Today’s offering is one of those rare picture books that is aimed at adults and delivered in an extraordinarily moving way. Debi Gliori, most famous for her popular fantasy stories and kid-level picture books, has created an absorbing portrait of depression and hope in her new picture book Night Shift. We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
A groundbreaking picture book on depression with stunning illustrations.
With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi’s own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.
‘I have used dragons to represent depression. This is partly because of their legendary ability to turn a once fertile realm into a blackened, smoking ruin and partly because popular mythology shows them as monstrous opponents with a tendency to pick fights with smaller creatures. I’m not particularly brave or resourceful, and after so many years battling my beasts, I have to admit to a certain weariness, but I will arm-wrestle dragons for eternity if it means that I can help anyone going through a similar struggle.’
The first clue that this isn’t your average picture book comes from the cover and size of Night Shift. At A5 size and with a rich-feeling cloth-bound cover, it’s obvious from the off that this isn’t necessarily a book a child might pick up. Fans of fantasy will be drawn to the dragon on the front cover and will be rewarded throughout because Gliori has chosen to represent mental illness – in this case depression – through the medium of the dragon.
The story starts simply enough. A woman is a bit tired, a bit stressed, has trouble sleeping. She is followed around by a small dragon who, while maybe a bit annoying certainly isn’t immediately recognised as malignant in intention. As the story continues however, the dragon gets larger, the woman’s reality more fragmented and fanciful and it seems like she couldn’t possibly find the tools to escape from the new landscape of fear and sadness in which she lives her life.
And then…a feather.
The monochromatic, graphite and charcoal illustrations throughout perfectly capture the sharp contrasts of depression and anxiety, as certain experiences stand out starkly while others blur around the edges. In each vignette it is possible to see the small changes that eventually lead to a sense of being overwhelmed; in which some small thing has somehow taken over a life. The text on each page is sparse, but the words skilfully chosen to reflect the common cliches that the depressed often hear from friends, family and therapists.
A brief afterword from the author describes her journey through depressive illness and her inspiration in creating the book. Books like Night Shift are an important stepping stone on the way to making mental illness visible in the public eye, and something that is acceptable to talk about. If you have ever experienced depression, or know someone who has, I would suggest seeking this book out.
Until next time,