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Book review – Zoe and Zak’s Pain Hacks

Zoe and Zak’s Pain Hacks by Dr Joshua Pate.
Review by Tim Atkinson

A portrait photo of Tim Atkinson.

Tim Atkinson is an author, freelance writer and Vice-Chairman of the British Pain Society Patient Voice Committee.

Contrary to the long-held (and, thankfully, long-discredited) notion that babies “can’t feel pain” we now know that, just like the rest of us, they can, and do. As do children. Estimates vary, but it’s sometimes thought that 15-30% children worldwide may suffer chronic pain. But all the books, support groups, therapeutic interventions and self-management strategies are geared to adults. Or they were, until now.

Because Zoe and Zak’s Pain Hacks, a series of five books by pain scientist, educator, clinician and father of three Dr Joshua Pate is the very definition of something you didn’t realise you needed until you see it. And then you wonder how you managed without it!

Written in rhyming couplets and with full-page, colour graphics and illustrations, the books are bright, engaging, educational and inspiring. Pain can be a drag and learning about it isn’t always much fun. But this series slays those dragons with aplomb. Quite honestly, it’s so good it’s even likely to be picked off the shelf by children who aren’t in chronic pain. My 8yo daughter certainly found it interesting enough to read the series cover-to-cover (and she’s not a pain-sufferer)!

And, like any good teacher, Pate knows precisely how to sugar the scientific pill, making the books accurate, informative and entertaining all at once.

They’re interactive too, with space at the end for the reader to respond to what they’ve learned, reflect on it, write down their own feelings about it and – in book five of the series – make their own action plan for overcoming pain.

And although it’s written specifically for kids, I can think of quite a few adults who would enjoy working their way through Zoe and Zak’s pain journey, not least (of course) any adult carers involved.

The Storylines involve Zoe Zoppins’ uncle who has an alarming accident, with a surprising outcome – not least the fact that they all learn that feeling pain does not necessarily mean your body is damaged (Book 1); in Book 2 Zoe visits her Grandma Lizzie’s science lab where a colourful experiment reveals something amazing about pain and the brain; then, in Book 3, Zoe, Zak, and their classmates explore the brain through a mind-blowing virtual reality experience; Zak Zoppins Trains his Brain (Book 4) explains how Zak is retraining his body and his brain with his action-packed action plan, and in Book 5 Zoe is ready to make an action plan of her own and we see all she has learned so far, not least that having an action-packed-action plan can be life-changing!

My only slight reservation is that, at 50 Euros a set (the books are not available separately) they are likely to make quite a dent in any UK school or library budget. But with the online activities and resources available on the companion website ( they’re a bargain. Highly recommended!

Zoe and Zak’s Pain Hacks, by Dr Joshua Pate is published by NOIGroup (ISBN 978-0-9873426-2-1)

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