My passion for children’s books didn’t end in childhood. Long after I left the demographic, and well before having children of my own, I still spent hours browsing the children’s section of the bookstore for gems to add to my collection.
Even as a child, I have always been drawn to books that hold social significance, going beyond a great story to help a reader work through a problem or understand a hard-to-grasp concept. Whether it is a book that promotes diversity, explores different types of families, discusses how children join families be it through birth or adoption or helps a reader see the viewpoint of a person with special needs, I want to read it.
As a preschool teacher, using books to impart a lesson or promote understanding was nothing new to me. As a parent, it became more personal when my son was diagnosed with ADHD. Books about other children with ADHD became a staple in our home library and made my son feel less alone.
Despite great strides in making socially significant children’s books, depression is still one area that remains somewhat taboo. That’s a true shame. Considering the significant amount of families touched by depression and anxiety disorders, having a way to open a dialogue with children about this experience seems paramount.
Author Jessica Williams seeks to fill this hole in the children’s market with her book Mama’s Cloud. Williams uses wonderfully descriptive language to tell the story of a young child trying to navigate the world with a mother who suffers from depression.
(Writer’s note: I will be referring to the child in this book using the pronoun “they.” The gender of the child is never mentioned, and the illustrations allow for the child to be seen as a boy, girl, or neither: a wonderful way to make the book more accessible and relatable to children.)
Williams describes the mother as “magical” until a dark cloud “drifts into the room and settles over her.” As a mother who also suffers from depression, I can attest to the accuracy of this description. Depression often permeates the room, dulling and obscuring everything in its path. It’s a helpful visual to use for children to understand what it feels like.
The child in this book goes through various scenarios in which they can banish the cloud, including becoming a fairy, a wizard, an inventor, a unicorn, and a fan dancer, with wonderful descriptions of how each plan will work. Each is accompanied with the realization that none of these plans will work, depicting another frustration of living with depression, or someone who suffers from it.
In the end, the child chooses simply to give their mother a hug and let her know she is loved, which prompts some of her magic to twinkle through. While it’s fundamentally important to make clear to children that it is not their job to help “cheer up” their parents, or to try to rid them of their depression; giving a child something they can do to feel like they have agency in the situation is a good idea, like a hug. This also is a great springboard for a discussion with children about depression not being in any way their fault or related to them at all.
Accompanying Williams beautiful words are stunning and inviting illustrations by Mateya Ark. Ark’s use of colour – yellow for the “magic”, blue for the “cloud” – is not only appealing but helps to create an easy to understand visual for a complicated subject.
Mama’s Cloud is a great starting point for discussing depression with children, and an enjoyable read in its own right. It’s a great book to add to any children’s book library, but particularly helpful in a home touched by depression.
Mama’s Cloud is available for pre-order here and will be available on July 3.