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Dragon Tamer

Children's author Stephanie Painter's new picture book helps kids to manage anger

photo by Marci Lambert

If you’re a regular reader of Memphis Parent magazine, chances are good you’ve seen Stephanie Painter’s byline. She has been a long-time contributor here, frequently writing interesting features as well as our popular  Can-do Kid profiles.

But Painter’s real dream has been to become a children’s book author. With several attempts under her belt, this summer brought rejoicing as Stephanie finally realized her dream. Her first book, Liz Tames a Dragon (and her anger), was published in August, and is now available at The Booksellers at Laurelwood (also online at Amazon.com & brightkidbooks.com). It shares a shelf with those tales that inspired Painter’s journey as a writer, including her childhood favorite, C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Painter says she fell in love with picture books when her two girls were little. She strove to create something meaningful, tales that would touch the hearts of children.

Her story ideas draw from daily life. In Liz Tames a Dragon, her main character, Liz, is a little girl who relishes having Saturdays all to herself with her mother, until her younger sister, Meg, begins having ideas of her own. Sharing life with a sister isn’t always easy, and Liz soon becomes so mad that her anger morphs her into a fire-breathing dragon. She’s certain Meg has cast a magic spell until she realizes only she has the power to tame this dragon.

Painter says the idea for the story came from a period in her own daughters’ lives when her oldest, Kara, would lose her patience with younger sister, Ella. When drama ensued, Painter realized their struggle was one universally shared by families.

“When young kids get angry, it’s a new feeling and they aren’t practiced in dealing with it,” says Painter. “Sometimes they react with physical signs that they’re losing control.” When she looked around for a book that might help her daughter, she quickly realized there wasn’t much out there.

“Anger is a healthy emotion; it’s our body’s way of saying, ‘I don’t like what’s happening.’ Kids just have to find other ways of communicating their feelings instead of acting out,” says Painter.

“When young kids get angry, it’s a new feeling and they aren’t practiced in dealing with it.”

Young children ages 4 to 8 will respond to the colorful illustrations created by local artist Jeanne Seagle. When Liz turns into a dragon, it’s easy to see how frightening angry outbursts can be.

The author also worked closely with social worker Susan Elswick and child therapist Marlo Zarzaur to put together an activity guide for parents and therapists. Both professionals stressed the importance of helping children learn how to name and recognize what they feel.

The activity guide describes the physical symptoms of anger: an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, as well as identifying the feelings that can cause a fit of anger, such as disappointment, embarrassment, or saddness. Anger becomes a problem, writes Zanzaur, “when it grows too big and takes over our words and actions.” The guide also gives parents specific ways to help their children identify when and why they’re feeling angry and how to calm down.

While Liz’s story first appeared in these pages, it is one that needed to be shared with a much wider audience. Hopefully, families who read Painter’s book will learn how to become dragon tamers, too.

MEET STEPHANIE AT THE BOOKSELLERS AT LAURELWOOD. SATURDAY, OCT. 5 AT 2 P.M.

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