There’s no rule that says children’s books must feature “feel good” stories, and I applaud those writers who do tackle the serious or sensitive subjects – like illness, bullying, or poverty – and find a way to create stories that children will find interesting and entertaining. Saskatchewan writer Jessica Williams has just done this. In Mama’s Cloud she’s teamed with Bulgarian illustrator Mateya Ark to deliver an engaging story about a woman who suffers from depression, and the ways in which her imaginative young daughter attempts to cheer her.
Williams begins by presenting readers with an idyllic mother-daughter relationship. The child-narrator says “When Mama smiles, her eyes twinkle like a thousand fireflies. Her hair is soft and smells like purple lilacs in spring. Mama is Magical …” The pair play games of “Fairies and Wizards and Superheroes,” and in both text and illustration “Mama” is portrayed as smiling and affectionate. But “Sometimes a dark cloud drifts into the room and settles over her”. And thus begins the child’s mission to restore “Mama’s magic”.
This book succeeds on several levels. Firstly, Williams maintains a light hand, using poetic language with each of the daughter’s ideas, ie: “I will float into the room on a warm breeze smelling of sunshine and lemonade”. Were she to stop at “sunshine,” this would still be an effective line, but the addition of “lemonade” boosts it into the realm of delightful. Repetition is a major device used in books for young children, and Williams embraces it. On another page the girl says “I will build a machine with gadgets and levers and pulleys and springs. At the push of a button the machine will whirl into action and the spinning fan blades will blast Mama’s cloud out of the house”. As a unicorn (unicorns are currently a trendy birthday party theme, I’ve noticed), the child says she “will close [her] eyes and lay [her] white muzzle on Mama’s lap”. However, after presenting each of these ideas, the young narrator admits that she is not a unicorn or a wizard or anything else – she is just a concerned daughter, and maybe there’s enough magic in just being her warm and regular self – in “sweatshirt and slippers” – to make a difference. It’s a realistic and encouraging message for a wide audience.
Ark’s full-bleed illustrations are note-worthy for their whimsy and limited pallet. Using mostly blues for the “cloud” pages, and shades of yellow for illustrations featuring the child and her ideas, these soft images and colours emulate the theme of being gentle with oneself, and with others.
At allwriteherepublishing.ca, Williams says “Books with engaging stories and exceptional artwork can ignite a child’s enthusiasm for reading, build imagination and encourage children to dream and become”. Mama’s Cloud is a prime example of this. While not all experience a recurring “cloud,” like Mama, surely everyone has the occasional down day, and this empowering story could help lift hearts – of all sizes.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM THE SASKATCHEWAN PUBLISHERS GROUP WWW.SKBOOKS.COM