Thursday, 4 January 2018

Children's books about depression - Some amazing books that deal sensitively with a tremendously difficult subject - A ReadItTorial.

I apologise in advance for this week's ReadItTorial, the first of 2018. This is going to be a tough read, particularly at a time of year when most people are looking ahead and wanting their year to be hugely positive and happy. But for a lot of people 2018 may begin just as 2017 ended.

Long-term sufferers of depression will fully understand that bizarre and dark feeling of isolation that kicks in at this time of year.

It's almost impossible to explain to folk who don't suffer from depression what it feels like, so today I found myself dipping into the archives of the blog to find many examples of children's picture books that - quite often unexpectedly and beautifully - describe some of the feelings, emotions, frustrations and experiences revolving around this most sensitive subject.

Shaun Tan's sublime "The Red Tree" is often my go-to book if anyone asks for advice on children's books that deal with depression.

It's not a clinical description by any means of what sufferers go through, yet its symbolism, its expertly described metaphors and the sheer surreality of what it is actually like to try and map out your time and get across your own personal experiences as a sufferer of depression really is matchless.

I remember reading this one to C, we had a library copy and she'd picked it out purely from the artwork. Yet it was a book I kept returning to again and again, until we bought our own copy. I think it's the fact that it both allows you to interpret its core message in a way that means something to your own experiences, and yet covers common ground so many sufferers will identify with and nod at that makes this book truly special.

Sometimes when you're suffering from depression, getting out of the front door is a huge struggle. 
Moving on, a book that is like holding up a mirror to my own experiences - particularly after C was born...

"The Colour Thief" by Andrew Fusek-Peters and Polly Peters, with illustrations by Karin Littlewood does an amazing job of describing the collective experiences of a family when one member is suffering from depression.

The story shows life from both sides, both for the father (the sufferer) and the son who struggles to understand what's wrong with dad, what dad is going through, and draws the simple metaphor of colour being drained from the sufferer's world in order to try and describe what it feels like every day until things start to get better (which always, absolutely always takes a lot of time, patience, caring and understanding).

This was one of the first children's books I remember reading that wholly identified something that many books miss. That weird feeling of loneliness that depression sufferers experience - even when they're in a supportive family environment, even when they have what would seem to an outsider to be an enormously fortunate, happy and stable life.

"Willy and the Cloud" is something that unexpectedly covers quite a lot of ground for a book that is designed for much younger readers. Fair enough that it may not be the first title you'd think of when thinking about children's books dealing with depression, and yet it's amazing how several scenes in this fantastic story really hit the nail on the head.

There's one particular scene where Willy is languishing under the pestilential cloud that follows him everywhere, watching in envy as all of his Gorilla friends have an amazing time out in the sunshine at the local park.

The messages in this are extremely clear, and even though it is the very lightest of touches on the subject of depression itself, it really does an incredible job of symbolising and describing so many things that depression sufferers will identify with.

Last and definitely by no means least there's Debi Gliori's astonishing "Night Shift".

Debi, a long-term sufferer of depression herself, describes in great detail in flowing prose some of the feelings and emotions surrounding depression.

This is a distinctly different approach for a children's book and I must admit to finding it an extremely uncomfortable read the first time I encountered it. It's largely written as a monologue, from the character of a young girl who struggles to find an adequate way to describe what she's going through, what's actually wrong, and what can be done to help.

Depression sufferers will nod at those three points, as they are the hardest things in the world to describe when you're going through this yourself.

I've just picked four titles for this article but it seems completely incredible to think that in the realm of children's books you will find more understanding, more perfect descriptions and comparisons, more help and solace in dealing with this tricky and complex subject than in many grown-up books.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2018, and hope that you find time to investigate these wonderful books yourselves.