Tough Like Mum by Lana Button, Illus. by Carmen Mok

Review by Logaine Navascués

Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), April 2021

32 pages, hardcover, $21.99 CAD, ISBN 978-0-7352-6598-1

Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K–3

Picture Book, Contemporary Realism

What does it really mean to be tough? Despite her young age, Kim has already learned that faces are not always a reflection of the feelings people carry inside. On the outside, everyone thinks she’s tough like her mum. “But deep inside, where no one sees”, she can also be sad, afraid, happy, or proud.

In the new picture book Tough Like Mum, author Lana Button subtly interrogates our concept of toughness through a girl’s bold yet naïve voice. Kim even addresses the challenging aspects of her life­­—her mum’s mental health and the financial difficulties of a single-parent family­—with a witty and touching spark of innocence.

Although little Kim never directly mentions her mother’s depression, it is clearly depicted in Carmen Mok’s illustrations, which are filled with delicate hints about Mum’s vulnerable situation. Shady strokes and grey backgrounds create an overall feeling of murkiness and add to the visible physical deterioration of their surroundings. Yet, as Kim moves through the spreads, her bright yellow sweater shines like a ray of optimism, signaling that not all is lost: her strong will, positivity, and resilience will hopefully­ lead the way to a better future.

Due to the hardships the mother and daughter have faced, witnessing instances of joy is a big reward to the reader. Seeing how their bond remains intact is also a relief, and a reminder that it is possible to overcome difficult circumstances with a soft, tender, and loving heart. The fact that these circumstances are a reality not frequently portrayed in picture books makes this a valuable and compelling read. Exploring with children what it means to be, feel, or seem to be tough, can open the door to conversations about mental health, diverse family structures, and the importance of expressing oneself when faced with challenging times.

Tough Like Mum is available in stores and online April 13th, 2021!

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher, and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (MACL) at UBC.

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