Sam’s Pet Temper

Written by Sangeeta Bhadra
Illustrated by Marion Arbona
32 pages  •  Published 2014 (Kids Can Press)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Publisher's Summary: The hero of this picture book, Sam, has to wait for everything on the playground one day, and this makes him mad. “He got madder and madder until he was the maddest he had ever been in his whole life.” And then, suddenly, an unusual thing appears. It runs around, shoving and tripping and pinching and stomping, until all the other children have run away…. “It was a Temper.” At first, having a pet Temper is fun. But before long, the Temper starts causing trouble for Sam. And eventually, Sam comes to the realization that his Temper is something he needs to learn to control.
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: This book is best for a child who is ambivalent about controlling their temper and reluctant to use anger management strategies. Perhaps they feel empowered by their temper, or it gets them what they want sometimes. This story uses the metaphor of a pet Temper to show how Temper can be fun and useful until it starts to really get in the way. It presents anger management strategies (e.g., counting to 10, deep breaths) as a way to increase a child’s power and control, rather than Temper being in charge.
Would a child like it? Many children would enjoy this book. The Temper is naughty, and a bit cute, and it does some things that could make a child giggle. The ending is empowering.
Evidence-Based Practices: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Tone: Energetic, a bit tongue-in-cheek
Story Quality: I appreciate the metaphor of a Temper as a mischievous pet. In contrast to many books on this topic, this story acknowledges the ambivalence that some children feel toward their tempers (e.g., temper can make children feel powerful, or get them what they want). It’s decently well-written, and it is subtle enough to be a good story while also conveying an important message.
Illustrations: Intricate, whimsical drawings with a subtle botanical theme. The illustrations are predominantly black, white, sepia, red, and teal, and the Temper is drawn as a squiggly black ball with limbs and a face. It’s cute and mischievous, rather than scary.
Representation: Sam is a White boy with a sister, mother, and father. He has a male teacher.
Psychological Practices: This story is best for helping a child to weigh the pros and cons of a temper and to shift from viewing their temper as a source of power to recognizing the power of being able to manage their temper. It first acknowledges the benefits to having a temper–at first, Sam’s pet Temper helps him to get what he wants (i.e., free reign at the playground). The Temper is fun and makes Sam feel powerful. After the Temper gets Sam into trouble, he decides to try to get his Temper under control. He remembers how his dad calms down (counting to 10), and he gives it a try, and then he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. At first, his Temper gets stronger and fights back, but eventually his strategies work, and his Temper shrinks and loses power. The story ends with his Temper leaving him alone and playing with another kid at the playground.
Concerns: The adults in Sam’s life are not helpful at all–they send him to time-out and send him home from school early. His parents tell him to control his Temper but don’t give him any tips for how to do this. Luckily Sam has been paying attention to how the adults around him control their tempers, and the strategies he uses work. The fact that Sam figures it out on his own might be appealing to children who have a knee-jerk reaction to reject adults’ suggestions, but the adults in this story really don’t model anything helpful. Another tiny criticism: one of the techniques that Sam tries is saying the alphabet backwards (apparently his teacher has the class do this to calm down). If a child is able to do this, amazing, but I can’t do this, and I imagine that this might increase some children’s frustration rather than help them to calm down.

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