What Do You Do With A Problem?, written by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
From early childhood, many of us are very familiar with serious problems that can threaten to overwhelm our lives. Maybe we have some sort of crippling shyness or a history of traumatic experiences that adds a hint of panic to our dealings with others. Maybe we are socially awkward or have some sort of disability or chronic health problem that makes life less enjoyable or that makes us more isolated with relation to others. It can be all too easy for us to lose sight of the resources we have and to feel somewhat overwhelmed in the face of our problems. And if that is true of us as adults, it is certainly easy to imagine that children might be overwhelmed by the problems they face, especially when those children grow up in environments where their parents and other adult figures do not listen very much to them or do not seemingly view the safety and well-being of the children as very high priorities. In such circumstances a book like this and its contents about how problems can become opportunities for growth is of vital importance, because we will have problems, but how we chose to frame them and respond to them is our responsibility.
In this book, a young boy finds himself with a problem suddenly that he did not want. He wonders why it is there and wants to make it go away and ignores it, but nothing happens. He worries about the problem and if it will swallow him up or sneak up on him or take away all of his things. Of course, this worrying spirals out of control and makes the problem loom even larger, making him wish it would just go away and leave him alone instead of being impossible to hide or disguise. He starts seeing the problem everywhere and feels wretched about it. Finally, he realizes he is just making things worse and that he has to face it. And even though he does not relish the thought, he decides to tackle the problem and discovers that like many problems it has something beautiful inside, namely an opportunity to be brave. The young lad draws appropriate lessons from this, and learns to see problems differently in the future as opportunities for something good once you look for them.
This book is unsurprisingly the sort of positive affirmation that people expect to read in the contemporary age when it comes to problems. There is no hint here that the problem is the fault of the child–all too often children suffer for diverse reasons and have to be resilient and able to cope without having been to blame. And certainly a great many people far larger than the book’s small hero can relate to problems looming large that are not as massive as that when we get around to facing them. This book is meant to be affirming, but it is certainly a very vague book. Part of that is because the problem is never specified. And while this may make the book easier for kids to relate to, it makes the book as a whole a lot less powerful than it could have been. The song becomes the written equivalent of those vague affirmation anthems like “Brave” or “Fight Song” that are designed to pump other people up and encourage others but are not specific about the sorts of problems we are facing or what we can do about them. It is good to relate to problems in general, but the problems we have are varied and often very specific in nature.