It’s not only the mental health of children… My mum’s not like other mums


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.

Julia Westgate
Northumberland SLS

Librarian’s view:

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+

Five Minutes’ Peace
by Jill Murphy

Mum wants five minutes by herself away from her three children – is that too much to ask? It can be hard when you love your children and they love you, but you would still like them to leave you alone just for five minutes, now. A good book to help young children understand that parents sometimes need time and space for themselves.
Suitable for ages: 5+

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+