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"Dad has depression" - through the eyes of an 11 year old
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8th Dec 2014

When Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters first began work on their children’s picture book The Colour Thief (published Wayland. Illustrated Karin Littlwood), there was something very significant that had helped to spark the initial idea. Their then 11 year old son, Asa, had spontaneously drawn a short cartoon in spring 2012, at the point where it was clear that his dad was in the process of recovering from his severe depression.

Titled ‘THE BIRDS!! Depression Special’, the cartoon-style black and white line drawings of a father bird began with the caption, “Daddy has got depression”. The illustrations showed, very simply, a chick’s/child’s eye view of a dad’s illness.

Time spent in psychiatric hospital was depicted as: “so he has to go to a home.”

The months when the chick’s dad has returned from hospital, but is not able to interact with anyone or anything was shown through 3 images where daddy bird sits in exactly the same position, where “he can’t get off the nest”. Over the course of those 3 pictures, cobwebs are formed and icicles grow, and a speech bubble informs that “dad’s frozen”. However, the turning point (and hope) came in the next, final image where daddy bird’s expression changes to a slight smile and the caption tells that “Daddy’s started melting”.

One piece of A4, a fine line pen, 6 months and a watchful child.

Andrew and Polly said, “when our son first flipped open the pages of his sketchbook to show us what he’d drawn, it was both an extraordinary and a devastating moment. On one piece of paper he’d condensed what he’d seen and how he felt about witnessing his dad being ill. And yet, this short cartoon ended with hope (and humour).”

It was, said Andrew and Polly, a catalyst: “the comic strip showed us, so simply, gently and with such care how important it had been throughout (and continued to be) to keep talking with our kids about what was happening and how that made them feel. Talking about mental illness is so, so important. As is recognising the effect that one family member’s illness has on their close family and friends. Thus, the idea was born of writing a picture book from a child’s point of view of seeing the process of his own dad’s mental illness; a simple story that would open up the possibility of discussion and that would end with a sense of hope and change.”

This was the seed from which, eventually, The Colour Thief grew.

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