Empty by Andrew Pratly
Ill. by Angel McMullan. Little Steps, 2018. ISBN 9781925117837
(Age: 5+) Themes: Depression, Mental Health, Friendship, Music. Many people have periods in their lives where things are not working out as well as is expected. There may be periods of loneliness, or having no friends, or feeling inadequate or anxious. Addressing this issue has seen a number of books published recently giving children the opportunity to talk about their feelings and while this is most admirable, it requires some understanding from the adults presenting the book.
The bleakness of the opening pages struck a cord with me as I watched the child staring into the mirror all alone. She feels empty. Everyone she turns to tells her pretty well to get over it, until she hears some music played by a young boy in a boat. From then on their friendship blossoms as the music becomes a platform of understanding, a bridge between two lonely people. The old Irish proverb at the end makes a neat rounding off to the story, 'There are good ships, and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be' and explains why the illustrator has chosen a sea theme for her wonderful drawings.
I love the architectural endpapers showing a lighthouse, a symbol perhaps for the beam of light that is offered by friendship, and the watercolour images of the children against the seaside setting.
My article in The Literature Base in 2016 has a long list of picture books tackling the theme of mental health with children and will complement the usefulness of Empty.