations and profound story-creating, when I realized that I was crying. This book was exactly what I needed that day.  

I love this book, because of its purpose and its exquisite illustrations; but more importantly for how the girl handles her Fear. This isn’t a story about overcoming fear or anxiety. It isn’t a tidy ending. This is an amazingly realistic book. The girl tires of Fear’s manipulating grasp, and literally pulls Fear to do something different. She doesn’t lose Fear, she is simply able to get it back into a healthy, tiny, manageable size. I love this.

It also does something that I haven’t seen much in empathy driven books—recognizing the similarities of the seemingly different character with others, by pointing out the fears of both. Rather than an often trite lesson in all of us being human and similar in simple ways, Sanna focuses on the fact that everyone is vulnerable and scared and alone in some way. This is a new level of empathy in picture books in my opinion. Honesty about weaknesses as well as strengths. There’s not really a hero here. It’s all flawed people figuring out how to all play together. This is a beautiful thing indeed.

Who will love this?

This book is for and needed by everyone. Sanna’s work is so beautiful and so moving; it captivates the very young, and moves the heart of the very old. This story is simple and yet deeply complex. It reads quickly but begs you to linger and ponder. I can’t stop looking at the illustrations. Get this for anyone and everyone in your life.

Bonus Gift Pairings

Definitely pair this book with Sanna’s The Journey. I also adore this white, blobby kind of plush stuffie (apparently from Doctor Who, but I wouldn’t know) that looks like the Fear in this book! My daughter’s teacher always suggests kids grab a stuffie and squeezing it when they need help getting out of a particular mood or feeling. Excellent thought for dealing with a fear!

Come back tomorrow for the next book from this year in my 25 Days of Favorite New Picture Books countdown!