A new children’s book focusing on mental health is being praised by both the mental health and agriculture sectors.
Written by children’s author and Safer Farms’ health, safety and wellbeing advocate Harriet Bremner, “Use Your Voice” is a collaboration with Elle Perriam founder of Will To Live and their dogs – Poppy the sausage dog and Jess the Huntaway.
For former primary school teacher Bremner, it’s her third book in a series aimed at rural children under her brand Gurt And Pops.
“It’s about spreading important messages, we need to give children the tools to be able to cry when they feel like it, talk to someone about how they are feeling without judgement and have a tribe around them who will stand by their side through thick and thin,” she says.
Using a black dog to tell a story of ‘the black dog’, the book follows Jess the Huntaway – around a South Island high country station.
Jess was also the mascot for Will To Live’s “Speak Up Tour” and travelled with Elle Perriam around the country hosting events in local pubs, to encourage farmers to speak up about mental health.
In the book, Jess loses her bark and can no longer do her job as a high country station mainstay.
Sad and depressed, she has lost her ‘voice’ and can no longer ‘speak up’.
Sausage dog Poppy and her farmyard friends then help Jess through her tough time whilst also delivering important messages about mental health to children.
It encourages them to speak up about how they feel, that it’s okay to cry and to tell others about their feelings.
Illustrated by Dana Johnston Imagery – Farm Strong, The Rural Support Trust and the Mental Health Foundation have all supported the book and its release.
Bremner was also awarded the $10,000 Mental Health Foundation’s Like Minds, Like Mine creative grant, with a resounding wave of support.
“The fact that a panel of experts were able to see my vision was truly empowering,” Bremner says.
Perriam says she’s in awe of Bremner’s writing and when approached, knew she had to get in behind Poppy and Jess’ story.
“This book has the power to create a culture change about how we talk about mental health in New Zealand. Society has always told our children for generations to ‘stop crying and don’t be sad’, which has conditioned us right through to adulthood to hide, push away, and not accept emotions,” Perriam says.
“We need our young ones to understand that it’s okay not to be okay and to be able to release and process emotions as they go through life. It’s essential to be healthy and I know that this book is going to allow that to happen, with simple and easy to understand messaging and tools that will stay with the child and reader.”
Bremner firmly believes story telling is the most effective way to change a generational culture.
“For New Zealand’s culture and stance on farm safety and mental health to change, we need to start with our future generation,” she says.
“After seeing how many deaths there are in the agriculture industry, I decided that it was time to target our future farmers to help start conversations about farm safety in a practical sense,” she says.
Use Your Voice is officially launching at the Wanaka A&P Show on Friday and Saturday however presales are now live at https://gurtandpops.com/.
Bremner and Perriam also plan to tour through South Island schools to spread their messages with Jess and Poppy in tow.
With at least three schools already confirmed, the duo are hoping to get support from sponsors to take the tour further.
The pair want children to be equipped with the right tools to be able to look after themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
Bremner’s “why”, she believes is to help others following her own personal tragedy.
“I want to help New Zealand rural children to be informed and educated because the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to our lives or our mental health and wellbeing is not good enough anymore because it can happen to anyone at any time. I also want to make it ok for people to talk about grief.”
More about Gurt and Pops:
Harriet Bremner’s first book, Bob ‘n’ Pops, was written in memory of her late partner James (Bob) and his most loved farming companion, Poppy.
“The story is based around friendship and how in life if we surround ourselves with the best people and friends we can achieve anything, no matter how ‘low our tum’ or ‘short our legs’,” she says.
Her second book, Be Safe, Be Seen is based around farm safety and ensuring that children are being taught to use common sense.
Poppy teaches Ted the miniature fox terrier in the story to use his ‘Think safe Brain’. Ted thinks that because he has got his high-vis vest on and his helmet nearby, he is the king of safety.
Poppy explains to him that if he isn’t making good decisions and using his common sense then he is at risk of having an accident, especially when he is choosing to drive around like a maniac. Then he has a near miss on his motorbike while a tractor is reversing in the yard.
“Poppy teaches Ted about the blind spot behind a tractor, at the back of the book there is also a page specifically showing children where it is not safe to stand. This is an adults responsibility to have these conversations with children about why you cannot or do not stand there,” she says.
“Children, like adults, need to have a reason, a concrete one. If they truly understand why they should not do something then they are less likely to go and do it.”
“Show them what would happen to them if they actually stood in that spot. We are not protecting our children by not talking to them, we are wrapping them in cotton wool and hiding them from the realities of life.”