The charismatic ‘Book Doctor’ from London, who hula hoops while reading or multitasks while listening to audio books, was at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2022
Sharjah, May 22, 2022
If your children do not want to wash their hands or are being bullied, London-based bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud has an anti-dote in the form of a book she has co-authored with Susan Elderkin titled The Story Cure. The charismatic Book Doctor was speaking on “What is Bibliotherapy and How can it help you?” at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) 2022, in Expo Centre Sharjah.
While The Story Cure is a manual for grown-ups to help their children with issues they face in various phases of their lives – such as the superhero phase or teenage – and makes book suggestions for each, there is The Novel Cure by the duo to treat ailments from depression to apathy to shyness in adults. In short, there is a cure in the form of a novel or short story for all who care to read, said Berthoud, who gives one-to-one consultations at The School of Life in Bloomsbury, London.
She calls bibliotherapy an art and not a science, though it involves giving a book ‘prescription’ after studying what a client likes to read or what is happening in their lives. “Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a brilliant story can help you escape from your everyday life,” she noted, adding that reading for six minutes every day is equal to meditating for one hour as it slows down heart rate and breathing and transports you into a different state of being.
The painter-cum-therapist traced the origin of bibliotherapy to ancient Greeks who built theatres next to hospitals, while the advent of novels in the 18th century saw the ‘calm and soothing’ works by Jane Austen, ‘with a certain English sensibility’ being used in the therapy of mentally scarred soldiers during the Second World War.
While agreeing with the audience that Tintin and Asterix comics brought back happy memories of childhood, she reminisced that reading the Moomintroll comics – about little woodland characters with big noses who tackled depression, melancholy, OCD, etc. – by Finnish writer-illustrator Tove Jansson with her parents had been an enriching part of her childhood. She displayed a soft toy Moomin character called the Ancestor she had got herself to remember her late dad and how its presence comforted her.
“The stories you read as a child stays with you forever. That’s why it is important to read with children as much as you can,” she advised her listeners, adding that reading helps create a bubble with the author of the story. She also urged them to set a time and read aloud to their spouses, as it can be a magical experience. Recommending audio books, which as a multitasker she listens to a lot, the author also demonstrated how she read a book while exercising on the hula hoop for 20 minutes.
She recommended that every family agree among themselves to switch off Wi-Fi for a certain time every day and read books, finding a reading nook for the purpose.