The Awfulizer

Learning to Overcome the Shame Game

Written by Kristin Maher
Illustrated by Robert Dunn
32 pages  •  Published 2019 (National Center for Youth Issues)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: 1st grade through 4th grade.
Publisher's Summary: James’ life changes the day he meets The Awfulizer, a strange monster with a giant nose and breath that smells like pickles. The Awfulizer follows James everywhere he goes and reminds him of all the things he has done wrong. When James finally tells his parents all about The Awfulizer, they help him understand that talking about his feelings gives him a super power. It turns him into The Awesomizer! And James realizes that even though The Awfulizer might be big and persistent, up against the Awesomizer, he will always lose.
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: Great to read with a child who has a lot of negative self-talk who will benefit from learning to challenge these thoughts. This book pulls for kids to draw their own versions of the Awfulizer and to start thinking about what lies their Awfulizer is telling them about themselves.
Would a child like it? It’s not the most engaging story, but as far as talking about shame goes (which for many people, kids included, is at the bottom of their preferred topics list), it’s pretty non-threatening and almost cute, and the message is great for a kid dealing with an Awfulizer.
Evidence-Based Practices: Cognitive restructuring
Tone: A bit silly, empathic, hopeful
Story Quality: This story doesn’t feel quite as emotionally resonant or authentic as some of my favorite books, but it does provide a great metaphor for shame that is therapeutically useful enough that I am overlooking the slightly lame story.
Illustrations: Colorful watercolor illustrations. The Awfulizer is a fairly cute, fluffy green monster that grows as James’s shame grows and shrinks the more that he opens up about his feelings to his parents.
Representation: James is a White boy with a White mother and father. His classmates are fairly diverse, and his teacher is a woman of color. He appears to live in a suburban neighborhood (similar looking houses with white fences).
Psychological Practices: This book defines the feeling of shame (“that feeling you get when you make a mistake and think that it makes you a bad person”) and demonstrates how the things shame tells us are often inaccurate (“The Awfulizer plays the Shame Game to try to convince you that you are no good and no one likes you. And that, James, is a lie”). It also reminds the reader that everyone feels shame sometimes, and that talking about it with a loved one takes a lot of courage but can really help. The green fluffy Awfulizer is the reason I included this book on the Bookshelf. It introduces a way for children to externalize shame (i.e., talking about it as distinct from the person experiencing it), and The Awfulizer is cute enough to be a bit funny and obnoxious enough to make it clear that shame shouldn’t be trusted. Kids as young as two years old experience shame, and it’s often a significant component of depression. Being able to label shame and recognize when it’s lying to us is hugely valuable. (James’s mother’s mantra that “I may make a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I am a mistake” is also a great reminder for perfectionistic kids and their grown-ups. “When you know you’ve done something wrong, you apologize, learn from it, and let it go.”)
Concerns: None

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