A campaign to donate a children’s mental health book to all UK Jewish primary schools in the country launches this week.
Sophie Says It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, by author Esther Marshall, aims to provide youngsters and their families with the vocabulary to talk about their emotions.
The book is aimed at children aged two to eight and follows Sophie and her friends Jordyn, Jamie and Bunny as they journey through Jamie’s feelings.
It is dedicated in memory of Esther’s sister, Rebecca, who tragically died by suicide last year.
Esther, 31, is running the campaign with the support of ORT UK, the Jewish education charity. The campaign, which aims to raise £50,000 to distribute 7,000 copies of the book alongside a related activity book, is also being backed by the Jewish News.
Esther explained how conversations with her sister in hospital spurred her on to launch the campaign.
“She kept questioning why we’d grown up with so much privilege and said it’s because we will do something with that to make the world a better place,” she said.
“It went around my head for a while, and eventually I just thought, I’m not doing her words justice, and that I should do this with the book, and that’s why I’m doing this now.”
Rebecca, a recently qualified doctor, is described by family as “the most caring person” you could hope to meet, and was a talented artist.
Although Rebecca could not do the illustrations for the book, her influence is still present on it.
As the family’s shul made an announcement about the sad news of her passing, a rainbow appeared in the sky.
“The sky went dark and suddenly a rainbow came out, and we were looking up thinking, this is a sign, she’s safe,” said Esther, who lives in Mill Hill.
“Three weeks later we went into lockdown and all I would see was people putting rainbows on their windows. That’s why there’s a rainbow on the cover of It’s Okay Not to be Okay.”
ORT UK, the charity, said it jumped at the chance to help children understand mental health through the picture book, said its chief executive, Dan Rickman.
“As an education charity, we aim to equip young people with the tools to fulfil their potential and looking after their mental health is an integral part of this,” he said.
“By raising funds to gift the Sophie Says books for Jewish primary school children both in the UK and across the ORT global network, we hope to encourage thousands of children and their families to follow a path towards good mental health now and in the future.”
The drive, which runs from April 29 to 10 June will also see Esther discuss her book with the renowned broadcaster, Claudia Winkleman.
A previous book in the series written by Esther – called Sophie Says I Can I Will – looks at gender equality.
“I was trying to find this book that I wanted to read to my son, but I couldn’t. And my sister said to me, you can write, why don’t you do it?,” recalls Esther. “I wrote it while I was feeding my son in the night.
“I started to read a lot about behavioural science, and from as young as fifteen months, children can understand where they fit in society.
“And I thought if it’s that young, we should be reading to them now so they can see themselves in the book.”
To help reach the £50,000 target, donate through the ORT UK website or text to donate either £8 (books for 1 child) or £16 (books for 2 children) at ortuk.org/books or texting 8ORT to donate £8 or 16ORT to donate £16 to 70085.
To register for the free discussion between Claudia Winkleman and Esther on 25 May at 8pm, visit ortuk.org/itsok.
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