Picture Book Perusal: Night Shift…

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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.

And hope.

night shift 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,

Bruce

Scaling Mount TBR with some Irish MG Fiction: Brilliant…

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Believe it!

I have managed to knock another tome from atop the teetering peaks of Mount TBR!

Today I present to you Brilliant by Roddy Doyle, a delightfully Irish bit of middle grade fiction, dealing with depression – both psychological and economic – and its insidious effects, with a touch of magical realism. I spotted this one a while back and was taken in by its enticing cover and promise of mental health related content. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Uncle Ben’s Dublin business fails, it’s clear to Gloria and Raymond that something is wrong. He just isn’t his usual cheerful self. So when the children overhear their granny saying that the Black Dog has settled on Ben’s back and he won’t be OK until it’s gone, they decide they’re going to get rid of it. Gathering all their courage the children set out on a midnight quest to hunt down the Black Dog and chase it away. But they aren’t the only kids on the mission. Loads of other children are searching for it too, because the Black Dog is hounding lots of Dublin’s adults. Together – and with the help of magical animals, birds and rodents – the children manage to corner the Black Dog …but will they have the courage and cleverness to destroy the frightening creature?

brilliant

Regular followers of this blog would know that I adore a good bit of UK fiction, and if it’s aimed at a young audience, then that’s even more reason to rejoice. It’s not often though, that I come across an Irish fiction novel that is so quintessentially Irish. Prepare yourselves now for stereotypically twee cooing over the wonderfulness of the Irish and their Irishness.

I could not help laughing and laughing at the dialogue in this book. Not because it’s hysterically funny, but because it’s so delightfully, drolly, mirthful. Observe this exchange between the protagonists’ parents (and their granny, chipping in alzheimically at the end):

“Is there anything worth watching on telly?”

“Your man is on.”

“Who?”

“That fella who used to be on the other thing. That fella with the hair. You know him.”

“I don’t.”

“Ah, you do.”

“I don’t. What about his hair?”

“It’s not his. It’s a rug.”

“Oh, him?”

“Who?”

“I’m not watching him.”

“Who?”

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Honestly, it’s just brilliant. And obviously, I had the whole story narrated by Ardal O’Hanlon in my head which upped the mirthfulness by the power of one million. If they don’t get Ardal O’Hanlon to voice the audio book, it will be a travesty.

In fact the linguistic patterns of English-speakers in Dublin are key to the plot of this book. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that as a reader with a non-preference for magical realism, the magical realism in this book is deftly done.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit with this review, but I suspect it’s the lingering after-effects of reading this book. It really is a surreal adventure that will have your head spinning by the end with the wonder of it.

And the silliness of it.

And the seriousness of it.

And the brilliant Irishness of it.

It’s even got a real life vampire.

Brilliant.

I’d definitely recommend this to any readers of middle grade fiction looking for something with a voice all its own.

Although I wouldn’t recommend choosing it as a read-aloud unless you’re proficient in the accent of a Dubliner.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

A Picture Book Oddity: The Princess and the Fog…

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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.  

princess and the fog

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?!

AWOOGA!AWOOGA!

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,

Bruce

*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.

 

 

For the kid inside the grown-up suit: Nurturing one’s jaded inner child…and a Fi50 reminder!

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Afternoon thrill seekers! Today I’ve got some special picture books to share with you … particularly if you are feeling the weight of the world pressing down upon your worthy and attractively shaped shoulders.  But before that, here’s a reminder for the Fiction in 50 crowd!  Fi50 for March will kick off on Monday and our prompt for this month is:

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If you want to join in all you have to do is come up with a piece of fiction or poetry or whatever in 50 words or less then link up to the linky that will be in Monday’s post, or leave your link in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, click on the button at the top of this post.  We had some new faces again last month and it was a lot of fun seeing the creative interpretations of “Love in the Time of….”  So light the fire of those creative cannons and get those powder monkeys working double time!

But on to the picture books….you know what I love? Coming across a book that is clearly written for adults, but is sneakily packaged in picture book format to trick the unwary into thinking that it’s just kid’s stuff.  Today I have two such sneaky tomes of which I’d like to make you aware.  These are definitely for the inner child who has been a bit neglected and downtrodden and needs a bit of solace and support.  Let’s all take a moment to consider our neglected inner child.  Poor little guy. Or girl.  *sniff* Sad book

First off, here’s the poignant, powerful and just plain awesome Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (obviously) and illustrated by Quentin Blake.  If you have ever suffered from depression or know someone who has, you NEED TO GET THIS BOOK.  It is possibly the most accessible and authentic and user-friendly explanation of the ebb and flow of experience for a person with depression that I’ve ever come across.

In simple and compelling prose, Rosen describes how his behaviour changes when he feels “sad” and how his experiences of grief and loss have contributed to this state of affairs and how sometimes his sadness has nothing to do with anything that he can pinpoint….it just “comes along and finds you”.

The illustrations and colour palette perfectly compliment the tone of the book as it moves from powerlessness to hope.  Get it. Do. You won’t regret it and it may resonate (if you’re beholden to the black dog) or enlighten (if you’re blissfully untouched by such a mental illness).

Next up is a book I happened across at the library and was caught by the intriguinhappily ever afterg title…Happily Ever After is So Once Upon a Time by Yixian Quek and illustrated by Grace Duan Ying.  The beautiful cover art also drew me in and I wanted to know what this book was about.  On reading the first page, in which the narrating little girl asks, “Will Prince Charming and Snow White still love each other after ten years? Does anything ever last?” I decided that I had to find out more.  So the book was duly borrowed to be perused at leisure.

The first half of the book consists of the little girl asking fairly bleak sorts of questions in the same vein as those on the first page.  She questions the hype and hyperbole of the “happily ever after” delusion and in rather depressing fashion, notes that “happiness, like bubbles, burst all too quickly.”

“So why is this a book to nurture one’s already-doing-it-quite-tough inner child, Bruce?” I hear you cajole.  Well, it’s the second half of the book in which things pick up.  After a bit of mournful introspection, the little girl seems to take a turn into a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and decides that happiness is hers to access, provided she has the right mindset.

All up, it’s an odd little concoction, but certainly worth it for the beautiful illustrations alone.

Right then. Enough faffing about with this nurturing business…I suggest you set that inner child to work creating a masterful piece of sensitve, inspiring fiction. In no more than 50 words.

See you on Monday!

(Oh and don’t forget to enter the two giveaways I have running right now. One finishes today so be quick! Click here or here)

Bruce

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