No matter the weather, we can face it together...
The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm was written with the specific intention of helping children heal from traumatic experiences and develop strategies to build emotional resilience. Authors LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo consulted extensively with childhood trauma and grief experts in order to create this engaging resource for families and caregivers.
The book guides children through a journey of emotional healing, using the metaphor of "swallowing a storm" to demonstrate what happens when we bottle up intense emotions. Coping strategies for releasing and transforming anger and pain are embedded within the story. Discussion questions at the end of the book help parents and caregivers facilitate a healing dialogue, so that children can identify and process their emotional “storms” and identify positive coping strategies to deal with their personal challenges.
Through use of color, expressions and settings, the illustrations visually capture the emotional journey of trauma and its aftermath. In the beginning, Rhino's world is "chock-full of magic" - and also full of vibrant color. Even Rhino is bright blue! After he swallows the storm, he fades to gray - a visual representation of grief and depression. Eventually, once Rhino lets go of the storm inside him, the color returns to his world - and he turns bright blue again.
One of the main themes in the book is that there are many helpers in our lives who are there to help us find light and hope during dark times in our lives. LeVar Burton admired the philosophy of his friend and mentor, Mister Fred Rogers - and we incorporated the message of strength through community into the book's characters and plot. Papa Mouse, the kind spider, the strong kangaroo, those optimistic bumblebees, a wise old tortoise, and our peaceful whale stand in for human helpers in our neighborhoods.
Human helpers just like YOU.
Below are ideas for activities to enrich your story time and provide further opportunities for emotional healing and resilience-building.
Make a Rainstick
We developed this beautiful “resilient rainstick” project with A Window Between Worlds, a wonderful organization that trains leaders to deliver art as a healing tool to cope with trauma. The rainstick offers a beautiful and audible reminder of things that make your heart happy and strong whenever there’s a storm inside. The attached lesson plan is suitable for group settings and classes, and can also be used at home with your family.
A New Point of View
Did you notice Rhino’s bird friend? Bird is sitting on Rhino’s back when Rhino swallows the storm and can also be found hiding in many of the illustrations before reuniting with Rhino at the end. Go back through the book with your child and imagine what Bird is feeling and thinking. Ask your child to retell the story from Bird’s point-of-view, either through verbal storytelling or writing it down and illustrating with colored pencils or crayons. We’ve included a story template – but you can also use materials at home.
My Beautiful World Collage
After Rhino lets go of the storm, "his vision was clear like the sky above" and he is once again able to look at his world “through eyes filled with love.” Encourage your child to think of things they love about their world (or things they loved and remember about a loved one who has died or moved away). They can then create an art piece about it, by drawing pictures or cutting out images and words from old magazines and make a collage. This could also be used as a "vision board"to imagine life as they would like it to be.
Embody the Storm
In The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, Rhino “shook and shimmied and stomped in the muck / and just as he’d hoped, that storm came unstuck!” Moving your body (also called somatics) is a great way to shake out tension and express your feelings. You can move like Rhino – acting out what it feels like to have a storm trapped inside your body and then releasing it. Or, try BEING the storm, following the Kindermusik teacher’s suggestions below.
Often, just writing down what’s in our heart can help heal it. You can use the attached writing page templates, or any notebook or diary. Let your child write whatever they feel, or use the discussion questions at the end of the book for writing prompts.
Take a Breather
“If you feel blue, the whale said with a spout / Remember to breathe, breathe in and breathe out!” Do a whale-breathing meditation exercise with your child. Sit or lie down comfortably, taking deep, slow breaths and letting them out with an audible whoosh. Listening to actual whale sounds can enhance the experience – there are many recordings of whale sounds available for sale and at your library, or tune into a YouTube whale song meditation like like the one below. Note: whale music could provide a soothing audio accompaniment to any of the art projects listed on our projects too!