Author hopes children’s literature can spark the mental-health conversation

For children’s author Sheree Fitch, developing empathy and compassion is only one part of the mental-health puzzle.

For some kids, and adults, the missing piece is often learning how to turn that compassion inwards.

It’s the difference between being a good person on the outside, and being a resilient person on the inside, understanding that nobody is perfect and accepting your imperfections.

That’s part of the inspiration to her book EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street, which she wrote back in 2001 as a way to start a discussion about mental health and addiction. 

EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street was written to raise awareness for mental illness and addiction.

The book has now been translated into French, and Moncton’s Frye Festival will be holding a roundtable discussion Thursday on children’s literature and mental health with Fitch, Marie Cadieux, who translated the book and South-African illustrator Emma FitzGerald.

“There’s so much emphasis right now collectively and globally on how our mental and spiritual health has been affected,” she told CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton.

“It’s encouraging to me because there was a time where we could not dare utter that we were scared and anxious.”

Wrote from personal experience

When she wrote the book, Fitch said her son was in the midst of a struggle with his learning disability, and later mental health and addiction challenges. She wasn’t sure she could tackle the topic without the book being too personal, she said.

But with the encouragement of her husband, she wrote it. 

The translated French version came out in 2018, just a few months after Fitch’s son died. 

She said when her son went to school, the system was not very accepting of children with neurodivergence. While there has been increased acceptance and understanding, Fitch said there are still children who are struggling.

“I still know there is a child that’s in a classroom that’s … scared on the inside,” she said.

16:35Children’s books and mental health

Sheree Fitch wrote EveryBody’s Different on EveryBody Street to start a discussion with kids about mental health and addiction. It’s now out in French and Fitch and her collaborators will host a Frye Fest roundtable Thursday. 16:35

“There are parents who are saying ‘I would give anything to be able to make this work better for my child.’ And that those parents are there today, too.”

Fitch said writing a children’s book about mental health is not about giving answers, or pushing children in any certain direction. She said the point is to make space for parents, teachers and kids to talk about something not always easily discussed.

“What I want is to start to think their own thoughts and start their own opinions about life … What you should be doing is offering something that sparks that inquiry into critical thinking.”

She said starting these conversations early could mean avoiding having to work harder later in life, when a person has forgotten that not having all the answers isn’t a bad thing.

After her son’s death, Fitch said she felt there was no coming out of her sadness, but her mother reminded her that “the sadness will get softer.”

She wrote a second book for adult audiences, called You Won’t Always Be This Sad, which she said helped pull her out of her depression.

“There’s an acceptance in me now because I know he no longer struggles. There’s nothing really you can do except keep loving them, and I know I did that.”






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