Publisher:Allen & Unwin
Imprint:A & U Children
Pub Date:February 2016
To be honest, when I received this in my review package a few weeks ago I was somewhat taken aback. I wondered how the sad story of Joseph Merrick could possibly be the subject for a picture book and I put it to one side for a while.
Then in one of those moments of synchronicity a recently made documentary which examined Merrick’s illness, life and death with the hindsight of modern forensic scientific research screened. My little granddaughter and I watched it and while she found it very sad it was also a good opportunity to talk with her about everyone being different and as she has an intellectual impairment and attends a special school, an even better chance to discuss the students who do not have ‘invisible’ disabilities.
That made me get the book off the review shelf and show it to her and I realise now that for older children this is actually a tremendous opportunity to learn something not only about the treatment of disabilities in past times but to foster that sense of compassion that so many of us strive to instil in young ones.
While this is a fictionalised account of Merrick’s life there is clearly the thread of authentic historical detail and cleverly interspersed with sensitive illustrations are facsimiles of original documents and photos.
This is not a picture book for younger readers but for readers around 8 and up or for use in conjunction with some classroom experience relating to disabilities, awareness and empathy I think it would be of huge benefit to many students.
Thank goodness that in general so much of society has moved from those ignorant Victorian attitudes, though we still have a long way to go. And also thank goodness that people like Frederick Treves had enough true humanity to make Merrick’s later life as happy as possible.
Recommended for readers from around Year 3 and up with careful debriefing where necessary.
Teaching notes are available from Allen & Unwin here.