My name is Claire Ward-Dutton, and I am a British web designer and mum of two young children. I am also the founder of Little Parachutes, a new website which aims to help young children with situations and issues they may encounter as they grow up.
The idea for Little Parachutes came to me at the time my son Oscar (who was then a toddler) started to be frightened at bedtime, claiming there were ‘monsters under the bed’. He has always been comforted and entertained by picture books, so I instinctively started searching for a story that I thought might address his fears. Oscar wasn’t alone: as Virginia Mallin, a psychotherapist who’s since starting working with Little Parachutes as one of our team says: “For you as a parent, finding the book that gives you and your child a mutual way of dealing with a life-event, a subliminal anxiety or the need to find an emotional outlet, is one of the best things you can do for and with your child.”
However I quickly realised that, despite the fact that there is an abundance of picture books published which cover situations and issues affecting the very young, these are often really very tricky to find.
As an adult facing a problem, we tend to browse for titles, and these titles invariably describe the problem (eg, ‘Coping With Divorce’). This searching method simply doesn’t work with children’s picture books , which often have completely abstract, unrelated titles (such as ‘The Last Noo Noo’ by Gill Murphy, which is a story about a little monster giving up his dummy, but you wouldn’t guess this from the title!) Even if you do get lucky and find a title that gives you a clue to the content within, it is often still very hard to figure out whether the story is suitable for a child’s particular situation (book publishers rarely provide a full synopsis of fiction books – adults don’t want to know what happens at the end of the story – but this is often vital if you are trying to judge the suitability of a picture book).
So I embarked on a journey to provide a service which would soothe this particular headache. Little Parachutes was born: a website which makes it simple to search for picture books that address situations and problems affecting young children.
As an experienced web designer, I knew that I could tackle the construction and design of the project myself (which was essential, given the fact that there was no development budget!) I spent each day looking after my son and worked on the website at night (I was pregnant at the time and I knew I had to get everything ready for launch before my daughter arrived as everything tends to be put on hold with a newborn in the house!) I relied on the goodwill and expertise of friends and contacts to support the enormous task of sourcing, reviewing and checking the collection of picture books contained within the website. Children’s book illustrator and author Joanne Partis generously created some stunning illustrations for the site, which have greatly enhanced its look.
Now, after two years of head scratching, brain-picking, many late nights behind a keyboard and long sessions in the local library, Little Parachutes has launched and has been greeted with enormous enthusiasm by everyone who has visited. We’ve had thank you letters pouring in from parents and grandparents, teachers, social workers and therapists. Publishers are keen to include their books, and journalists and bloggers (like the lovely people at Made By Joel) want to know the story behind it.
It’s a pretty simple thing but has turned out to be really effective: everything is tagged, so by browsing its library you can quickly find large numbers of stories which feature subjects such as sharing, moving house, potty training, eating healthily and visiting the doctor. Also included are more challenging situations such as bereavement, adoption, divorce and serious illness in the family.
I wanted Little Parachutes to benefit charity as well, so all proceeds from book sale referrals are being passed on to Winston’s Wish, a UK children’s bereavement charity. Every 22 minutes a British child loses a parent, and Winston’s Wish helps 500 children a year via its in-depth support services. It also provides a helpline which benefits a further 7,000 children each year. Winston’s Wish is such an amazing and worthy charity and I’m delighted that we are able to pass on donations and give them extra publicity.
I am pleased to report that I found a picture book which helped Oscar to stop worrying about monsters under his bed. Now if I can just get him to eat peas…