Children’s book aims to ‘normalize disability’ 

The relationship between grandparents and pre-teen grandchildren is like no other. The youngsters bring their raw energy and unfiltered love, while the disarmed oldsters add their reawakened playfulness and vintage patience to the mix. 

A grandparent and her grandkids are at the heart of Bonnie Sherr Klein’s newly published children’s book, Beep Beep Bubbie. Klein, 79, a Roberts Creek resident, a maker of more than 20 documentary films, and an Officer of the Order of Canada, brings her long experience as a disability rights activist to the story of young Kate, Nate and their Bubbie, a Yiddish word for grandma. 

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As the story begins, Kate and the younger Nate, who often spend shabbat (the Jewish sabbath, Saturday) cavorting in Vancouver with their grandmother, are surprised to find Bubbie is now using a four-wheeled scooter to get around. Nate is intrigued with the machine and its high-pitched beeping horn. But Kate is glum and embarrassed at the prospect of relating to Bubbie while she’s on this new device, afraid that things just won’t be the same. Over the course of this upbeat and brightly illustrated 30-page story, Kate soon learns that Bubbie is as much fun as ever. 

“The whole idea was to normalize disability,” Klein said in an interview. “All of the books I saw – and I looked at a lot – were either very schmaltzy and sentimental, or super-hero absurd. Some were very pitying, and pretty pathetic.” 

Klein knows a great deal about the life of the disabled, having suffered a catastrophic stroke while still in her mid-forties, as recalled in her 1997 memoir Slow Dance: A Story of Stroke, Love and Disability. Still, she didn’t want to this children’s story to be “clinical,” she said. “I don’t use the word stroke. The book doesn’t attempt to say why this woman is in a scooter. It’s just presented as a fact of life. But the experience of the child (Kate) being a little bit ashamed is the nut of the story.” 

The story is fiction, Klein points out, as her own three grandchildren have never known her not to have to have to use a walker at home, or get out and about on either her specially built, low-slung, three-wheeled bicycle, or her motorized scooter. But there is one true factoid in the book: both in the story and in real-life, the scooter is named Gladys. 

Beep Beep Bubbie, published by Tradewind Books, is suitable for children aged 3 to 7, and available in hardcover at local bookstores and online.

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