My Elephant is Blue by Melinda Szymanik, Illustrated by Vasanti Unka
Today’s tamariki are beset by the blues seemingly more so than previous generations, and it’s heartening to see the literary community responding with stories about empathy and expression of feeling as a way of normalising the experience and offering comfort and support. Anxiety and depression can sometimes be quite tricky feelings for littlies to identify and express - and we’re all familiar with the transformative, healing power of a good story.
My Elephant is Blue is a beautiful, locally produced picture book which can be read to preschoolers and primary schoolers suffering from anxiety and depression - as well as to those who don’t, in order to generate understanding.
The story starts with a child waking one day to find a big blue elephant crushing their chest. (The author felt like this during her own real-life reaction to some bad news; it sparked the story.) Her whānau do all they can to try and move the troublesome pachyderm.
The story offers some simple, tried-and-true solutions to shifting it: a walk in fresh air, a whānau picnic, sunshine… Eventually the elephant’s hue morphs into magenta.
The ambiguity in the child’s gender, ethnicity and their reason for feeling depressed is a neat trick which allows the story to be applicable to any potential woes. The text is carefully chosen and appropriately paced, and the illustrations are engaging and gorgeous. A gentle, soothing, mood-booster.
Reviewer: Stacey Anyan
Penguin, RRP $19.99