Author Q&A with Child’s Play: How ‘Up and Down Mom’ Tackles Mental Health for Kids

Up and Down Mom

This children’s book is increasing awareness of Bipolar Disorder.

Child’s Play is certainly no stranger to publishing inclusive titles. When the need for a kid-friendly story about Bipolar Disorder arose, the editors at Child’s Play decided to tackle the project themselves. Working closely with families who have a parent with bipolar disorder and created in collaboration with the Wellcome TrustUp and Down Mom was created. We talked with the team behind Up and Down Mom—Neil Burden (Child’s Play CEO), Sue Baker (Editor), Annie Kubler (Art Director), and Sarah Morris (Graphic Designer)—to learn more about the book and its impact.

 

We know this book came about because you saw a gap in the market. What was this gap, and how does Up and Down Mom fill it?

It is only recently that the children’s book market has started to reflect the experiences of children who live with mental health issues. This includes those children living with a mental health disorder themselves or experiencing it through contact with a close adult. At Child’s Play, we try to embrace all life experiences that children encounter without shying away from the more challenging ones, and publishing books about mental health is part of that remit. We were approached by the Wellcome Trust, an international charity funding research to improve human and animal health, who needed a publisher to realize their original concept.

Who did you write this book for, and what message do you hope readers gain from it?

We want children to feel that they are part of a society that includes them, and even though some of their experiences are different from other children, many are the same. One of our goals was to enable children to identify with and understand the feelings associated with living with someone with Bipolar Disorder. This will help them to reduce their levels of anxiety and guilt, and to live better with the ‘ups and downs’ of their daily lives.

How does Up and Down Mom’s message differ for a parent vs. a child?

Many adults find that talking about some issues with children is complicated, and they don’t always know how to broach certain topics. Having a book to hand can be a way of promoting discussion and exploring ideas as a shared activity between adult and child.

Most children are familiar and happy with reading picture books with a family member or close adult, and readily understand the information contained therein at their own level. The picture book is an amazing tool to promote discussion and offer understanding. Younger children will simply enjoy the story of Up and Down Mom, whereas older readers will be able to analyze and utilize its meaning in a more practical way.

For children who know someone with bipolar disorder, Up and Down Mom is a platform for expression, exploration of feelings, and gaining understanding. For children who are unaware of the condition, it’s about exploring and understanding differences, but also realizing that some behaviors cross over to other conditions and sometimes, although at a much lesser degree, to all of us. And how looking after each other and oneself is important, whatever your circumstances are.

For parents reading this with their children, are there discussion questions you could share to help ignite deeper learning?

We have had a lot of contact with families, agencies, and charities in the process of creating this book, and their experiences and expertise have helped immeasurably to shape the content. Our hope is that the inclusion of the information page at the end of the book helps to stimulate further discussion and exploration of the subject, and to further dispel fear of the unknown.

We would suggest that some of the following questions may be useful in this regard:

If the child has experience of a person with bipolar disorder (person with bipolar disorder = X):

• What sort of thing does X do that makes you worried or feel strange?
• Which of X’s behaviors worries you the most?
• Why do you think X has up and downs?
• What activity do you like to do best with X?
• What can you do to help X?
• What kind of medical help from doctors/hospital/therapist does X get?
• Who can you talk to if you have questions about bipolar disorder?
• What can you do together with X that will make you feel safer?
• What can you do in order to stay happy and well?

If the child has no experience of a person with bipolar disorder:

• Do you know anyone with a mental illness?
• What similarities are they with the person in this book?
• Do you understand why people with a mental illness behave differently sometimes and need help?
• Do you understand how medication and doctors can help?
• Do you know why people need to go to the hospital even if no physically ill, but mentally?
• Do you feel sad sometimes? And prefer staying in bed and seeing no one?
• Do you sometimes prefer being alone and not mixing with friends?
• Do you feel super excited sometimes? And can’t stay still?
• Do daily routines help you too? Even if your parent doesn’t have bipolar disorder?
• Can you see why it is important for all of us to stay healthy and active?

What’s been the best response or experience since Up and Down Mom has been released?

Since the book has been published we have had many really positive reviews and the book has been included in the Reading Well for Children booklist. We’re honored to be featured, as the books on this list are made available in a majority of England’s libraries. Medical professionals can easily direct patients towards relevant books, which were selected by their peers.

Are there other gaps in the children’s book market you’re hoping to fill? What can you tell us about them?

There will always be gaps in the market, and one that we try to focus on is diversity and inclusivity. All children should feel themselves represented in the world of children’s books, but—unbelievably—this has simply not happened over the many years they’ve been published. If readers can see themselves represented in the world of children’s books, integral in society, and with the chance to achieve anything, then they have a much better chance of becoming happy, healthy, contributing members of the society of which they are a very important part.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Mostly, we hope that the work we do has a positive impact and helps children understand more about the world around them. And we want to thank everyone who has helped us to make our books. The rigorous consultation process we go through when developing a project like this is a fascinating journey. It puts us in touch with people with such different experiences of life. It’s a privilege to hear those voices, often under-represented, and include them in our books.

 

Thank you Child’s Play for the opportunity to learn more about this inspiring title. Be sure to check out Up and Down Mom on our website and request a quote for 25+ copies for your classroom or group today!

Child’s Play, an independent children’s book publisher, offers a diverse range of formats and experiences through reading that both enrich and empower their young audiences. Their books are respected and loved by parents and educators alike. For more information, be sure to check out their site.

 

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This post was written by Megan Habel, Brand Strategist at BookPal.  She is currently reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

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