If I was looking for a picture book featuring some odd elements, say, for an Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge, then today’s book would surely top them all. Or at least most of them. I am submitting today’s book, The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley, under the categories of Odd Title, Odd Subject Matter and Odd Character. That made your eyebrows raise in slight awe, didn’t it? And so it should.
Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…
“The Princess and the Fog” is picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support.
The story is also a great starting point for explaining depression to all children, especially those who may have a parent or close family member with depression. With an essential guide for parents and carers by clinical paediatric psychologists, Dr Melinda Edwards MBE and Linda Bayliss, this book will be of immeasurable value to anyone supporting a child with depression, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, arts therapists, pastoral care workers and school staff, as well as parents and carers.
So let’s go through the checklist:
A title that’s a play on words? Well that’s odd.
A book about depression aimed at 5-7 year olds? Don’t see too many of them around!
A main character who’s a princess? That’s not odd at all. But a princess with clinical depression?!
That’s the Oddity Alarm ringing at all 5 bells.
As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I simply had to request it, despite the fact that I Really. Don’t. Like. Princesses.
Not the real life ones. I’ve got nothing against Kate Middleton. I certainly don’t have a bad word to say about Mary of Denmark (she’s from Tasmania, don’t you know?).
But I really dislike princesses in literature*. That goes for any age, any style, any kind of princess. I think they’re overused, undercharacterised and I simply don’t understand why they’re promoted as some kind of idol for young girls.
But I put that aside because here was a picture book about depression written for small children.
Essentially in this tale, the princess has a normal, princessy life of happiness, until one day she doesn’t. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as happy as she was before. Nothing has particularly changed. But she doesn’t feel like doing the things she used to enjoy. She doesn’t feel like playing with her friends like she used to. Generally, she just doesn’t feel much of anything good.
The author has done a wonderful job here using metaphor and the evocative illustrations to present to children the feelings associated with depression. I’m sure any child who has experienced depression themselves (or seen it in someone close to them) will definitely resonate with the creeping sadness that is represented by the Fog and the ways in which it absolutely changes the Princess.
As the friends and family of the princess gather round and support the princess against the Fog in whatever ways they can, the princess slowly begins to come back to herself. By the end of the book, there is hope that the princess can once again experience the happiness she had at the start of the story, with the understanding that with help, the Fog can be kept mostly at bay.
I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the book is as strong as the beginning in the way it draws young readers into the world of the depressed person, but this is such a difficult topic for adults, let alone for young children. I applaud the author for addressing such a tricky topic and I think that this book will be a great conversation starter for little ones about depression and, importantly, the things that friends and family can do to support someone who isn’t behaving like themselves.
This is definitely worth a look if you work with early years-aged children in any kind of caregiving or educational capacity.
Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 10/16
Until next time,
*The only exception to my dislike of princesses in literature (or on television) is the northern-accented, pillow-case wearing lass from the UK children’s show Little Princess. Partly because it’s narrated by Julian Clary and partly because her accent is brilliant, her parents are frumpy and she doesn’t wear pink.