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!







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