You’re never sure how a book is going to connect with readers. Sometimes it’s a character that hooks readers. Other times, it’s a plot point. Sometimes just your voice or style is enough.
Turns out, though, sometimes it’s about loss and pain, too.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears has drawn readers in lots of ways, but one of the most important ways has been in its unvarnished view of Alzheimer’s Disease, one of the most rapidly growing epidemics in the US.
When I included that storyline in Merci, I was unaware exactly how many people face this situation every day with no caregiving safety net in place. All I really knew was that my uncle, Diego, was taken from us that way – a little bit at a time, until the once sweet and charming man was left virtually erased in a world of strangers. It was grueling to watch my cousin and his family face the many hard days and difficult decisions about his care.
This past June, when I traveled to DC to accept the Newbery award, Candlewick scheduled a signing for the librarians at the ALA conference. The first woman in that line placed several copies on my table and just asked for my signature. When I was about halfway through, she leaned in and whispered tearfully, “I just lost my mother to Alzheimer’s a few months ago.”
I put my pen down. My heart broke for her instantly because I knew what that journey must have looked like. Holding hands over that signing table, I was so sorry for her loss and also grateful that my book offered even the slightest bit of relief. I can only guess from the reactions of so many other people in the line that day that I wasn’t alone in feeling her pain, either.
Since then, I’ve met many readers who have shared their stories with me. Parents who’ve read the book together with their children to help them understand what is happening to their grandparents. Teachers and librarians who’ve lost parents and spouses to the illness. Individuals at the start of their own frightening decline. All of them are readers who needed to see their lives, complete with frustration and fear, right there on the page of a children’s book.
Here are the sobering facts. By the year 2050, it is predicted that there will be over 14 million Americans over age 65 afflicted per year. How will we love and care for these people? What structures will be in place to face the overwhelming financial costs of this care? How will we face this crisis?
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month, and while there is currently no cure, it’s vital that we keep searching for treatments and for ways to provide much-needed relief to the millions of family-members and friends who are doing the exhausting work of caretaking.
Please get involved and informed. Candlewick Press created a beautiful discussion guide for Merci which includes conversation prompts for readers on the topic of Alzheimer’s. Here, too, are some other books for young readers which might be helpful, as well as a long list of nonfiction resources. Finally, here are some practical ways that you can help in efforts to find a cure.