emergingreaders

Valuing Difference

Posted on: 28 July 2011

Edward the “Crazy Man”, by Marie Day

Living in a large city my daughters are exposed to homeless people most days. I’m sure every location, no matter what size, has some people who are homeless or living on the margins in a visible way. The challenge as a parent is to help our children understand what is happening when the instinct to just ignore the situation seems so easy. Children who have always had a secure home can understandably be baffled by people sleeping on the street, looking ragged, apparently talking to themselves or yelling agitatedly. While to an adult it can seem obvious they are suffering from mental illness, explaining this in the moment to a child is not easy. It is good to have some time outside these encounters to be able to talk about what may be happening in a calm and reflective mannner.

Luckily one day we spied Edward the “Crazy Man”. He was not sitting on the sidewalk but on our local library shelf. My daughters were attracted to the book’s colorful cover. The content inside is equally well done. The story begins when Charlie is school age. He is intrigued by the local “crazy man” and tries to help him with odds and ends from his family’s garage. From a classic bully scene, the story evolves. Turn the page and fast forward to the later rediscovery of this character by Charlie. We don’t really know how Charlie learned or maintained his caring nature, but the story demonstrates how it is possible to be empathetic as a youngster and as a grownup. Now an adult, Charlie has the power to help the man, and he does. When we are finally introduced to Edward we are told he has a brain disease called schizophrenia and learn some of the signs of this disease. Even though the other adults don’t seem much more sympathetic than the children did, Edward is able to succeed, thanks to the caring support of Charlie. Greater awareness of and empathy for those with mental illness is important given that “one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will” [www.camh.net]. While the happily-ever-after ending many seem like an unlikely outcome, this story provides a good introduction to this issue. It is great to be able to share this story and use it to build some understanding rather than just giving a quick, shallow answer to a child’s question asked in the street or “pretending” that mental illness is not an important issue that children can develop an awareness about.

If you know of other young reader books that present stories around mental health issues please feel free to post a comment to share them. Thanks.

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