June 12, 2018

I'm Sad

Written by Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
June 2018

At any time, there will be media coverage about a celebrity's unexpected death from suicide. There will be yet another outcry for resources to support mental health initiatives.  And there will be those who still won't get it, thinking that having everything–fame, money, friends, home–is enough assurance that overwhelming, debilitating sadness cannot overtake and even engulf.  But if there's a great place to start to acquire an understanding of sadness, which can manifest as depression, it's the newest collaboration from the dynamic duo of Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi who amused and enlightened us with I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012).
From I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black, illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
The first double spread has a single image of the pink flamingo simply stating, "I'm sad." The message is a simple statement but Debbie Ridpath Ohi's illustration says so much more. From the drooping feathers to the bowed neck and downcast eyes, this bird is barely holding itself up or together.  The imaginative little girl and bored potato from I'm Bored listen and attempt to understand. They try to help by acknowledging that they don't think the flamingo will always feel sad and that everybody feels sad sometimes. Even as they try to help, as all friends would want to do, they grapple with understanding what the flamingo needs, initially only thinking of what would work for them. Michael Ian Black astutely recognizes that we all can only understand from our own frame of reference, with the little girl thinking ice cream, sports and activity while the potato knows that dirt would certainly cheer it up.  Even after the little girl recognizes that sometimes allowing oneself to be sad can be therapeutic and relieving flamingo that its sadness will not change their friendship, it's a good laugh courtesy of the potato's dry wit that relieves some of the tension.  It may not alleviate the sadness but it can help.
I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black, illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Many children's books that attempt to provide bibliotherapy fall short of the mark because they tend to get too preachy, convinced they have the answer. I'm Sad is not one of them. It surpasses in its message that sadness can be a significant emotion and reassurance can be the most effective strategy for helping a friend feeling debilitated by it.  By having the little girl and the potato attempt to understand, question, reassure, and suggest, Michael Ian Black has them standing with flamingo in its struggle with sadness. They don't try to vacuum it up or ignore it. They simply accept it as the flamingo explains it.  If flamingo begins to feels better, so be it.  If it doesn't, they are still there for it.

In the boldness of her colour and line, Debbie Ridpath Ohi makes sure that the depth of Michael Ian Black's message is evident. Amidst the potato's cynicism and the little girl's joie de vivre, the flamingo's sadness is unmistakable. Debbie Ridpath Ohi's ability to evoke so much story with the simplest of lines continues to astound and impress me. (See my reviews of Sam & Eva and I'm Bored.) Even her final image packs a punch of friendship and support with only a silhouette without benefit of colour.
From I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black, illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
All school libraries and guidance counselling offices should have a copy of I'm Sad to help children understand the sadness they or their friends or family may be experiencing and to reassure, just as the little girl and potato do, that support is there, even if the sadness can't be wiped out.
From I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black, illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
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n.b. There is a classroom guide by Marcie Colleen available for download here

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