________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover Purple Mamma: A Storybook to Help Young Children Understand a Parent's Bipolar Illness.

Tricia Prato.
London, ON: Nurturing Meadow Press (www.purplemamma.ca), 2008.
18 pp., stapled, $10.95 plus GST.
ISBN 978-0-9697083-3-9.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4


My mother is amazing!
She's the best on the block!

Sometimes she is depressed. She
is sad all the time. She cries,
sleeps and has no energy to play.

In the "logic" of a young child's world, parents are supposed to be the caregivers who treat the child's cuts, bumps and bruises and tend to the colds and measles and other childhood illnesses. As part of that childhood equation, parents are also supposed to stay healthy, but as we all know, such is not always the case. Especially difficult for a child to understand are those non-visible maladies, including mental illnesses. Having been raised in a home where her mother, the book's "Purple Mamma," experienced the effects of being bipolar, Tricia Prato draws on that experience in writing this book directed at a young audience.

     Prato has chosen a most unusual format for her book. Each page resembles a page that you would expect to find in a child's lined school scribbler, with the text resembling a child's printing (one, however, with a very good printing style). While I have indicated that the book only has 18 pages, it actually has twice as many, but Prato only uses and numbers the rectos. The illustrations, which appear on the bottom of the pages and which are rendered in what appears to be felt markers, mimic the type of drawings a young child might create.

internal art

     Six times, pages carry just the lines:

My mother is amazing!
She's the best on the block!

     In between the appearances of those lines, Prato presents four different scenarios, with one being the house when Purple Mamma is well and their home is a welcoming, fun place. Two other scenarios present the two extremes of behaviour brought about by Purple Mamma's illness. The fourth scenario involves the hospital visits the author and her younger sister make to see their mother.

     As shown in the excerpt above, while the word "depression" may be a tough concept for young children to understand, its symptoms, sadness and lethargy, are something that children can recognize and apprehend.

     Much less successful, however, is Prato's description of Purple Mamma's manic episodes:

Sometimes she is manic. She does
strange things, like she's pretending
but she isn't. She seems like she
is in her own world, talks in a
funny voice and has a weird smile.

     There are simply too many words in this description that are open to a child's misinterpretation. For instance, how is a mother's "pretending" different from her playing make-believe and what exactly constitutes a "weird" smile?

     A strength of the text is its reassurance to the child that s/he is not the cause of her/his mother's illness.

When mom is sick I have
to remember that it is not
my fault and that life has
its ups and downs. Mom will
be better soon.

     The book closes with "A note for parents & other caregivers", written by Dianne Prato aka Purple Mamma.

     Obviously, Purple Mamma is a book that is to be shared by an adult with a child so that s/he can seek clarification from the adult about any points that s/he does not understand.

Recommended with reservations.

Dave Jenkinson, CMs editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.