Many books for young readers tackle terrible tantrums, but few address sadness that surfaces perhaps for no reason at all; this gives that muted malaise a shape, an identity, and love.
A child tentatively opens the door and finds Sadness, a towering, amorphous, pale teal figure, waiting on the other side. It has arm and leg stumps but no neck or waist. Text set in a type that emulates handwriting tells children what they already know: “Sometimes Sadness arrives unexpectedly.” The playful interplay between the literal and the figurative makes engaging a tough topic pleasurable. In casting melancholy not as an enemy but as a sometime companion, this powerful picture book inspires empathy and action. The hand-drawn illustrations’ extremely limited, three-color palette (a washed-out blue for Sadness’ ghostly, blobby body, subdued circles of pink on the child’s cheeks, and chocolate brown for the lines that etch their world) similarly channels depression in its constriction of color. The ungendered, light-skinned child trudges alongside Sadness with slumped shoulders as they enact the sound, practical coping tactics introduced by the narrative voice. “Try not to be afraid of Sadness. Give it a name.…Find something that you both enjoy, like drawing.” Front endpapers show depressed people ignoring their sadnesses, while back endpapers show these same characters interacting with them and feeling better.
Children will feel better, too, knowing they have a helpful, honest, and empathetic picture book ready for the next time Sadness shows up for a visit. (Picture book. 4-10)