Title: Aunt Pearl
Author: Monica Kulling
Illustrator: Irene Luxbacher
Publisher: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2019
Themes: homelessness, family, love, garbage, acceptance, imagination, ambiguity, free-spirit, mental health, compassion
Aunt Pearl had no home of her own. She slept wherever she could.
Sometimes she crashed on a friend’s couch. Sometimes she holed up in a hostel. In summer, she slept on city benches.
“That’s not how it should be,” said Mom. Pearl will live with us.”
Aunt Pearl arrives one day pushing a shopping cart full of her worldly goods. Her sister Rose has invited her to come live with her family.
Six-year-old Marta is happy to meet her aunt, who takes her out to look for treasure on garbage day, and who shows her camp group how to decorate a coffee table with bottle caps. But almost immediately, Pearl and Rose start to clash — over Pearl’s belongings crammed into the house, and over Rose’s household rules. As the weeks pass, Pearl grows quieter and more withdrawn, until, one morning, she is gone.
Why I like this book:
I am so happy to see an author address the topic of homelessness with young children. Sadly, most children these days are exposed to this reality and it is wonderful to have a picture book we can use as a springboard for discussions on this. There are over half a million homeless in the USA and around half that number in Canada.
Monica’s approach is accepting and gracious, and at the same time authentic and gritty. Aunt Pearl is presented as a quirky, strong-willed, creative, generous (possibly struggling with some emotional or mental issues or simply free-spirited.) Her homelessness remains unexplained as do the reasons for her departure leaving her belongings behind at the end of the story. Some young readers/listeners will struggle with the lack of detail and open-endedness, and others will readily embrace the vagueness and lack of closure, and draw their own conclusions. Having bonded with their aunt, especially the little girl, the children in the story are left to wonder why she is gone, and if she’ll ever come back, and this is a great springboard for discussions. Life and relationships are bumpy and not all our questions are answered or answerable. I love the sensitive way Monica depicts the growing tension between Mom and Aunt Rose (inevitable when another adult moves in with a family) and how compassion still reigns and gestures of creativity can smooth things over. Love and family commitment underpin
The illustrations support the text with beautiful nuance, packed with emotions like: joy, messiness, randomness, every day beauty, individuality, loss and love. The ambiguity will have children and caregivers talking. A nice touch-Dan is dark-haired with light brown skin and the rest of the family is white. Encourage children to look for some recurring details in the illustrations!
Amazon has the age-range for this book as 4-7, I personally would age that up a bit, because of the wonderful ambiguity and the length of the text.This is a book I would share in my library time, and would prepare myself for some great discussions about inclusion, choice, diversity, compassion, and family. This story encourages compassion not fear!
Other books: Older children will enjoy Esperanza Rising by Pam Monoz Ryan or The Double Life of Zoe Flynn by Janet Lee Carey. For younger children, try Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts or The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.