It’s so easy to overlook what parents do for their children. When you’re a child, you assume all parents are sacrificers and givers. Many times it isn’t until the child matures that he realizes the tremendous sacrifice his parents have made to see that he has a good life. That’s the premise of author/illustrator Zeno Sworder’s newest picture book: My Strange Shrinking Parents. Dubbed a “tall tale,” this lovely picture book is indeed a tall order in that it is physically tall (8×12) and also psychologically tall in its subtle emphasis on parental sacrifice.
The book opens to an immigrant family from far-off lands who settle in America. Though they have little to give their son, they love him and shield him from the troubles they face. Everyday they shower him with hand-carved toys and songs about the height and depth of their love for him, and for a time he is content. But like all children, the boy grows and his needs must be met. To meet them, the parents sacrifice parts of themselves. In the book, their sacrifices are taken out in “inches from their stature,” so that, in effect, they begin to shrink. While this is happening, other children point out the boy’s differences, and like most children, he feels his parents are responsible for this difference.
The years go by and the boy continues to grow. As he grows, his parents shrink — until finally he overshadows them. By the time he figures out what has happened, he is so grateful for his parent’s sacrifice that he makes a sacrifice of his own.
My Strange Shrinking Parents is a lovely book with a haunting theme that can bring a smile and tears at the same time. The prose is down-to-earth and presented so that young children will understand the mechanics of what is happening, like the fact that the parents get smaller while the child gets bigger. However, the premise of the astronomical sacrifices that parents make for their children — exhibited by the parents’ relentless shrinking, may be a bit above the typical young child’s head. Still, older children and adults will understand, and this sweet understanding is sure to make this book a family favorite.
Mr. Sworder’s illustrations are quite lovely. The pale blues, soft browns and reds, and shadowy images lend a feeling of quiet humility to the book.
Use this book as a starting point for conversations about families, familial roles, immigration, racism, and sacrificing your own desires to help someone else achieve theirs. This book should do well in language classes, social science classes, churches, or as independent reading. Enjoy!