Mike Braithwaite, a former schoolteacher, has written this book intended to help children whose parents have Multiple Sclerosis understand the illness better. The book is sponsored by BBC Children in Need.
The story follows the experiences of Myles and Imogen Stockingfeather and several other memorable characters. The essential information about multiple sclerosis comes across clearly with a straight out, no nonsense approach as we learn of Imogen developing the disease. The smaller plots around the other characters not least the farm animals, the beloved Madonna, a rather innocent corgi, and Sonia, the fastest whippet anyone has ever laid eyes on, are very amusing and are sure to raise a smile among young readers.
Imogen’s illness starts out with tiredness that soon moves on to a more worrying issue of blindness in one eye and a numbed left leg. She is taken to the opticians and is visited by the doctor, who arranges a MRI scan. Imogen is diagnosed with MS, but the doctor does a good job of reassuring her that things should get slightly better eventually. Frequent interjections of humour along with a wonderful selection of illustrations by Derry artist Mark Willett, ensure that the story seizes the imagination and holds the reader’s interest.
The foundation of the story is the use of a river metaphor to explain multiple sclerosis. “Imagine the river is a nerve and the group of leaves floating on the surface is a message coming from the brain and going to the left leg. For the left leg to do what the brain has asked it to do, the message cannot be changed in any way.” Myles Stockingfeather, while fishing, gets an idea that could make him big money, and help him catch trout. If he digs away the sides of the riverbed, and places breadcrumbs there, any passing fish will go to take the breadcrumbs, and get caught in the swirling current in the miniature bays. He describes how the leaves swirl around in the bays, although some will get downstream. The next time Myles visits the river, the bays have been filled in due to the banks collapsing, and boulders have been washed into the river. This has affected the path of the leaves in the river.
This metaphor captivates children and helps them understand MS. It also makes for a good story that is rich in symbolism and meaning. The writing and illustrations deal with a difficult subject in a factual and non-threatening way.
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