Anna Liza Madigan is nine years old with an older brother and a psychiatrist mother. Colfer explains that Anna Liza’s Mum has a job which involves helping people to feel better about their problems by discussing them. This is a worthwhile and constructive explanation.
In her mother’s waiting room Anna Liza meets Edward, about her age. Edward’s father is being counselled, we imagine for depression. Edward is sad because his Dad is sad. Anna Liza decides to tackle Edward’s unhappiness by cheering up his father. She takes a pair of roller skates belonging to her brother. While Edward’s Dad is asleep she straps the skates to his feet.
When he wakes, Edward’s Dad careers off down to the coast and into the sea. Will he drown? Of course not. This is a story about happiness not tragedy. The incident bonds father and son together. Anna Liza’s mother makes her promise not to use such drastic tactics again, but to carry on trying to help people with problems.
This book is a rarity. It opens a window on the world of mental health for readers of this age group which is neither didactic nor medicalised. It is essentially a human story in which the therapy is compassionately positioned. Young readers will first laugh, then understand. Robertson’s illustrations reinforce the humour of the text and helpfully intervene whenever the narrative risks becoming too intense.