What’s Up, Maloo?
What’s Up, Maloo?
Four steps. Five steps. Six steps.
What’s wrong, Maloo?
Seven steps. Eight steps. Nine steps.
Let us help you, Maloo.
What’s Up, Maloo? is a powerful picture book that tackles social-emotional learning in a sensitive manner, making it a great way to introduce young children to emotions, such as sadness and depression that can sometimes be difficult or seem too heavy to explain. The story begins with a happy-go-lucky kangaroo named Maloo. He hops around beautiful fields of flowers with a smile on his face until he is, all of a sudden, overcome with sadness. The biggest tell-tale sign that Maloo is feeling blue is that he begins to walk instead of his usual hop. He counts his steps. As the story progresses, Maloo encounters different friends, including a gopher and an alligator, that follow, and support, him on his journey towards hopping again and, ultimately, restoring his happiness. Maloo’s body language conveys the message that he is feeling defeated, and the illustrations even show him crying as it all becomes too much for him. It takes Maloo over a thousand steps to begin trying to hop again. His friends’ patience, encouragement, and uplifting spirits that are evident throughout the story’s entirety eventually help Maloo regain his smile and become the happy-go-lucky kangaroo once again.
The author and illustrator, Geneviève Godbout, does a tremendous job at using expressive illustrations to represent how Maloo is feeling so that it is simple for young readers who are just starting to explore emotions to recognize them. Godbout’s approaching the heavy topic of depression in such a gentle and indirect manner allows young readers to connect with, and relate to, the material in their own way. By the author’s pairing Maloo’s depression with a physical inability (the inability to hop), the story clearly demonstrates just how debilitating depression can be while also enabling readers to actually see what a journey with depression often looks like. For example, Maloo has to take many, many (physical) steps and receive lots of support (from various characters) along the way before starting to feel better. With depression being a journey that often takes a lot of perseverance to overcome, Maloo’s journey mirrors this.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for any child, but especially those just experiencing and learning about emotions for the first time. Whether children are able to read the story themselves or they need a parent to read it to them, the clear illustrations carry the story, making it accessible to all readers. Reading about Maloo’s journey provides parents with an excellent opportunity to open up a conversation about mental health with their children. By educating our youth early on about the different feelings they will experience in their lifetime, we can help them recognize these difficult emotions early and better provide them with the strategies they may need to get through them. Familiarizing young children with mental health will help normalize the conversation, thereby making them less likely to be embarrassed to ask for help when they need it. With social-emotional learning becoming a very important topic being addressed in public schools today, What’s Up, Maloo? is also a perfect anchor book for teachers to start a lesson and open up the conversation with his or her students.
Melissa Toby completed her Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of the Fraser Valley (Abbotsford, British Columbia) in Spring 2018, her Bachelor of Education at Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, B.C.) in Fall 2019, and is currently working as a grade one teacher in the Langley School District (Langley, B.C.).