French Friday: Reading to Understand Mental Illness

Although I skipped my yearly participation to the Multicultural Children’s Book Day I still support this national event, which will be celebrated on Saturday, January 27. Multicultural Children’s Book Day highlights the need for diverse books. More and more editors and publishers are aware that children become readers when they see themselves in the stories they read and develop more empathy when they discover how other children live.

Most often, books suggested and reviewed on Multicultural Children’s Book Day represent minorities’ cultures and faiths.

And those books are as important as ever.

But I decided to come up with my very short personal selection of books that also represent a form of difference. The idea grew from an exceptional novel that treats of mental illness. I read Turtless All the Way Down a few weeks ago but the story still sits on my mind.

The following books portray children and teenagers who deal with mental disorders, some less severe than others. These children or teenagers’ lives are ‘different,’ much more challenging than ‘normal’ lives but not less fulfilling. In fact, in all these books these kids and teens are very inspiring.

Compassion for them is one thing.

Understanding or trying to understand what they go through is another.

Reading about them is a crucial step.


For Teenagers:

I don’t need to introduce the author behind the debut novel Looking for Alaska and the sensational best seller The Fault in Our Stars.

John Green is not only an exceptional writer he has also been candid with the fact that he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In Turtles All the Way Down he depicts sixteen-year-old Aza’s own struggle with such accuracy and integrity it will break your heart and still make you smile and definitely root for her.

This is pure John Green, so expect amazingness. The dialogues are especially great, witty and right 0n. I love Aza’s best friend so much. And I could only relate to her mother’s genuine will to make her little girl feel better. The novel is vividly set in Indianapolis. Written for Joey 🙂

If you haven’t read this novel, grab one copy or/and recommend it to a teenager near you.


For Elementary Students:

Spaghetti Is Not a Fingerfood (and other life lessons) written by Jodi Carmichael and illustrated by Sara Ponce

This chapter book ( 7 to 10 years old) is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Connor who has Asperger Syndrome. It’s a sweet, funny, and tender book with also great illustrations. An easy read that treats of a complex topic. Perfect for children who live or go to school or play with boys or girls with Asperger Syndrome.

Joey Pigza Series by Jack Gantos (5 books)

Joey is taking ‘dub meds’, the nickname he gives to Ritalin. Joey is plenty aware of his wild mood swings, but he can’t help it if he moves, jumps, and sometimes gets in trouble. Hyperactivity and its related disorders are very common in children, and it’s such a gift for kids who are affected and their friends alike to get to meet irresistible Joey.

Adults disagree on the age range for the series, due to the seriousness of other issues presented in the books. I would say that some fourth graders are already able to handle them while some eight graders will still enjoy them.


For Middle Graders:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloane

A pure chef d’oeuvre, that you may already know since the novel has been extremely well received upon its publication. And for good reasons.

Willow is twelve and is reassured when she counts by 7s. She loves nature and her parents. When they die brutally her world changes overnight. It could be a heartbreaking story and it is very moving, but it is above everything a story of resilience and courage from a girl who had already a lot on her plate to start with.


Picture Books:

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine written by Julia Cook and illustrated by Anita Duffala

This sweet and funny story introduces anxiety disorders in children through adorable Wilma Jean. Frequently undiagnosed, anxiety disorders are, however, very common in children.

I was one of these super anxious kids, and I know how painful it is to worry alone. I’m lucky since I got much better when I started college. But the title of this PB echoes my childhood experience.


Antsy Ansel written by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and illustrated by Christy Hale

Who doesn’t know the great photographer behind the stunning photographies of Yosemite National Park? It is less known, though, that Ansel Adams could not stand still. He fidgeted and was constantly on the move. School was not his thing. But when his father introduced him to the natural beauty of the Sierra and particularly of Yosemite young Ansel found calmness and focus. The rest is history.

A great, great story to reassure the child who cannot be still. A successful, creative life is still possible.


And last but not least, two classics, absolute must-read novels that (in my opinion) opened the gates to the more recent wave of books that treat of mental disorders:

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Autism introduced through a twelve-year-old girl put in charge of her younger autistic brother. Poignant and authentic, the Newberry Honor novel was published in 2006.

