Sunday 30 May 2021

When Anna Came to Stay

When Anna Came to Stay by Maddy Tyers, illustrated by Siobhan Skipworth (IP Kids) HB RRP $26.00 ISBN 9781925231779

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

May is a healthy, happy girl but she struggles with the transition to a new school. Enter a ‘new friend’, an eating disorder personified as Anna, who quickly takes over with rules about eating and exercise and a barrage of criticism and abuse, until May is a shadow of her former self. Her worried family finally manage to reach through to May, banishing ‘Anna’ and gradually restoring her to a positive path.

Statistics on young people dealing with body image concerns are truly alarming, showing children as young as eight are expressing dissatisfaction with their body shape. An approachable, sharable, and relatable resource for tackling this with that age group is definitely needed - and this book looks to provide just that.

This is a valuable resource dealing with a topic many children and parents find difficult to tackle. That said, caution is warranted in selecting, sharing, and debriefing. Parental (or other trusted adult) guidance is strongly recommended: this is not the sort of book to hand over to a young person to digest alone.

Anna is presented as a real character - so real that confusion is likely particularly in younger readers, again reinforcing the need for guidance. But the author’s own experience of eating disorder clearly informs the choice of a physical embodiment and the harrowingly negative dialogue and creates true empathy in readers who may not have that first-hand experience.

The illustrations are key to communicating Anna’s role in May’s life and the transition May makes from healthy to ill and back again. Colour and proportion are used to great effect. However, Anna looks more adult than child or teen, and while this may be intentional, it does slightly confuse the character’s purported role as May’s friend.

Given the prevalence of body image concerns and eating disorders amongst our children and young people, this book should be recommended for a broad audience from 6 to 12 years old. It will speak to anyone who is susceptible to negative body image as well as friends and family who could benefit from deeper understanding. 

Note: Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues should contact Butterfly Foundation, National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 or For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14.

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