Picturebooks to heal your heart

By Shoshana Magnet

“Transitions are hard,” I say too often. Recently arriving home and trying to transition to the noise of children, I found myself yelling for quiet when I was barely over the threshold. “Transitions are hard mummy,” said my youngest. “Maybe you need to get used to noise.” As we collectively approach a moment of transition, with its attendant joys and anxieties, I highlight two books that focus on the possibilities of movement and change.

We Move Together,

by Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire, illustrated by Eduardo Trejos.
AK Press, 2021.

I have longed for this book. As someone with a child with a disability, this book is world changing. We are born dependent, we die dependent. It is fantasy to think we are anything less than dependent on one another all our lives. This book emphasizes that “all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met,” reminding us that we need to “move together, with no body left behind.” The illustrations are joyful. Each page reminds me of the joy of those moments when “we move together” and our shared movements produce change.

We are shown an ice cream shop rendered inaccessible by a single stair, followed by a scene with folks making stair risers so all businesses can be accessible for those who roll. Look for the helpers, said Mister Rogers. Here they are, making the world better, one stair riser at a time.

This book is wondrous because it teaches critical thinking in social justice movements in a single two-page spread. One scene illustrates the importance of straws for some people with disabilities, as a woman holds out a cup with a straw so her lover can drink. The next page features the war on straws for environmental reasons, reminding us that “these things that connect us are often what challenge us” and that “sometimes we disagree about how to be together.” Yet We Move Together reminds us that disagreement, discomfort and conflict are not the end of the world; they are part of the struggle, the reason to patiently keep at it, even if we may need to take a break. We Move Together is all the better because one of the authors, Kelly Fritsch, lives in Ottawa. The book is available at Octopus Books.

Mr. Flux,

by Kyo Maclear,
illustrated by Matte Stephens.
Kids Can Press, 2013.

I hate change. As we prepare for more uncertainty and change in this time of great transition, my sons and I look to books like Mr. Flux. This book is about Martin, who doesn’t like change. He lives in a neighbourhood where everything stays the same, probably what Nishnaabeg writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson would call a “suburban deathscape” – an “unchanging street with a fixed number of trees, dogs, cats and cars.” Until the arrival of Mr. Flux, who doesn’t just tolerate change, he loves it! He enjoys mixing things up, making art that includes a tuba filled with tennis balls. He is unlike Martin whose fear of change means not wanting to try a new bike that is “too new and scary to ride.” Then Martin finds a large wooden box and gives it to Mr. Flux. Mr. Flux is holding out a puzzle piece painted with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds. “Look, my friend just sent me a bit of sky,” says Mr. Flux, sparking a lovely friendship.

The pandemic has necessitated spending more time with our neighbours. I feel so grateful to my adult neighbours for taking an interest in my children, talking with them seriously and asking them how they are hanging in. Mr. Flux is this kind of adult; he nurtures and encourages Martin to try some changes. Even when they don’t understand one another, they both like “each other enough to give new things a go.” Isn’t that all life is? An unending series of trying to give new things a go?

This pandemic asks so much of us, including to keep trying even when we are surrounded by unwelcome and frightening change. You can sweep back the tide with a broom until you are covered in blisters, but one truth is that we are bobbing on these changing tides of life, both separately and together. When the day comes that Mr. Flux is ready to move on, Martin is sad, then secretly delighted when his friend’s car breaks down. But he sees “Mr. Flux’s sad face and knew he had places to go.” Martin fetches his “beloved old red bicycle” and bequeaths it to Mr. Flux. This book revives the old truism: Isn’t it better to have been transformed by love than never to have loved at all?

Shoshana Magnet is a mother of two and a professor of feminist and gender studies at the University of Ottawa. She writes a listserv on picture books that talk about big feelings, big topics and social justice: feministpicturebooks.mailchimpsites.com.

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