Big & Me
Working together to cope with mental illness

David Miller.
Ford Street Publishing
ISBN 978 1 876462 69 7
Price $26.99
“You should be taking
your tractor medicine,”
I said.
“I don’t need stupid
tractor medicine any
more!” roared Big.
Then he started
throwing things
at me, so I got out
of the way.
Excerpt from Big And Me

A story about two machines working together to overcome their personal difficulties is helping to break the isolation of children living in families affected by a mental illness.

Big And Me by artist and author David Miller was released this month to coincide with Mental Health Week.

Big and Small work hard together as a team but have to work even harder to overcome Big’s problems as it becomes clear all is not well with his ‘computer brain’.

Described by the publisher as “profoundly honest and ultimately redeeming” the story, which took 18 months to develop, describes how someone who is disturbed in their thinking may behave and how decisions are made to get help for Big from the ‘tractor mechanic’.

Small’s feelings of confusion, fear, love and optimism are openly explored as the tiny machine manages to cope with Big’s instability.

Based in Melbourne, Miller received a grant from the Australian Council for the Arts to bring the project to fruition.

“It took such a long time just getting the concept right,” Miller said. “As I am fortunate not to have any mental illness in my own family it was important that I collected stories from many different people to make sure I was on the right track – it ended up being quite a simple text, but it was a complex process to arrive there.”

The result is a delightful storybook suitable for children as young as four, illustrated in Miller’s intricate style of paper sculpture, built on a foam board base.

Sad, yet hopeful, the book shows how Big and Small work together as a team, but sometimes Big gets a bit ‘wobbly’ and Small gets ‘a lot worried’.

“If you are a child reading this book and you haven’t been exposed to mental illness in your family, it is just a light story,” Miller said. “But depending on what they have been exposed to, children can identify with different issues throughout the text.”

The project came about with Miller, fresh off the success of his previous work Refugees, while he was planning to tackle something “fun and light”.

“I was thinking about doing something with machines and a friend suggested I tackle this issue and write something for children living with a mental illness in the family – at the time I remember thinking ‘wow’, that’s a really big ask!”

To ensure he was on the right track the author was guided by Victorian Statewide Coordinator FaPMI (Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness) Rose Cuff.

“When David Miller first talked with me about his idea for creating Big And Me and the concepts behind it, I was thrilled to think that there might be an additional resource here in Australia which could start some conversations about mental illness in families with young children,” Rose said.

She said often families struggled to discuss issues regarding mental illness and with a lack of discussion there was a danger for children to draw their own, incorrect conclusions about what is happening around them.

“Big And Me will contribute enormously towards addressing this and help children, families and communities understand that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.

To assist educators in getting the most value out of Big and Me in the classroom, Rose has compiled a detailed set of teachers’ notes which can be found on the publisher’s website.

Packed with support material, activities and tips, the notes also contain valuable information about identifying families where mental illness may be impacting on children and suggestions for approaching parents.

“Many children in a school community will be living with a parent who is affected by some sort of mental health disorder, yet stigma and a general lack of information creates many barriers for children and families to seek help and support, so that often they remain isolated in the belief they are ‘bad’ parents,” Rose said.

“Many parents say they are too fearful to approach teachers for fear of being misunderstood.”
The Big and Me teachers’ notes include information on psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety along with contact details for mental illness support services, making it a valuable tool for educators and counsellors.

Big And Me was released in October by Ford Street Publishing. Teachers’ notes are available at www.fordstreetpublishing.com.

From Here to Infinity
The Royal Observatory
Guide to Astronomy
John and Mary Gibbon
Publisher UWA Press
ISBN 978 0 980296 56 3
Price $34.95

Science duo John and Mary Gribbin draw the world’s attention to the stars with their latest collaboration, From Here to Infinity.

Illustrated with amazing still shots and diagrams, this visually stunning book about the solar system offers a new appreciation of our place in the cosmos. From straightforward facts divulging the distance between starts and what Galileo saw through his telescope, to broader questions about exploring the edge of the universe and how it all began.

From Here to Infinity is an accessible introduction to astronomy that explores both the intricacies of the universe as well as the history of the science.

This book is a standout example of how authors who really know their subject can explain highly complex concepts in a manner that makes them accessible to readers who are not scientists.

As an introduction to astronomy, it is an informative, easy read. Those among us who promote the teaching of ‘creation science’ will not want this book to be widely read in schools. Personally, I hope it is.

Bill Minnis