Jul 18, 2014

    Books offer window to myriad forms of familial and human relationships

    "I AM Nina. I live in two homes. Dad lives in one house. Mom lives in another house.

    And I live in both houses, sometimes with Mom and sometimes with Dad."

    That is how the picture book I Have Two Homes by Marian De Smet begins. It is a story which deals with the issue of separation and divorce, told in a matter-of-fact manner from a child's perspective.

    I consider it one of my treasured finds during my seven-year-old's weekly trips to the library. Why?

    First, I felt the story helped broaden my daughter's view of the people and world around her.

    Second, it taught her empathy.

    Third, it touched both of us.

    My girl's first question after reading the book was: "What happened to Nina's parents?"

    "They have divorced," I said.

    "What is divorce?" she asked.

    "Divorce means they have split up and are no longer married," I replied. "Why?" she asked.

    "I do not know," I replied, adding that there are many reasons why couples split up. I flipped to one page and read one explanation attempted by the author: "Mom and Dad aren't happy with each other anymore."

    The next sentence was particularly poignant. "But I know they are very happy with me."

    My daughter went quiet. Her next question was not unexpected. "You and Daddy are happy with each other, right? You quarrelled sometimes but you are happy, right?"

    "Ya, I think so," she went on to answer her own question, not giving me a chance. The story taught her a thing or two about marriage.

    "A classmate does not have a mummy," she went on. "Is it because her parents are divorced?"

    "Maybe," I replied.

    "But she still has a daddy," she added with a smile.

    I can see that she is trying to make the connection between fiction and the real world. It is time for her to learn that not every marriage has a fairy-tale ending.

    Does reading a tale of separation make her more prone to divorce when she grows up? I don't think so. If anything, I would think the story sends a strong message to both children and adults that married couples should not take the status quo for granted.

    My girl will grow up to have her own views on marriage and parenthood. But for her to be able to think more deeply about these issues, she needs to be given a chance to discuss them first.

    The book I Have Two Homes was first published in Dutch in Belgium and Holland before it was translated into English and Chinese. It offers my girl - and many other children across different cultures - a window to the myriad forms of familial and human relationships.

    I managed to borrow the book from the library again on Monday. I consider it a good book for my child.

    I certainly hope it does not get caught in the crossfire of increasingly belligerent clashes over societal norms and values. Three other titles were not spared.