Monday 29 October 2012

Just Because by Rebecca Elliott (Lion Publishing)

When I was a wee whippersnapper, my two best friends were two girls - one called Selma and one called Merrel. Merrel had Spinabifida and had also suffered severe birth trauma and when I first read "Just Because" it took me back nearly 40 years to a time when the three of us were as thick as thieves. Selma (we used to call her the naughty one because she was always daring us to do really daft things like drink pond water or see if the insides of Rosehips really did work as itching powder by testing them out on ourselves  - Note to kids: Do NOT try that one at home) loved Merrel with the kind of unconditional love that children reserve exclusively for their close siblings. Merrel was in a wheelchair and could not speak (she could make noises, much like the little girl in "Just Because") but she was awesome and I'd never met anyone else like her.

As children we don't see 'different' until it's pointed out to us by others (usually adults, sometimes well meaning, sometimes cruel). Rebecca Elliott's "Just Because" absolutely captures the essence of this and Toby, the young lad in the story absolutely adores his big sister Clemmie. She's beautiful, she's funny, she has the most amazing hair on the planet and she has a cool wheelchair that can visit the moon. Most of all, he loves her "just because".

The most touching part of this book wasn't just that it almost made me burst into tears with the sharp and distinct memory of Selma and Merrel, but Charlotte's reaction to it. She asked a lot of questions about Clemmie but she asked them because she wanted to understand her own response to the story and then she asked that $6 million question - "why did this happen to Clemmie?" Which is, of course, a question I couldn't answer. "Just Because" just didn't seem adequate enough.

This is one of the most beautiful children's books ever written, handled in such a thoughtful and also thought-provoking way. I defy anyone not to feel a lump in their throat reading this, there are so many reasons why it can't be praised enough - from spellbinding illustrations beautifully painted by Rebecca herself, to the quiet and understated beauty of Clemmie as a character. There's another Clemmie and Toby book called "Sometimes" and I really really want to read that now!

Charlotte's best bit: Clemmie as a princess sitting atop her sand castle

Daddy's favourite bit: It'd be impossible to list all the tiny and beautiful little moments in this book that struck a chord with me, suffice to say that this is an incredibly important book that (to use a well worn cliche) really should find its way into the hands of every child.

(Kindly supplied to us for review by Lion Press)