Small Things, by Mel Tregonning

A small boy worries about and struggles with many things: being left out of peer groups, not being good at sport, struggling at school work. Each thing seemingly small in itself, together they erode his self-confidence and he feels himself diminishing, followed by monsters who eat away at his sense of self. At risk of being overwhelmed, he finally gets help from his family, and starts to find renewed self confidence, as well as an awareness that he is not alone in the struggles: other people, too, feel haunted by unseen monsters.

Small Things is an amazing picture book. In graphic novel format, this wordless book says so very much about struggles with mental illness, self worth and anxiety. The black and white illustrations bring the boys’ troubles to life as monsters with tentacles and big teeth which float around him, and leave him broken, though when he gets help he becomes whole again. The monsters don’t completely disappear though, a reminder that healing can be an ongoing process.

This is a book which will speak to children and adults alike, and the story behind the book is one which should also be known, with the author sadly having lost her own battle with depression before the book’s completion.

Small Things, by Mel Tregonning
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781742379791

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell

Rose didn’t tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different.

Rose and Michael are good kids. They work hard at school, are popular, and do what their parents tell them. But they are in love, and not as careful as they should be, and soon Rose is pregnant. The problem is, she is having trouble admitting it, even to herself. Michael struggles with the reality, too, and events spiral beyond his control. What happens is utterly devastating.

A Small Madness confronts the issues surrounding teen pregnancy in a way that will shock readers to the core. This is not a happy ever after story by any stretch of the imagination, but is absorbing and feels very real, exploring the possibilities of what can happen when teens feel shut off from support. Touchell does not try to cover all eventualities or to demonstrate how such a situation can be ‘fixed’, but the book will hopefully leave readers pondering how things can be, and the importance of finding ways through terrible situations.

An important, haunting, breathtaking book.


A Small Madness

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760110789

Available from good bookstores and online.

Strange Places, by Will Elliott

I’ve been to places that no one else on this planet will ever go. Me, I’ve lived for a short time as a werewolf. As a vampire. As a revolutionary. As a psychic. As a magician. As someone who cannot be hurt by physical force. As someone who can speak to the dead…I have lived as Jesus Christ. I have been he who knows all. You see, all this is true, because, for a while, it was all real.

Will Elliott is a young writer with a big future, having won five literary awards for his debut novel, The Pilo Family Circus . Yet Elliott’s road to publication was even more difficult than that for other debut writers – because at the same time as he developed his writing skills, he was also waging a war with mental illness. In Strange Places Elliott bares all, sharing his very personal tale of struggle with drug dependency, paranoia and psychotic episodes which lead to him ultimately being diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Strange Places is not a light read – the reader is taken inside the author’s mind and life in intimate detail, experiencing his struggles and lows with him – but Elliott’s honesty, humour and chatty first person style make the tale both absorbing and accessible. He does not make excuses for the wrong choices he has made, nor seek either pity or absolution – he simply tells what happened and how it affected him, his family and friends – and where it has left him.

An honest, very readable, book.

Strange Places: A Memoir of Mental Illness

Strange Places: A Memoir of Mental Illness, by Will Elliott
ABC Books, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Big and Me, by David Miller

Big and I do a lot of digging and lifting, trenching and filling. We’re a team, a good team, the best.
But some days Big goes a bit wobbly and I get a lot worried.

Big and Small are two machines working together on building projects. But when Big starts to malfunction, Small is affected. First, Big drives into the water, thinking he is a boat. Then he picks Small up and won’t put him down – because he thinks that the other machines want to hurt Small. Small turns to the boss and Mechanic, who find that Big’s computer is getting mixed up. They help Big to get better, and offer support to Small.

Big and Me uses the metaphor of a machine with computer problems to explore the topic of mental illness in adults. Small is cast as the child seeking to understand a parent’s mental illness, with the support of other adults and friends. This use of metaphor allows a fairly weighty and difficult topic to be dealt with in a way which even very young children will be able to connect with.

Author/Illustrator David Miller uses his renowned paper sculpture illustrations to bring the tale to life. The machines are created in 3D sculpture, then photographed. The backgrounds are muted, the blues and ochres providing colour, but still reflecting the serious nature of the story.

Big and Me is a gentle, realistic story which offers both hope and a path to understanding mental illness and its impact both on adults and children.

Big and Me

Big and Me, by David Miller
Ford Street, 2008

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.