The Mystery of The Colour Thief is a story that touches on grief, guilt, anger and sadness, but more than any of these things, it is a story of hope and new beginnings. I wrote it thinking that if it resonates with even one child who is currently going through a difficult time, then I would have accomplished what I set out to do.
I’m so pleased that children’s mental health is a subject which is coming up higher on political agendas and gaining more coverage in the media. I think that thanks to this, over the past few years, teachers and senior leaders in schools have become increasingly aware of how to spot the signs of a child who may be suffering from anxiety or depression, which is an extremely important first step.
At the same time I realise that this is a responsibility shouldered by a group of people who, more often than not, have a huge marking and planning workload, and whose time and attention is already very stretched. And even the most perceptive teacher may not spot the warning signs in a child who, on the whole, seems fine.
I have always been a firm believer in placing all efforts into encouraging children to open up about their feelings. We sadly still live in a world in which trying to present your ‘best self’ at all times is the norm. Children are taught to ‘toughen up’ (particularly boys), crying is discouraged – it belongs to the domain of babies and nobody wants to be deemed a cry-baby. But the trouble with our emotions is that if they’re strong enough, they won’t go away. They might not be outwardly visible, but they still exist within us, and if they’re not released, they intensify, sometimes dangerously .
Izzy, the heroine of The Mystery of The Colour Thief, suffers terrible nightmares of a dark, shadowy man coming towards her and demanding something – something which is always just out of her reach. Every morning after one of her nightmares , she finds that another colour has drained away from the mural on her bedroom wall. A mural that her mum painted and adds to, showing all the milestones in her life. Izzy’s incredibly frightened, yet she tells nobody , for fear of sounding as though she’s gone mad.
Meanwhile following an accident, Izzy’s mum is in a serious condition in hospital, and Izzy avoids visiting her due to the guilt that plagues her every time she goes. She believes the accident was all her fault. Her Dad is increasingly withdrawn, so she feels that she can’t speak to him. With everything that’s going on, she feels immensely lonely, and fails to notice that there are actually many people who want to reach out to her and to help. It is only when her neighbour Toby tells her about his own troubles, that she feels that she can open up to him about the colour thief, and together they set out to solve the mystery surrounding him. .
I’ve always been fascinated by colour and particularly its link to human emotion. We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘black dog’ which is an image associated with sadness and the idea of ‘seeing red’ when you’re angry or turning ‘green with envy’. But until relatively recently, I hadn’t heard anybody talk about things becoming ‘colourless’ when they feel down.
The idea for Izzy’s story actually came from a young girl in a school where I was a governor, who was going through an incredibly tough time at home and when asked by a teacher about what impact it was having on her, she said that it felt as though all the colours had disappeared from her world. It was a touching image – when I heard it, I could just imagine what it must be like to look at the world as if through the screen of an old-fashioned film, where everything is in shades of grey.
I used colour in the book to indicate mood. Look at the “autumn leaves, clusters of
reds and oranges” (page 85), or “the human body is quite literally filled with colour.” (page 88), and
I used red in different ways – as anger, as red blood cells, as the colour to show Spike his
house from far away. Adults living and working with children could use Izzy’s story to talk about emotions with children.
For instance, why does Izzy call the day of her Mum’s accident ‘the Blackest Day’? (page 28) What does the colour black represent here? If you have a bad day, which colour would you attribute to it and why? What colour would you paint your bedroom if you could? Why?
In The Mystery of the Colour Thief, colour reflects how people are feeling. At the start of the novel, Izzy worries that she’ll be ‘bland and boring…and grey’ on stage (page 63). By the end of the book, Izzy says “I no longer felt bland and grey – I felt coloured in, in full technicolour…” (page 174) What does she mean by that?
I do hope that Izzy’s story will make young readers realise that no matter how difficult the situation that they find themselves in, there will always be somebody who they can trust, who will be able to repaint their world. Often, these people are there waiting for us to be ready, but it’s up to us to take a leap of faith and to make the first move.
The Mystery of the Colour Thief by Ewa Jozefkowicz, published in hardback, £10.99, 3 May 2018 from Zephyr
Ewa Jozefkowicz was born in London in1987 to Polish parents. She spent much of her childhood among the shelves of her father’s bookshop. Her favourite books to read were Jacqueline Wilson’s heartwarming real life stories. Ewa went on to study English Literature at UCL and currently works for an educational company who support senior school leaders. Through her work, Ewa is aware that emotional welfare of students is a major area of concern for schools. She hopes Izzy’s story will encourage readers who might be dealing with their own emotional difficulties to find people they trust who can support them – to reach out to teachers, family members and friends. The character of Toby was inspired by Ewa’s close friend who is also a wheelchair-user and just as kind and resilient.
@EwaJozefkowicz #TheColourThief @HoZ_Books