Subject: Family issues
Topic: Mental health and wellbeing
Year Group: From 3+ to teens
Synopsis: Books to share with children about mental illness and family challenges are especially important when the sufferer is an adult the child knows well suggests Julia Westgate from Northumberland Schools Library Service.
For children living with parents who suffer from mental health issues, home life can be incredibly tricky. Helping children to understand their parents are human beings who experience troubles of their own is an important part of becoming an adult, but it’s just as important to make sure children understand that their parents’ issues are not their fault. Whether it’s through mental illness, poverty or separation, sometimes family relationships become difficult, and it can be hard for children to understand why. Here are some books that are full of wisdom and warmth.
The Illustrated Mum
by Jacqueline Wilson
An oldie but a goodie. In this novel the main protagonist is Dolphin, the youngest daughter in a single-parent family, whose mother suffers from bipolar disorder.
Ideal for teens and up
The Casson Family Collection
by Hilary McKay
Hilary McKay’s Casson Family series (beginning with Saffy’s Angel which won the Whitbread Award in 2001) tracks the lives of one family through the years. Though much of the focus is on the children of the family, a lot of their lives revolve around the fact that their parents are separated: that their father was unfaithful and that their mother mostly lives in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Eve Casson’s occasional forays into her children’s lives, although full of warmth and love, nevertheless hint at her own fragile mental state, and the way her kids more-or-less bring themselves up.
Suitable for ages nine and up.
The Up and Down Mum
published by Child’s Play
illustrated by Summer Macon
An excellent picture book in which a child deals with their mother’s mental health problems. As well as describing the way mental illness affects the mother from the point of view of a child (“a roller coaster ride”), this book also includes the support they receive from family members and from social services. At the back of the book is a list of helpful resources for children who have parents with bipolar.
Suitable for ages: 5+
The Inkberg Enigma
by Jonathan King
Miro and Zia live in a tiny fishing village on the American coast. Miro loves nothing more than curling up with a good book whereas Zia is an investigative journalist-in-waiting, always looking for the next story. When they discover that the strange activities at the fishing works are somehow linked to an ill-fated Antarctic expedition, the two friends are led into a world of ancient gods, sea creatures and conspiracy.
A wonderfully atmospheric Lovecraftian graphic novel full of Goonies-style adventure. The graphic novel format lends itself well to reluctant readers and those just dipping their toe into the horror genre.
It’s a No-Money Day
by Kate Milner
This is a simple picture book with a big message. In this story the little girl and her mother have to visit the food bank. There are some really good points of discussion, including the mother’s sacrifice, which is drawn with some subtlety, for example “I have the last piece of toast. Luckily, Mum isn’t hungry”, and also the Mum’s anger when the little girl asks the food bank for a particular cereal. This story encourages children to look beneath the surface and to ask themselves why Mum isn’t hungry and why she is so upset about their visit to the food bank, even though the people there are so kind. Suitable for ages: 3+