Mental health charity raises funds for extraordinary children’s book
- Credit: Emma Graham
Mental health charity Suffolk Mind has launched a new crowdfunding campaign for a unique children’s book. As part of the East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, head of education Ezra Hewing introduces Sammy the Sea Squirt – a character created to highlight the relationship between physical and mental wellbeing.
The sea squirt is a remarkable species. Found on pier pilings, rocks, seashells and ships’ hulls, this invertebrate marine animal digests its own brain before metamorphosing into an adult.
But what can the plight of this colourful sea creature teach us about our children's physical and mental health? A unique storybook published by mental health charity Suffolk Mind seeks to answer that unexpected question.
Sammy the Sea Squirt is the main character of a new children’s book of the same name. It was created in partnership with Keep Moving Suffolk to educate children on how to look after their mental health and wellbeing.
“Sea squirts have the most primitive brain that we know of,” says Ezra Hewing, head of education and creator of Sammy the Sea Squirt. “When a sea squirt leaves its spawning ground to find a colony where it will spend the rest of its life, it travels across the ocean floor by squirting water. It latches on to the colony and eats its own brain because it never needs to move again.”
The fate of the sea squirt can teach us an important lesson, Ezra says. “If you have a brain, you need to move. When you don't move, pathways in the brain get pruned back because you're not using them.”
This is especially relevant at the moment, as sedentary lifestyles cause increasing concern during the pandemic. “The obvious challenge to being more physically active right now is that we're having to spend more time at home,” Ezra says. “The problem is that we get into habits which are then really difficult to shift.
“If children are not able to move around and get some kind of physical release when exposed to stress, their brains are affected. This can have a negative effect on their development and make them more vulnerable to anxiety disorders and depression later in life.”
The good news, Ezra says, is that the reverse is also true.
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“We know that if children affected by attention deficit disorder (ADHD) are able to exercise and burn off stress hormones, then they become more relaxed, their sleep quality improves and they are better able to focus at school. This leads to better social skills and relationships which support their healthy development, which means they are more likely to have healthier, more satisfying and more productive family and working lives.”
With beautiful artwork and loveable characters created by local illustrator Emma Graham, the book encourages young people to develop healthy habits that will hopefully stay with them for life.
A Crowdfunder page has been set up with a target of £40,000, which is enough to produce 8,000 copies of Sammy the Sea Squirt.
“We want to make the book available for every four and five-year-old when they go back to school in September,” Ezra says. “So, we need to raise enough money to be able to pay for the different stages of its production including printing and distribution.”
The project has also benefitted from a donation from the East of England Co-op.
“The East of England Co-op cares very much about the mental health of young people,” Ezra says. “They were keen to get involved and offered to match 10pc of the public donation, which is very kind.”
Niall O’Keeffe, joint chief executive for the East of England Co-op, said: “The past year has highlighted the importance of wellbeing and physical activity for people of all ages.
"This storybook is an engaging and fun way to encourage children to think about how they can be more active, and provides parents and carers with an opportunity to start conversations about wellbeing, which will also help them in later life. Getting a copy of this book to all four to five-year-olds is something we’re very proud to support.”
Ezra encourages everyone to get involved and spread Sammy the Sea Squirt’s positive message.
“Please donate whatever you can and invest in the mental health and wellbeing of children in Suffolk,” Ezra says. “If you are unable to donate, follow us on social media and share our updates with your network so that everybody can learn about Sammy the Sea Squirt on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.”
Children also have the opportunity to exercise with characters from the storybook – including Opal the Octopus, Zara the Zebrafish and Caleb the Crab – during online movement sessions hosted by children and young people’s facilitator Louise Harris every Thursday on the Sammy the Sea Squirt Facebook page.
But will Sammy the Sea Squirt choose to stay sedentary or travel the sea? Donate and read the book to find out!
Watch more episodes from the #EastTogether series at www.eastofengland.coop/easttogether