written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher
A little boy is excited about his new baby sister, looking forward to ‘racing and chasing, screaming with laughter and delight’ – just like the swifts that arrived back the same day she was born. But when she comes home from the hospital, it is clear to him that he will not be able to play with her as he had imagined – or will he?
This beautiful picture book doesn’t go into details about the nature of his sister’s disability, focusing rather on the boy and his emotions: his rejection of his sister; his hurt, pain and anger; and finally, after he rescues a fledgling swift, the moment of connection with her.
Perfect touches on painful subject matter. Anyone who has introduced a small child to a new sibling will have experienced the apprehension of how that meeting will be, even following several weeks of preparation. Perfect confronts a sibling’s negative emotions and provides a forum for those emotions to be faced and worked through, as well as ultimately offering solace and hope. It could be argued, in fact, that Perfect is a trail-blazer, albeit a gentle and sensitive one, since the topic of rejecting a disabled baby may be considered taboo and society generally makes working through negative emotions even more difficult. It is not always easy for parents, let alone young children, to adjust to disability in a new baby: but admitting to that doesn’t mean the baby is not loved.
In this story, the boy’s love for the swifts draws in young readers and allows them to draw the same parallels he does. When he comes out the other side and realsies that he will be able to play with his sister and indeed to love her, he is still very much the focus. In fact, there has been no adult intervention, at least in what we see here, though of course that doesn’t mean to say that the boy is not being lovingly supported and encouraged outside the confines of the narrative. Whether they share aspects of the boy’s experience or not, the apparent lack of adult involvement offers broader scope for empathy, and maybe even healing, in young readers.
Cathy Fisher’s illustrations are beautiful. They convey the emotional tangle that is so gently expressed in the text. Just looking at the image of the boy wishing he could ‘vanish with the swifts’, you know that he is deeply unhappy. I love the batik effect of the backgrounds – especially the dappled summer garden that envelops the final image of the boy hugging his baby sister lovingly and protectively. Overall, I love the way that observance of the swifts and their behaviour is so much a part of the story – and Cathy Fisher’s depiction of the birds, whether flying high in the sky or close-up, is spot on.
Perfect is a very special book, telling of one small boy’s emotionally long and ultimately uplifting summer journey, through beautiful and sensitive language and images.
Read Nicola Davies’ article ‘Why I Wrote a Book About Having a Disabled Sibling‘ and view some of the book’s gorgeous illustrations (The Guardian, 2015).
Read Nicola’s article ‘Why I Wanted to Write About Disability‘ (Scottish Book Trust, 2016).