Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Meh: A Story About Depression




Illustrations and text by Deborah Malcolm
ThunderStone Books 2015

Reviewed copy: my own


Back of book
Have you ever been sad?
Sadness is an emotion that everyone feels at some time or another. But sometimes you might feel a sadness so long and so deep and dark that it seems impossible to find happiness. That kind of sadness is called depression. Meh is a wordless tale that shows one boy's journey through depression.
Did you know?
More than 350 million people of all ages in the world suffer from depression. But there is hope and help available. When you are in a dark place, reach out to someone you can trust.

More from Missus B
Recently it was agreed that, our resource shelf at work was in need of some fresh new books to support children & families with particular life issues. Of course,I was more than happy to take on this task. Working in a family support setting, books are a valuable tool and it's always great to find new material that can help a child, family or group of children. 

Regarding stories that address mental health issues, there's a limited pool of resources out there. Often, the stories are about a parent with depression. These are of course, supportive books but within them, 'depression' is packaged as an adult issue. And maybe that's how we prefer it- after all, childhood depression wasn't even recognised as a disorder until the 1980's. Maybe it's easier to think of this illness as something which affects adults or teenagers only? Yet, at any given time, 5% of children and adolescents are suffering from depression, and children as young as 5 can be diagnosed with it (see links at the end of this post for more info.)

So, when I came upon Meh: A Story About DepressionI was immediately drawn to it, because the main character is a child. Instantly I wanted to know more about the lonely, vulnerable boy on the cover. It's hard to decipher his age-he could be anything from five to ten years. In the opening pages we see him happily enjoying life. He gazes at a cat-shaped cloud in the sky, admires the birds, colours bright pictures, splashes in puddles and reads contentedly. 
 With floating clouds, swishing grass and (on the next page) a water-colour rainbow, there is a positive, warm energy surrounding the boy

But then, we see a dark, curling shape behind him. Nervously, he glances back as it begins to grow . The shadow is connected to him, but something he is frightened of. Suddenly, it swallows him and the boy tumbles downwards. With only gnarly, old trees surrounding him, the page and the boy himself are drained of colour. 
 The absence of words is powerful. It allows the reader to internally process what's happening and connect with the story in their own terms.

Alone in the dullness, he discovers some small, white footprints which lead to a little white cat. New companions, they run and climb through the darkness. The cat comforts and encourages the boy, nuzzling his face and giving him the strength to carry on. The boy becomes more hopeful and the cat grows stronger until together, they have the strength to roar -  literally cracking the walls surrounding them. They escape from the darkness into a warm sunset. 
The white cat could be a symbol for many things-a friend, a helpful adult, or feelings such as hope or courage.
Such symbolic images can help children understand concepts which aren't easily translated into words.The concrete images make it easy for all children to identify with the feelings associated with depression.

I love how this book invites the reader to quietly think, reflect and interpret. The visual narrative alone tells the tale. This is a lovely book for a child to look at alone or for a group of children to discuss together. It gently introduces the topic of childhood depression and at the end, there are questions to discuss. Children are encouraged to explore the meaning of the story, the feelings of the character, their own feelings and what they think depression may be. It's an excellent tool for supporting emotional literacy, self awareness and empathy skills.
Coming out of the darkness and into the light-the boy no longer has a grey, dull appearance and colour has returned to the illustrations

This is a great book- it had me at Meh! So,I ordered a copy for work and bought one for my own personal collection (I would prefer it though, if the book was finished in gloss instead of the matt-like finish of the edition I reviewed. In a picture book, gloss pages are more durable and do the illustrations more justice.)

If you'd like some professional information about Childhood Depression, check out the links at the end of this post.

Happy Reading,
Missus B
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You may also be interested in the collection of books I have compiled on my 'Feelings/Emotions' Page, with titles including  The Huge Bag of Worries , What to do when you worry too much and Worries Go Away!

Further  information/advice about Childhood Depression:

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    1. Oh thanks so much for the lovely feedback Alex. Happy New Year!

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