Yesterday, while searching for a book to use to educate children and teens about mental illness, I encountered the book Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, by Bebe Moore Campbell, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated book about the experiences of a little girl as she deals with her mother’s widely varying moods. The mother’s illness is never specified, but is likely bipolar disorder. What I liked about this book is the very real sense of the child’s experience of not knowing, when she goes home, which kind of mom she’ll have: an excited, loving mom, or an angry, emotionally abusive mom. What I disliked is the fact that the neighbors and grandmother had just accepted the situation. They provided emotional support to the girl, but there was no evidence in the book that they were trying to do anything involving confronting the mom about the effect her illness had on her daughter or helping her get treatment. On the one hand, this book reinforces the resilience of kids who are really in a situation like this. Hope. On the other hand, it suggests that’s all there is to do. Hopeless. This mixed-up message really bugged me.
If I were doing therapy with a family in which a parent is affected by a severe mood disorder, I’d be more likely to use this book with a parent, to reinforce a suggestion that parents should get help for the sake of the child—even if they won’t do it for themselves. But frankly, I’d be reluctant to use this book with a child unless I could also discuss some other alternatives for dealing with the situation. In her Author’s Note, Ms. Campbell does discuss alternatives. She notes that she hopes that this book will reinforce coping strategies, and she also encourage the village that supports the child in such a situation to take action.
So I think this book is really a book for grownups, even though it’s a picture book. If you know a child who truly needs this book, please go to the website of the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and look at what you, as a parent, extended family member, or family friend, might be able to do to help, including encouraging the ill parent to get treatment.
When I find books that I do think work well for children, I’ll write about those too.