The Melangui

It’s happened again on our campus.

Another young person.  Another life cut short.

After reading my post, “Life” a colleague gave me a book for Tucker.  I’m always so appreciative of these thoughtful, out-of-the-blue gifts. In fact,  I’d prefer to never have birthday gifts and instead receive the ‘I just HAD to get this for you out-of the-blue’ gifts.

Now, in the midst of another loss, I’m compelled to tell all of you about this book.  Why?  Because I think it’s great…and so did Tucker.

It also seems fitting because earlier this week my children and I had a conversation about sadness.  We talked about how being sad and having anxiety are natural and important.  We shouldn’t try to fight off sadness…if we feel it, it’s real.

We wouldn’t know happiness without sadness.  We wouldn’t know peace without anxiety.

These opposites are simply a necessity in our emotional intelligence and experience.

I love this book.  I love everything about it.  I shared it with Tucker – and it resonated with him.  Maybe because it’s so personal – it’s not about looking at pictures that depict people who are sad, “This is what sad looks like.”  In fact, it doesn’t have any pictures of people or children being sad or anxious…but it has the words.

sit in the sun

Words about those feelings…and words to help us overcome those feelings.

What we really loved though?   The images.  These images allow you to express the darker emotions on your own – without any expectation of what it ‘should’ look like.  It was interesting to watch Tucker process these pictures as he generally thrives on more explicit social cues.


This wasn’t about social cues though…this was about giving him the words – and then allowing him to talk about how those emotions personally manifest.

A practice in abstraction…like autism.  No right, no wrong – just unique.
A practice in abstraction…like our emotional experience.  No right, no wrong – just unique.

The Book?  The Melangui by  Sara Schneckloth.

Sara and I have gone back and forth about her book and she agreed to write a few paragraphs describing her work and process.

In looking for children’s books about anxiety or depression, I’ve encountered many literal depictions of tearful faces and blankets held up over worried chins.  As a nervous and angsty child, I don’t recall looking like the kids in these books.  What I do remember is the sense of internal distress and the feeling of holding something complicated inside.  As an adult, I have worked to channel this full range of bodily emotional experience into my drawing practice.

The Melangui is a gentle, abstract, exploration of the darker feelings we all experience.  The book raises possibilities for how positive thoughts and actions may transform heavy or stressful periods into lighter and more spacious times.  The Melangui (a fusion of melancholy, angst and ennui) carries our darkness, yet can also be remade into a creature that is balanced between light and shadow, between color and its lack. 

While I’ve been making artwork for several years around the idea of how we physically hold and manifest emotion, the catalyst for making the book was the Charleston church shootings this past June.  I teach in Columbia at the University of South Carolina, and the shooter is of the same age and background of many of my students.  The unfolding of that event, so close to home and woven into every moment, affected me deeply. 

I began to make quick abstract ink drawings that carried the echo of some of the emotions triggered by the event – despair, anxiety, deep sadness, outrage.  They became the seed for the writing, and through the writing emerged a sense of hope, the belief that we don’t have to give in to our demons, and that there are things that may help to lift us back up.  All the actions – writing, breathing, moving, reaching out to friends and family – are things that have stemmed my darker tides.  

I don’t want the book to serve as a ‘how to’ guide to being happy, but rather to acknowledge the complicated range of our emotions, and that being in our bodies, moving, feeling, and acting, may help to restore a sense of balance and light.

Want a copy?  Sara will even sign it for you…

Go to the book’s website:

(Sidebar…I think it’s comical that an inanimate object like a book has its own website).

3 thoughts on “The Melangui

  1. Reblogged this on Teachezwell Blog and commented:
    This post highlights the importance of using visual imagery to help kids understand sorrow and despair. Written by a mom with an autistic son, she shares a unique book called The Melangui. Check out the book for purchase and copy its theme with kids who struggle to communicate their strong feelings. The Melangui makes it obvious that you don’t have to be an “artist” to successfully use painting and drawing, although the author, Sara Schneckloth, is quite gifted.


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