SALT LAKE CITY — What can fictional monsters and science fair projects teach children about mindfulness and anger management? As it turns out, more than you might think.
“Marvin’s Monster Diary 2,” co-authored by developmental pediatrician Dr. Raun Melmed and BYU graduate Caroline Bliss Larsen, tells the story of Marvin, a lovable monster who teams up with Lyssa, the new girl in school, for the science fair. As the duo works together on their project, they find ways to handle their emotional struggles and teach young readers to do the same.
The book, which was released Aug. 1, is the fourth in the “Monster Diary” book series, Melmed’s brainchild. Previous books feature characters who struggle with anxiety, ADHD and screen time stress. According to Melmed, all four books focus on entertaining children with an engaging story while also teaching them effective tools to handle anger and anxiety.
“If you have ADHD symptoms as a child, no matter what you do, there’s about a 60% chance, or a 70% chance even, of the disorder carrying on into adulthood,” Melmed said. “The research has shown, however, that in situations of anxiety and anger, if you learn to cope through counseling or through learning mindfulness or through using these kinds of tools very early on, you are much less likely to continue on into adulthood with ongoing anxiety disorder.”
The main tool the “Monster Diary” books teach is a formula the authors call ST4, which stands for “Stop: Take Time to Think.”
“When you actually stop and take time to think and you take problems out of your guts and put them into your brain, and you actually stop and think, the problems invariably improve, if not disappear,” Melmed said. “And that's what we’re trying to encourage children. That's why it's a mindfulness book.”
Melmed, who directs the Melmed Center in Arizona, created the “Monster Diary” series to help children play an active role in the solution to their struggles with anxiety, stress and anger. He said once children can identify and address their feelings, they no longer feel they are broken.
“They can objectively observe themselves and say, ‘Hey, wait a second. I can do something about this. I can take charge, I can be part of the solution,’” Melmed said. “And the nicest thing about it is that it actually works.”
“Marvin’s Monster Diary 2” is the first book in the series co-authored by Larsen, a Utah resident who works as a full-time editor for BYU Independent Study and as a freelance editor. Although Larsen has always wanted to be an author, she said the opportunity to co-author “Marvin’s Monster Diary 2” as her debut novel practically fell in her lap.
After editing “Harriet’s Monster Diary,” the previous book in the series, Larsen was contacted by the series’ publisher, Familius, asking if she’d be willing to co-author the next “Monster Diary” book with Melmed.
“I was very surprised, but I was very pleased, and I said, ‘Yeah, I would love that,’” Larsen said. “I am a writer as well, but this is my first foray into publishing a book.”
The unexpected phone call wasn’t so unexpected to Melmed, who was impressed with Larsen’s skills after working with her on “Harriet’s Monster Diary.” He said it quickly became clear to him that she was a great writer in addition to being a great editor.
“Her innovative style in providing suggestions to how we could actually improve the book made me think, ‘Wow, this is the person we should be teaming up with,’” Melmed said.
Melmed provided the book’s tried-and-true mindfulness tools and ideas on helping children understand difficult topics like anger and ADHD. He also penned a guide for parents and teachers in the back of the book. Larsen weaved Melmed’s clinical ideas into a creative storyline that aims to engage both children and parents.
“I wanted to make sure there was an actual story that kids could follow and enjoy. I don't think kids are really gonna usually want to sit down and read a self-help book,” Larsen said. “But if there's something going on, if there’s these characters that they can relate to, they can kind of see themselves in those positions and they're also learning at the same time.”
When it comes to their hopes for “Marvin’s Monster Diary 2,” the authors are on the same page: If it helps even one child or adolescent to better handle their emotional struggles, the book is a success.
“It'd be nice that it would be a national bestseller. I doubt that’ll happen,” Melmed said. “But if we can change one life by doing this, and let a child feel that they're not alone, that we understand them, that we will give them space for them to work out their own problems, and even to support them in that, then that's going to be a beautiful thing.”
If you go …
What: Caroline Bliss Larsen book reading and signing
When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2 p.m.
Where: The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "Marvin's Monster Diary 2 (+ Lyssa): ADHD Emotion Explosion (But I Triumph, Big Time)" from The King's English.