My Elephant is Blue by Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka

When a child is full of worries it can be tricky for them to process how they feel and explain it to those around them. This is where picture books that focus on mental health are hugely valuable. They can explain to a child how they are feeling, using words and images, and show them some ways that they can shake off that feeling and start to feel happy. Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka’s latest picture book, My Elephant is Blue, is about a child and and the big, heavy feelings that take over their life.

The child in the story wakes up one day to find an elephant sitting on their chest. It’s so heavy that it is difficult for them to breath or talk. The elephant, called Blue, is very comfortable sitting on the child and doesn’t want to move. Mum and Dad are worried and do what they can to help, including reading lots of books about elephants and calling an elephant specialist. The child’s sister even tries to help push the elephant off, but nothing helps. Dad suggests that exercise might help, so the child and Blue go for a walk around the block. This is just the start of getting the elephant to move, and with some nice family time, Blue starts to change colour. Together, they discover that they quite like other colours too.

My Elephant is Blue is a magnificent picture book about mental health, that is bursting with empathy and positivity. This is the kind of book that every family should have on their bookshelves, for those days when anyone feels a little blue. We all have those days and it’s good to remind ourselves that they don’t last, and that by doing things we enjoy, we can have a brighter day. This is a book that is great for so many ages, whether you’re reading it to preschoolers or intermediate-age children. The concept is simple enough for younger children to understand, but it will also resonate with older children (and adults).

Vasanti Unka’s illustrations are delightful. For most of the book her illustrations are quite subtle and sparse, but as the child starts to become happier, the illustrations are busier, brighter and more colourful. They become more full of life, especially on the page with the picnic. Vasanti captures the emotions of the child perfectly, using facial expressions that the youngest readers will understand.

One of my favourite things about this book is that the child is gender neutral. Melinda hasn’t used any pronouns or given the child a name, and Vasanti has drawn them so that they could be any gender. This makes the story really accessible to all children. I want to thank Melinda and Vasanti hugely for this.

Cat Taylor has done a wonderful job of the design, especially the front cover. Blue the elephant has been raised on the front and back covers, so you can feel the groves and bumps of his skin. This little touch makes the book really tactile, and I love running my hands over it. You just know that kids will love this too.

My Elephant is Blue is a must-have for schools and families. It will create some good conversations and help children to understand their emotions. It will also give them some strategies to try when they are feeling blue. It will help children to become more empathetic, as it will help them to understand how others feel.

My Elephant is Blue is due for release in NZ on Monday 17 May.

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