The Not-So-Scary Dog
Written by Alanna Propst
Illustrated by Michelle Simpson
32 pages • Published 2021 (Magination Press)
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Tommy is terrified of dogs. When he gets an invitation to a big birthday party at his neighbor’s house, his heart sinks—he can’t possibly go, the dog is enormous and scary! But instead of staying away, he and his mom hatch a step-by-step plan to face and overcome his fears in time to enjoy the party. This gentle introduction to the concept of exposure therapy for kids will help them deal with phobias.
Dr. Annie's Takeaways
Recommended for: This book is a fairly fun introduction to exposure therapy and could be really helpful for therapists to use when introducing this concept to children. It’s especially relevant for a child who has a fear of dogs, but it could apply to many specific fears (e.g., fear of spiders, snakes, clowns, elevators, heights). Caregivers who are familiar with the concepts of exposure therapy and feel prepared to support a child in facing their fears in this way may also find this book useful for an at-home read.
Would a child like it? A child who is afraid of dogs would likely appreciate Tommy’s solidarity and would enjoy seeing him conquer his fear. The rhyming verse makes this story as not-so-scary as possible.
Evidence-Based Practices: Exposure
Tone: Upbeat, encouraging
Story Quality: This story is told in a rhyming verse which makes the book friendly and unintimidating. The rhythm is mostly smooth and uncontrived, and it’s a decent story, despite also packing in a lot of therapeutic information.
Illustrations: Colorful, friendly cartoons that are perhaps a bit generic.
Representation: Tommy is a boy with light brown skin and brown hair. He has a mother who has light brown skin and black hair. Tommy has a positive interaction at a park with a dog whose family includes a White boy who uses a wheelchair. His friend who is having the birthday party is a Black boy. At the end of the story, a girl with olive-colored skin and purple hair shares with Tommy that she also has a fear of dogs.
Psychological Practices: This story is a great introduction to exposure therapy. Tommy and his mother make a list of feared dog-related activities, starting with something that doesn’t feel too hard and working his way up. These included: looking at pictures of dogs online, watching dog videos, going to a dog rescue and watching dogs play, swinging at a park with a dog nearby, petting a dog, and going to a birthday party with a large dog (and giving the dog belly rubs!). The story shows how Tommy feels afraid at first, when he does a new challenge, but after a while, his fear decreases and with practice, he feels ready to level up to the next challenge.
Concerns: Not all children experience a reduction in fear over the course of an exposure challenge, although this does very often occur. Recent research suggests that a reduction in fear isn’t necessary for an exposure challenge to be successful; if a child is able to make it through an exposure despite feeling afraid, it’s still a success and they still learn that they are able to tolerate a feared situation!
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