Don’t let your ice cream melt while you’re counting somebody else’s sprinkles.
Now, it’s a well-known fact I LOVE ice cream, barely noticing incidental toppings in my eagerness to tuck into its creamy, silken wonderfulness. However this is a sentiment (and well-known meme) I can relate to, at least in part. While many of us, young and old, develop repetitive habits that can be interpreted as obsessive, it is when unwanted reoccurring thoughts, fears and sensations (obsessions) dominate actions and compel repetitive behaviours (compulsions) that the illness, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) becomes apparent. It’s this obsessive desire to reduce or alleviate the fear of a consequence occurring that many can relate to, myself included. Fear can spark many things…even story lines….
Sometimes picture book ideas spring up out of nowhere. I can’t recall exactly where Oswald’s story came from or why the urge to tell it hammered at me so strongly , but once he slipped into my life, he was determined to stay and be heard. Oswald Constantine Dorian Messweather’s tale first bubbled to life during a flight from Brisbane to Singapore. In just under eight hours, Ozzie as he affectionately became known to me, invited me into his precise and anxious world. I knew I had to treat him gently yet couldn’t wait to share his tale of overcoming, or rather managing, OCD with the world. This is his story.
Mess and disorder upset Oswald. Even the complexity of his own name is enough to set Oswald’s legs jiggling and his palms itching with anxiety. To combat his unease, Oswald obsessively counts his take-everywhere pocket pals – his crayons. It is a compulsion he finds comforting but also extremely exhausting.
Oswald’s obsessive preoccupations distract him from everything and everyone else around him, until one day Oswald is encouraged to use his penchant for perfection and eye for detail in a class project. With the help of his crayons, Oswald’s classmates create something spectacular, which helps Oswald realise just how valuable he is in spite of his anxieties.
Oswald is not a picture book that focuses intently on the educational perspectives of children with OCD but rather more on the emotional aspects associated with this debilitating condition. Oswald is caught in the grips of needing to be in control of the messier aspects of his life and like many young children suffering from obsessive worrying and anxieties, wants to stop but can’t. By allowing Oswald to take control of his anxieties and employ them with purpose, Oswald gains room to breathe and an awareness that they need not govern him.
Siobhan McVey’s evocative stylised illustrations help reinforce as well as soften the prose which is occasionally metaphoric and curt. Ribbons and swirls of colour speak for Oswald, depicting the intensity of his emotions through their form and complexity and deliver a sense of hope and enlightenment.
Unhealthy reoccurring anxious thoughts can inhibit daily functioning in the most corrosive ways. Nearly 3 per cent of Australians experience OCD with children as young as six displaying symptoms. Causes and triggers are many and varied however, this picture book endeavours to create a timely and gentle medium, which parents and carers can share with young children to encourage deeper discussion and promote emotional and mental healing in a non-instructive way.
Published: 28 March 2021
Illustrator: Siobhan McVey
Publisher: Wombat Books, $24.99 (HB), $14.99 (PB)
ISBN: 9781761110184 (HB) 9781761110320 (PB)
Format: Hardcover 32pp Paperback POD
Ideal for: 4 – 8 year olds and sufferers of OCD
Published Reviews, Testimonials and Interviews:
I really loved meeting Oswald – a perfect albeit messy name. Dimity and Siobhan have captured in word and illustrations the anxiety and worry which overwhelms these children and stories in their heads they can’t untangle – at home and at school. The sinking boat and then the unsinkable boat (analogy) allows him to rise from the unconscious into hope and safety. Then the lovely teacher picks up his strengths and turns what could be a disability into a creative enterprise that allows him to be proud and accepted. You are a beautiful psychotherapist, Dimity. (I felt) so privileged to read it. Deidre Hanna, Founder, Hopewell Hospice and Paradise Kids
OCD is a condition that can cause distress and is generally characterised by obsessions (recurring thoughts) and compulsions (repeated behaviours). Dimity Powell has written this story to bring this condition to light and give children and parents the opportunity to open up a discussion about thoughts/feelings and behaviours within the family. Oswald’s tendency to resort to his counting when he is feeling anxious or overwhelmed is a common strategy used by people with OCD. And while OCD may not be resolved as simply as shown in the book, it gives the positive message that there are ways of managing OCD, and it all begins with a conversation thanks to the existence of books such as these. Sally-Anne McCormack Melbourne-based Child & Adolescent Psychologist and author www.ANTSA.com.au
