Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Lana Button. Take it away, Lana!
Picture books can be a safe place to have a difficult conversation. A picture book can sometimes tell a hard story in a manner that lands safely for a young reader, and hopefully leaves them feeling inspired. That was my goal in writing TOUGH LIKE MUM (Tundra Books) which is beautifully illustrated by Carmen Mok.
Highly influenced and inspired by the grit and determination of the people I grew up with in my small coastal border town of St Stephen, New Brunswick, TOUGH LIKE MUM gives us an inside look at what life is like during a difficult day for Kim and her mum, who are known by the whole town as being ‘tough’. A look inside their apartment shows us that, on this particular morning it seems that Kim’s mum has met her match, and is unable to face the day. Kim shows resilience in her ability to carry on with her day, even though she’s faced with setbacks. And when it’s obvious to Kim that her mum needs help bouncing back, she provides the love and strength her mum needs to get her feet underneath her again.
Mental health plays a role in this story. I didn’t elaborate on the extent of Jen’s darkness on this day because I wanted to leave it to the interpretation of the reader. In telling a difficult story to a young audience I think it is important to give room for the child to take in what they are ready to hear. The story can be interpreted that Jen is having a bad day, that she is not feeling well. But there is also an interpretation that a more serious depression is taking hold. I hope that even the youngest audience will come away with the idea that we all have bad days, and that’s okay. Having love and support and understanding during those not-so-tough days is what we all need sometimes.
In the same sense, I wanted to put the spotlight on the financial struggle this mother and daughter are facing, while protecting the young reader from concepts of poverty that can leave them feeling unsafe. The older audience may pick up on the lack of food, and the fact that the power is out in their apartment, while a younger child can appreciate that this is a difficult day without being handed heavy details.
I am hoping TOUGH LIKE MUM will give the young and the older audience pause to remember, as actor Robin Williams said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” And I hope that it proves to be a reminder that it’s okay to have an off day. Sometimes the person we need to be most kind to is ourselves. Teaching children this important concept allows them to understand, and take care of their own mental health. And sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to admit that we need help.
Ultimately I want the reader to be left with the feeling that these two have the support of their community, and they each have an inner strength that is fostered from the support they have for each other, and they are going to be just fine.