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Heartwarming children’s book addresses ableism

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Tomorrow When I’m Big

Dorothy Peters and Livia Wolfs
Illustration by Lynda Rogac
Morningstone Community/Kindred Productions

Tomorrow When I’m Big, exquisitely illustrated by Lynda Rogac, is a children’s book produced with the commendable goal of helping to raise funds to support Impact Ministries in their mission to support people with developmental disabilities in Guatemala. The book is the joint effort of Dorothy Peters and her granddaughter, Livia Wolfs, the culmination of a conversation that began several years ago when Livia was just four years old.

The story centres on a four-year-old girl on the eve of her fifth birthday. She imagines a future for herself in Guatemala, helping others with their needs, from feeding the hungry, to leading the blind, to building homes for the homeless.

Her ambition to spend her life helping others is heartwarming and reflects the beautiful simplicity of a child’s desire to help others, unencumbered by the all of the perceived logistical, ideological and financial constraints that creep in as we age. This book is a good starting place to start talking to children about creative ideas about how they might help people in need.

Although there are hints of reciprocal relationships and between the girl and those whom she is helping, I wish that the author had more explicitly explored concepts of empowering people. The intended audience of this book is young children, yet they too can and should learn that everyone has something to offer in a relationship.

The book does well, however, on taking steps toward countering ableism (discrimination in favour of able-bodied people), a mindset that permeates our culture. It is encouraging to see a children’s book depict interactions between differently abled people. Tomorrow When I’m Big provides opportunity for children to ask questions about interactions with people with disabilities. The adult reader may use the cues provided by the illustrations to discuss how the little girl receives the gift of friendship from those whom she helps, and to explore how she learns new skills from them, such as sign language.

In addition to using this book to begin conversations with children about the ways in which a friendship with a person with a disability is equally beneficial to an able-bodied person, I would also take the opportunity the book presents to discuss the gifts of discovering a different culture. Given that the little girl’s imagined future takes place in Guatemala City, and that the little girl is portrayed primarily as the helper, an adult can use Tomorrow to discuss how developing nations have much of value to teach North American cultures.

These issues may be difficult for children to grasp; however, we would do well not to underestimate the impact of children’s books on their understanding of the world. Children’s understanding of complex issues just may surprise us.

[Andrea Heinrichs is a member at Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship in Coquitlam, B.C.

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