We read a book last week called, When Charley Met Emma. It’s a picture book about a little boy meeting a little girl with limb differences. The book engages with the questions the boy has upon first seeing the girl and the experience the girl has being someone who has to be first seen by someone every single day. It’s one of those books that is both informative and beautiful.
When we were done reading I set it on our bookshelf with all the other books I read to my kids to help them expand the scope of their understanding. Sometimes I wonder if all those books are doing the work I expect of them. Can a picture book actually make a child more tolerant, more inquisitive, more compassionate, more humane?
Last night, I went into my kids bedroom to tell them it was time to turn off the lights. Their floor was littered with the detritus of childhood - coloring sheets, dirty socks, a wrapper or two from a sneaky treat, and a never finished Lego city. My bedtime announcement interrupted a deep discussion about the next wave of city planning and both girls were suitably indignant. I assured them that real city planning is a process both slow and frustrating, so my delay was really in the spirit of their whole enterprise. They can roll their eyes in sync now, if anyone was wondering.
Viola held up a Lego figure,
“Fine, we’ll got to bed. But first you have to see what I made! This is my favorite girl but I couldn’t find her legs! So we decided to make her a girl with limb differences. I took off one hand too.”
Margaret showed me the latest addition to the city, green blocks lining a wide construction path.
“Yeah, Mom. It’s great because while Viola built the girl, I figured out how to make a wheelchair for her. See? We’re making this park for the wheelchair.”
And then, I AM NOT FORKING KIDDING YOU, Viola picked up her Lego figure, put it in the wheelchair and said, “I am glad that I get to keep her. She’s still my favorite even though I lost some parts because all you need to be a person is a head and a heart! And look! She’s got both of those.”
I hugged them both, told them they could play until they fell asleep on top of their city for all I cared, walked into the hall, wept, then got on to Indiebound and ordered five more picture books.
Meet the little girl who inspired the book here.
Words by Amy Webb
Illustrations by Merrilee Liddiard