Episode 67: Riley The Brave | Books for brave kids with big feelings with Jessica Sinarski

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our guest is Jessica Sinarski. Jessica is the author of Riley the Brave, Riley the Brave Makes It To School, and What's Inside Your Backpack. She's also clinician, consultant, and parent educator who equips parents and professionals to be healers for hurting children, especially those with adverse childhood experiences and/or trauma. We talk about her books and her great resources for parents and children, as well as swapping some great book recommendations. 

Visit RileytheBrave.org and BraveBrains.com for more resources for parents, educators and community professionals. 

Check out all the great books from today's episode on the Library Laura bookshop storefront.

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Jessica Sinarski wrote Riley the Brave, a book that I found out about on social media all the way back in 2018 when it was first published. I purchased the book for my in-laws, who at the time were just embarking on their journey as foster parents. They didn't enter the journey with the ultimate goal of adoption (although many families do!). Rather, they saw the need, the fact that they had a large home and time and resources to devote to children in need of a safe place, and felt like God was leading them in that direction. Their story unfolded gradually over the last several years. They've served as respite caregivers  and foster parents for several children and sibling groups. They have now ended their journey as foster parents with the adoption of three siblings this summer. And, in no small part due to this book, one of the children is now named Riley. For all these reasons and more, I am so excited to be sharing this conversation with Jessica Sinarski with you on the Library Laura Podcast today.

Riley the Brave tells a simply-worded story with brightly colored illustrations about a little bear with big feelings, and is perfect for kids. But it also is great for parents or caregivers. The book has some in-depth backmatter that helps explain the idea of  being in our "downstairs" brains where we may feel like a tiger (acting big & scary or lashing out), a turtle (withdrawn or scared, doesn't ask for help), chameleon (blending in or avoiding attention), squirrel (don't want to share), or porcupine (prickly and grumpy), rather than like a brave bear cub in our "upstairs brain." 

Riley the Brave helped me personally as I tried to understand the experiences and responses of all the different children who lived with my in-laws the last several years. As Jessica puts it, "A lot of times the same behaviors and coping mechanisms that have kept these children safe are now the ones that are getting them in trouble in a safe environment." Kids who have had to take care of themselves can find it hard to trust a "safe big critter" to take care of them. And seemingly small events can lead to big reactions if one doesn't feel safe. 

 This summer, I got a chance to read an advanced copy of Riley the Brave Makes It To School. It's a good story with great resources for little cubs and big critters as they are making it through daily transitions like leaving for school. I'm happy to see another Riley story out in the world! 

What's Inside Your Backpack is a story perfect for kids in about 2nd to 5th grade. It uses the illustration of a backpack, books and bookmarks to talk about the things that might way children down and how to unpack and address them. "Bookmarks" are bright thoughts and tools to help work through "books" of difficult life experiences and intense feelings like shame, having an unsafe parent, or worry. I think the illustration is great, and the bookworm inside me loves the fact that it uses bookmarks and books to explain such an important concept! 

Books Jessica Recommends

When we talked about Jessica's reading life, I learned that she has always loved audiobooks. She mentioned that her grandparents recorded books on tape for her when she was a child, complete with a "ding" sound to prompt turning the pages. Later, she would listen to books on her Walkman tape player, then upgraded to CDs on a portable player during her commute. She's thrilled with how easy audiobooks are these days, with streaming and mp3s through places like libraries, Audible, and Libro.FM

She reads lots of books and research about brain science, trauma, and therapy for work. So when it comes to reading for fun, she enjoys "fluffy" books that make her laugh or help her escape. She mentioned enjoying the work of Carl Hiaasen, calling it outlandish, absurd, and definitely not politically correct. She also has a soft spot in her heart for Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Jessica enjoys books about espionage when she's looking for escapism but is feeling up to a bit tougher or more emotional storyline, such as The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies by Jason Fagone, and A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell. 

Some books that Jessica comes back to repeatedly about children and brain science are:
Jessica also reads books with her children. A few they've enjoyed together recently are  

Books Laura Recommends 

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon - A historical fiction tale of espionage based on the real-life experiences of Nancy Wake. Given Jessica's appreciation for spy stories this is a must-read. 

Terry Pratchett's books, starting with the Tiffany Aching series - I think Jessica will appreciate the brilliance of Pratchett, and suggested she begin with Wee Free Men. 

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series - You know I can't go more than a few episodes without mentioning this weird and wonderful series. It's absurd and outlandish, and also has the spec-ops angle that's not unlike espionage...Anyway, I think it might be a good fit for Jessica. 
Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden - knowing that Jessica loves Anne of Green Gables, I wanted to be sure she knew about the graphic novel adaption, which I think is lovely. 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - A 2021 Newbery Honor and Odyssey award nominee. This story is about two girls in foster care and brilliantly handles some really tough issues. This book isn't for everyone, but (according to the bookshop.org description): "In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other." 

The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - Historical fiction about a girl who gets evacuated from London and the woman she lives with...and the issues they both have to work though. 


Be sure to pick up a copy of Jessica Sinarski's books for yourself or someone you know who needs them! 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours, 

~ Laura 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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