Not Today, Celeste! by Liza Stevens is a picture book about a dog, Celeste, whose beloved human companion Rupert, develops depression. It reflects some of the experiences and feelings a child may face when a family member has depression.
I asked Liza Stevens, the author to tell me a bit about herself, the book and what she thought you might get out of reading it. I am also very pleased to announce that Not Today, Celeste! will be the first book to feature in CWMT’s free Mental Health Book Club which you can sign up to at the bottom of this post.
Who is the target audience?
The story is suitable for children aged around 3 and over. It would be useful for not only
parents and foster carers, but teachers, social workers, therapists and support workers too.
How did you come up with this idea?
I chose to write about depression after speaking to many people who had been affected by it – including my husband. When he became unwell we realised first hand that it wasn’t easy to explain this problem to a child – but we also felt that it was very important to be open. Children can imagine all sorts of things if they aren’t told the truth. This can be especially true of looked after children, who are sadly used to their worlds being turned upside down at any moment, so can fear the worst if they think something is being kept from them. So I decided this would be the story I would tell.
What problem is this book solving?
I looked at the books already available, and whilst there were some wonderful ones about depression itself, there were very few (in the UK at least) about parental depression. What is the most important lesson people will learn from reading this book? I hope that children will learn that they are not alone – that depression is an illness affecting many families, and that help is available, for themselves and for their family member. I hope that the message gets across that they are in no way responsible for the depression – nobody is – and that they are still important, loved and valued.
What was the hardest thing about developing the content?
I saw lots of beautiful books in which depression and other issues were addressed allegorically/metaphorically. I love this approach, and to the writer and illustrator it offers lots of creative opportunities. However, I was keen that as a balance, my book would offer a straightforward look at depression. I was adamant that it would mention depression by name. I just felt that this was needed – for someone to be open about it, to even the youngest children. On a practical basis, the fact that Celeste is a dog meant that she didn’t speak actual dialogue, but I hope that I was able to show how her unhappiness and worry came across to her neighbours without it.
How do you imagine the book being used/what impact do you imagine it will have?
I hope that it can be used in lots of settings – home, school, therapy – to begin an initial dialogue with children about depression. I hope it will help children to use Rupert and Celeste’s situation to explore feelings and questions about their own experiences. I also feel it could lead families on to sharing some of the more detailed books about depression too.
What did you learn whilst you were writing it?
This is my first book so…everything! Carrying a project through from initial ideas and sketches, gathering input and feedback from others and deciding how best to use it, working with a publisher – all of it was relatively new to me, on this scale at least. But it has been wonderful.
What are you most pleased with/proud of?
I think the concept of Rupert losing his colour when he is unwell, until he becomes just a pencil outline. When Lily comes to see him and guide him towards help, he starts getting colour in his cheeks again.
How did you come up with the story?
I knew from the outset that I wanted to write about depression, and I knew I wanted it to be a story, rather than non-fiction. Instead of having it about a child, I decided early on that I wanted to tell the story using a dog and a human. This was because I wanted to keep the family set up neutral – I didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. Also, I adore dogs, and know that children have a natural affinity with animals. I thought they would be able to relate to Celeste. Once I had the characters in place, the story told itself really!
Did you test the story/content? How?
Yes, I spoke to people who had experienced depression themselves, and also people whose parents had it. As a foster carer I am lucky enough to have access to lots of professionals such as social workers and therapists, so I was able to discuss it with them too.
You can also download and print off this colouring sheet:
What do you do when you’re not writing?
As I mentioned before, I adore children’s theatre and am a puppet maker. I can’t imagine not creating in some form or another! I’m also a volunteer with Age UK – I love to work with elderly people, so I became a volunteer after I had to leave my job as a health care assistant in a nursing home. I like yoga and gardening …neither of which I am very good at, but I keep trying!
I do have some ideas in the pipeline for other books – I am working on a more mainstream picture book but also have some exciting collaborations in the pipeline for future well being books.
I am currently in the process of starting my own puppet theatre company too, and would love to adapt not only my own work but other people’s, for that medium. So watch this space, because Rupert and Celeste might well make the leap from page to stage!
About the author
Liza Stevens has an MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art, and has always been passionate about children’s books. She loves children’s theatre, and is a keen puppet maker. Liza is a foster carer, with great interest in the development, health and wellbeing of children. She is also an animal lover and a vegan. Liza lives near Brighton with her husband and sons, and two dippy but gorgeous dogs.
Liza’s website: www.lizastevens.co.uk
Follow Liza on Twitter: @Arty_Liza
You may also be interested in:
Information about CWMT’s Free Mental Health Book Club or sign up here:
Or, for more free stuff, click here.