Powell takes the reader on a journey of discovery with Oswald. One day, when faced with the exuberance and confusion of a group activity, Oswald learns that his orderly and methodical disposition has some benefits. In fact, being valued for his unique contribution leads to some lovely outcomes for him. Every child who is different must find a way to interface with the world whilst remaining true to themselves, and this story depicts the way that suited Oswald best. Oswald’s world is beautifully depicted by Siobhan McVey’s vibrant illustrations, which capture the thoughts and distress that Oswald faces when intersecting with the external world. A book that will help children who are different feel less isolated, and comforted knowing that there are others with similar challenges. Jo Antareau, KBR reviewer, author, psychologist
Dimity and Siobhan do such an amazing job of placing the reader into Oswald’s shoes, both visually and aurally. Helping the reader understand Oswald’s need to find something to help calm his mind. (Oswald Messweather) is not a guide for teachers or parents, but a window for them and classmates to perhaps gain understanding, or at least compassion. Maybe even a mirror for kids with similar fears and worries, or simply compulsions, to see themselves in a book. To know they are not alone. Overall this is a wonderful book addressing an aspect of mental health infrequently seen in picture books but increasing occurring in our society and schools. As well as a book about empowering a child. I hope Oswald finds himself in many libraries, schools, and homes! Maria Marshall Blog #PPBF
Is there something you want your readers to know about Oswald Messweather? If readers, either young or old, are able to recognise themselves in Oswald Messweather and thus realise they are not alone when feeling awkward, fearful, anxious, or overwrought, then I think that is a giant step forward. So many of us suffer from reoccurring thoughts of obsessive doubts and fears, yet we often suffer in unnecessary silence. I hope this book brings OCD out of the shadows and encourages more open conversations with sufferers; about why they act as they do and what we can do to help. Words alone cannot provide all the answers but in stories like these, I hope they have the ability to instill hope, understanding, and positive action. Author Interview with Maria Marshall
On one hand it is very sad to see Oswald’s torment as he encounters scenarios of messiness and disorder in his world but inspiring to hear that he can recover and achieve healing. This book would be a wonderful read aloud in a classroom. I would recommend it hoping that it would be a guide and a help to conquer OCD thus setting kids free from the troubling disorder. Storywraps 5 star Goodread review 5 Hugs Storywraps Rating
I thought that this book was lovely and it will help any parent and child discuss the topic of OCD, something that is becoming more prevent at the moment with the Covid-19 outbreak…The story was well written and I loved the way that the topic was covered, OCD is not just about cleanliness as some may think…A fun and colourful read with some lovely illustrations. Donna Maguire Goodreads review
This well-illustrated picture book depicts a young boy’s experiences with OCD. The text and the pictures work well together, showing the distress that he feels over mess and disorder and the temporary comfort that he derives from a ritual concerning his crayons…I like the message about the importance of a creative outlet…Panda Incognito Goodreads review
Powell has a record of writing about difficult topics in an oblique and non-didactic way. She continues this form with poetic language. The somewhat abstract text is well complemented by McVey’s illustrations. A wonderful feature of the illustrations is that Oswald’s crayons are used as a design device, to frame full pages and illustrative vignettes. And of course, the illustrations are all done with crayon! It is such a versatile medium, illustrating straightforward schoolyard antics, as well as the free and loose colour of the imagination. As such, the crayons in this picture book are a metaphor for how creativity and diversion can help to overcome tangled thoughts. Dr Zewlan Moor Byron Bibliotherapy
Oswald is so relatable to me… he suffers from OCD. It is a wonderful book for children to understand so different and sometimes difficult feelings and behaviors. Mental health is such an important topic to have conversations about at an early age. I think this is wonderful, and I think it will be close to many hearts. Mia Pia Goodreads review
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to writers just started their pursuit of publication?
Umquam noli desperare– Do not lose hope at any time! Work hard, stay alert, progress ever forward no matter how slowly. It worked for the Romans and it will work for you, because somewhere out there is someone who wants to read your story. All you have to do is tell it. Author Interview with Kate Foster