Elliot’s story is one that demands to be told. His family, though very loving, is not equipped to deal with his needs. When he cries, they do not understand why. When he yells, they do not know what to do. When he misbehaves, they do not know how to react.
A visit from Andrew (a Children’s Aid social worker), changes the dynamic. Elliot and his parents try their very best to mend their relationship, but their love is not enough. Elliot is placed into the foster care system with a new family.
“Pearson’s refusal to sugarcoat [Elliot’s] journey should resonate with children in similar situations.”—Publishers Weekly
This is, of course, a sensitive subject. Children in foster care haven’t been given the space in picture books that their adopted peers have, and, in fact, the 2011 census was the first time they were formally counted in Canada. A staggering 47,885 Canadian children (most of which are under the age of 14) are in foster care — nearly 1% of all children in the country.
It is an difficult process made more palatable by Julie Pearson’s tender yet brutally honest text and enlivened by Manon Gauthier’s soft, mixed media illustrations. The choice to anthropomorphize Elliot and his families is a good one– children of all kinds can see themselves represented within these pages, and big issues are more digestible when cute critters are involved (think And Tango Makes Three). Furthermore, this is Pearson’s first picture book conceived during her first months as an adoptive mother, and translated from French by Pajama Press’s very own Managing Editor, Erin Woods.
It is a delightfully different and long overdue look at what Cindy Blackstock, of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada calls “a balancing of risk” by “taking children out of a difficult situation and putting them in a difficult situation. No matter how loving the foster home is, the vast majority of children are going to have a hard time in child welfare care.”
Blackstock’s words ring true for Elliot, who struggles to adjust to his new home environment and its different smells, toys, sounds, and routines. Eventually, his foster parents and siblings earn his trust with their kindness, patience and love, but this isn’t the end of the line for Elliot. He is reunited with his birth parents, though not for long: Andrew places him with another new family whose love and compassion soon soothe Elliot’s sore heart.
One day, there is a party and Andrew announces that Elliot has been officially adopted. His new parents tell him “You are a part of our family now– forever, FOREVER.” Although not all children in the foster care system have a happy ending, it is encouraging to those going through it to see Elliot on the final page of his story tucked in bed, sleeping soundly, while his adoptive parents watch over him lovingly– forever.
Elliot by Julie Peason, illustrated by Manon Gauthier & translated by Erin Woods
March 4, 2016
Juvenile Fiction/ Family- Orphans & Foster Homes
Order from the University of Toronto Press