Review: Alora’s Dreams by Jamie Shelly and Sam Surka

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Alora’s Dreams

by Jamie Shelly & Sam Surka

Paperback, 32 pages, illustrated

Little Steps Publishing, Sydney, 2020

Towards Darkness, With Love

It’s often said that the best picture books for all but the youngest of kids contain at least a little bit of darkness. I’m thinking of the gnashing teeth in Where The Wild Things Are, the ghostly disappearance in Possum Magic, the bear and its dark cave in We’re Going On A Bear Hunt… there’s even the shadow of quotidian existential dread in Alexander’s drawn-out and inevitable Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day. Adults may think it’s a comedy, but peers of Alexander know: it’s an epic drama.

Clearly, I have read – and possibly overthought – a lot of picture books for young children. I’m a father of three as well as a psychotherapist, so no surprises there.

Alora’s Dreams also seeks to bridge the light and the shadow, with some love and wisdom from a grown-up. It’s a simple tale of a little girl who has lovely dreams but awakes after a nightmare uncertain about what to do. Her dad pops her on his lap and opens a book from the adult world that offers advice about coping with painful dreams. 

Alora realises she has to face her ‘shadows, dragons, serpents’, but that in the presence of these painful things it helps to bring her attention to thoughts of positive and meaningful things in her life. Then the shadowy creature of her nightmares transforms and Alora can dream freely, with ‘no fear too dark or dreary.’

This book is lovingly written and illustrated by experts, but I needed different kind of expert in childhood dreams to road test it for me.

Happily, I can report that my primary school-aged son really enjoyed this book. He easily picked up and sang out the meter and rhyme of Jamie Shelly’s words and loved Sam Surka’s vivid and playful illustrations. He didn’t find the beast from Alora’s nightmare too spooky, and even found the message about nightmares useful for the middle of the dark night when it’s most needed.

It’s a great message: Dreams have a purpose. They help you learn and grow, and often they’re light and fun. But sometimes dreams are so dark you need your trusted adult to help you find ways to cope with feeling so unsettled. The good news is that it’s doable, and a rich inner nightlife is there to be cherished for all its light and shade.

As a therapist I think this applies as much to us very big kids as it does to the little ones! But of course I would say that. Don’t take it from me, take it from my son, a dreamer if ever I knew one: It’s a good read for a good night’s growth.