EK Books, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
“What happens when a couple of kids and their mother, who has early-onset dementia, welcome some backyard chickens into their lives? “
This is the tagline used by the publisher on the website but the real story of this story is found in the back story of the book, found in the teachers’ notes and the media release.
While there are some books addressing the impact of dementia on young children’s lives, they mostly focus on the child’s grandparents, yet 28 000 of Australians living with dementia today are mothers under the age of 50 with children at home, the author being one of them. And so the chances are that there is someone amongst the school’s students who is having to face the challenges of a mum who doesn’t act like herself anymore, forgetting who they are and all the other symptoms that come with the disease, including getting cranky to the point of frightening the little ones.
Told from the perspective of one of her children, this is a sensitive, gentle book that explores the impact of the condition as more and more the children have to become their mother’s carers. The chickens, imbued with personality through both words and pictures, add a lightness to what could have become a sad, depressing story but is actually one full of love, understanding and support both for the children, their mum and the reader who might be relating more closely than we realise.
I have often praised the editors at EK Books for being brave to tread a path that others don’t, by publishing books that lift the lid on tricky issues that affect our children, and this is no exception. While, as teachers, we like to think we know and understand the out-of-school issues that our students are facing, it is books like this that give us so much more insight so we can better understand, as well as opening up the topic for the child’s peers to gain a glimpse into what might be happening in their friend’s life. How do you explain that your mate’s mum might not remember you from one day to the next, when she is having trouble remembering her own children. But the one thing that permeates both the book and the reality, is that undying, unconditional love between parent and child that can never be underestimated or overestimated- and if that is the only message a young reader takes from this, then job done and done well, Michelle Worthington.