Up and Down Mom

Written and illustrated by Summer Maçon
36 pages  •  Published 2020 (Child’s Play Intl Ltd)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Living with Mom is a bit like a roller coaster ride. At times, she is excited and full of energy, but at others, she is tired and withdrawn. But she’s always my mom, and we’re sharing the ride. For children who grow up in the care of a parent who has bipolar disorder, life can be filled with anxiety and uncertainty. With the aid of a clear and simple information spread, this story helps us to understand the causes of bipolar disorder and how we can learn to live with someone who has it.
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: Young children who have a parent with Bipolar I Disorder who need reassurance that they are not alone in their experience. The book is probably more reassuring to parents reading it than the children intended to be the audience, but it can be used to open conversations about how a child feels when a parent acts erratically, is unavailable, or is in the hospital, as well as conversations about emergency planning (e.g., who they can contact if they’re worried about their parent or themselves and who will take care of them if a parent is unable to). It’s not a great book, but there’s not much better out there.
Would a child like it? A child who feels alone in their experience of having a parent with bipolar disorder may appreciate this book. Otherwise, I don’t think a child will enjoy it. It could still be useful despite this, but it’s just not a particularly great book.
Evidence-Based Practices: Psychoeducation
Tone: Aggressively cheerful
Story Quality: Like the other book on this topic that I included (My Happy Sad Mummy), this book is included as a part of the Bookshelf not because it’s great but because the topic is important and it’s better than the alternative books out there. The story is very one-note–the child telling the story is unrealistically cheerful about all of the challenges he faces with his mother’s bipolar symptoms, and it’s a bit too specific to fully apply to many children in similar situations. That said, it touches on some important aspects of the experience of having a parent with bipolar disorder, and it’s probably better than nothing as a way of normalizing the experiencing and starting conversations. But it’s not a particularly well-written or authentic story.
Illustrations: Charming, colorful drawings with a lot of kinetic energy. I like the illustrations. The author has illustrated a number of children’s books, and I like her style.
Representation: The main character is a boy with brown skin and curly black hair. His mother has bipolar disorder and appears to be White or perhaps Latina (she has light colored skin and dark brown hair). The boy has a diverse group of friends–kids with different skin colors and hair types are shown, as well as a boy with forearm crutches. There is a family therapist who is a Black man, and their neighbor is a White woman. The boy has a grandad who helps take care of him when his mother is in the hospital.
Psychological Practices: This book makes a nod to many of the challenges kids face when a parent has bipolar disorder (sometimes the boy’s mother is too loud at the library, doesn’t follow the rules at the swimming pool, is irritable when he’s playing loud music, stays in bed all day, and has to go to the hospital), and it touches on strategies for safety planning (he has a list of emergency contacts, and his grandad comes over when his mother is in the hospital). It shares that the boy and his mother see a family therapist together and that his mother takes medication everyday. The book’s primary message is that kids can love their parents with bipolar disorder through their parents’ ups and downs. There’s something about the way this message is repeated that feels like it’s for the parent reading it as much as it is for the child.
Concerns: There are small acknowledgements of the difficulties of having a parent with bipolar disorder–e.g., the boy was embarrassed by his mother’s behavior at the pool and worried about what would happen if she hurt herself. He also mentions that his mother’s behavior is “usually fun, but it can also be a bit scary.” Besides these small mentions, the book is extremely upbeat. A challenge is mentioned, and then it is immediately followed by a cheerful silver lining or way the problem is solved–e.g., “Sometimes my mom gets really tired and stays in bed the whole day. These days I walk to school with my friends” (accompanied by a picture of the child smiling and walking with his friends). I’m worried that this book could provide more reassurance to parents than to kids by minimizing the difficult feelings a child might be feeling when their parent is struggling.