Mockinbird by Kathryn Erskine

A young girl who has Asperger is dealing with the loss of her brother brutally killed during a school shooting. Sadly still timely and I’m afraid to say maybe timeless. Exceptionally well crafted, emotionally packed, and very hopeful too the National Book Award For Young People’s Literature novel was published in 2010.


On a totally different note, I want you to know that I just decided to embark the crazy A to Z Challenge train again this year. For anyone who doesn’t know what the challenge is about: One daily post for the entire month of April, except on Sundays, following the order of the alphabet.

Based on readers’ feedback, WordPress statistics, and my personal interest I will return to my beloved French idioms. My hope this year is to mix and match classics and most recent.

Until then, I leave you with two expressions. The first one was very familiar when I lived in France and is still current, while the second was born many years after I left France.

I hope you will find their meaning and leave a comment below!







Enjoy your weekend.

See you here next Friday and on your blog in between!







French Friday: My Étonnant Native Country

One of my best friends, a picture book author, is happy as a clam when she talks to 100 kindergartners. I know of other authors, who adore huge assemblies.

I’m a small group person. Big parties and large venues have never been my thing. Concerts are an exception. Still, I’d rather see my favorite bands or singers in a small club than a stadium.

In the next few weeks, I will meet with more than 400 middle school and high school students. I just found out that their teachers decided to separate them in smaller groups. So I will have one presentation at the middle school and four at two different high schools on the same day. Phew, what a relief.

What worries me now is the fact that for the first time ever I will meet students who take French at school. This should comfort me since anything French is my thing, right? In fact, as I am preparing my presentation, I keep questioning its content.

Usually I split my one-hour power point presention in four parts:

* My French background shown through slides from my hometown and surroundings.

* The process of writing, from the choice of topic to the editing. I also include elements about writing in a non-native language.

* Multiple-choice questions based on my novel, which is shared in class prior to my visit.

* Q&A is always my favorite part, so I allow 10 minutes.

But as I am now selecting my slides, I am caught in a spiral of thoughts:

How do I introduce contemporary France to teenagers who learn how to speak France but have not necessary been there yet?

What should I tell them about my native land? How honest do I want to be?

Is it okay to show its flaws? Will it discourage young people to visit?

In my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines I introduced the early immigration issues that took place in the France of my childhood in the 1970s. Almost fifty years later, France is still dealing with immigration issues.

Do I want to show the gathering of migrants at Porte de la Chapelle, still happening after the regular dismantling of the camps and despite the opening of welcome centers, too small to accomodate everyone?

But there is also genuine concern for the migrants’ situation. French people want to exemplify the motto Liberté Égalité Fraternité.

So what about Calais?

Now shouldn’t I stay with a classic vision of France, particularly of Paris, with its lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques? Is cliché versus authentic okay?

After all, there are still lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques in Paris. They sit blocks away from the gathered migrants and within an hour from the projects in the suburbs.

In my Young Adult thriller Trapped in Paris, the two protagonists find themselves in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, less than ten miles away and yet another world.

What about music? Music plays a huge role in any teen’s life.

Once in a while, when I’m in a store or a café in the U.S. I hear French music. Almost always it’s soft French music. Often Edith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose or even Charles Trenet and La Mer. But Carla Bruni is now a favorite, as well as Serge Gainsbourg and Zaz.

It is said that when French-style music is played in a store, the atmosphere shifts from ordinary to sophisticated. In fact, some storeowners are known to play French music or French music-style when they have French items, such as wine or cheese, to sell. Shoppers don’t even notice but are still influenced.

Many contemporary French singers such as Julien Doré still exemply the unique French poetic musical style.

But what about hip-hop bands or rappers who use music as a media to address racism, poverty, immigration, unemployment, topics of concern for many French people?

Now I scroll down my own playlist and wonder about the older Manu Chao. The singer started his musical career a few years before I left France but really took off in the mid 1990s. With his mix of reggae, ska, with clear Latino roots he changed the traditional French musical scene.

Now what about the diverse French rap scene, a mix of rap de rue or street rap, conscious rap, popular rap, and other sub genres in between?

Should I add the hip-hop band Nèg Marrons? After all they wrote one of my favorite songs about their parents.

As I prepare my presentation and debate pros versus cons the complexity of my native land is palpable.

So for now only one thing is sure: the choice of the T-shirt I will wear.
























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