Review by Kate Ryan
We Move Together is a new picture book by a diverse team of authors (Kelly Fritsch, Anne McGuire, and Eduardo Trejos) who have come together to write a love letter to the disability community. It is, in a word, fantastic. It is empowering, it is interesting, it is understandable, it is relevant—I could go on all day about how much I love this book. Unfortunately, as I discovered to my dismay, it is entirely possible that the kids in your life will not love it as much as you do.
This is the type of book that is aimed at adults as much as it is aimed at children. It has a definite message that it wants to convey. It is almost like a disability studies course in picture book format. Each page shows people of all abilities, races, ethnicities, ages, and gender identities and expressions out participating in the community. The main message on each page is a simple ‘we’ statement, such as “We wonder. We get curious.” or “Sometimes we disagree about how to be together.” Smaller statements in a different font expand on the message—”Relying on each other helps us get where we need to go.”
The book ends with a beautiful scene of many people at some sort of disability rights event, with signs reading “‘Nothing about us without us’ accesses love” “We’re in this TOGETHER.” Then on the next page shows a much quieter picture of an ideally accessible place, with people playing on an accessible playground, gardening in raised beds, or simply taking a walk. It is a perfect example of the reason that disabled people have fought for and continue to fight for our rights, so that we can participate in society and do simple things like gardening and spending time with loved ones.
The illustrations on each page are deceptively simple. At first glance, you might just see a variety of people. But the deeper you observe, the more amazing details emerge. There are people in all types of wheelchairs—wheelchairs that actually look like wheelchairs that people use, not just the clunky hospital type usually depicted in media. People in hijabs, crowns, helmets. You see people with guide dogs, canes, pink and purple hair, trachs, feeding tubes. People in groups of all ages; people alone but still clearly part of the community. I especially loved how there are people of all sizes, wearing realistic clothes, with realistic bodies. The people in this book have bellies and wrinkles and breasts, they wear leggings and crocs and sweatshirts that say ‘Black lives matter’ and shirt sporting the rainbow neurodiversity symbol. As a queer person, many of them read as queer to me (though of course we have no idea). I love how these people remind me of and resemble people I know.
And then—then comes the best part. Because these people and their colorful close and animated faces don’t just look like people I know, in some cases they literally are people that I’ve met or seen lecture online or seen in media. A number of disability activists such as Leroy Moore, Mia Mingus, and Alice Wong appear on these pages. Reading this book almost feels like you are visiting with them, and visiting with your disabled friends and community.
The reason that some kids may dislike this book is because there is no real storyline. Many kids, especially those who read chapter books on their own, want there to be a story, with named characters, and clearly discernible beginning, middle, and end. Also, unless they are very lucky, many nondisabled kids just do not know that many disabled people, or queer people, or even people of different races. So they might wonder why you are showing them this book which has nothing to do with people like themselves. For that reason, I think that this book should be read with someone older, and it should not just be added to a pile of casual reading like ‘Cowardly Clyde’ or ‘The Penderwicks,’ wonderful as those stories are. This is not a book to be read before nap time or rest time. It is a book that you sit down with, and you introduce it, and you relate to things that the kids already know, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The glossary at the back is great because it explains the simple ideas, such as accessibility and ableism, in much greater depth.
This book should be in every library that children have access to. It should be read to classes—I think it is appropriate for any elementary school age or even middle schoolers. It would make a great book to read during religious education or the equivalent of children’s time at a religious institution. After you read it, it should be left out so the kids can come across it and study it, and notice how that kid likes to lie down when they read, just like they do or that those people are enjoying their ice cream, or that for some reason there is a cat that keeps popping up on many pages.
The book’s website, www.WeMoveTogether.ca, offers a very detailed learning guide and some fun activities like word searches and coloring pages. Currently, there are also text descriptions of the illustrations available, and plans to add YouTube videos of the full book with ASL interpretation, audio descriptions, and captions, as well as an accessible e-book. Since the book just came out this year and people are kind of busy surviving a pandemic right now, it is understandable that these things are not available yet, but when they are I am sure the disability community will take full advantage of them. It would also benefit nondisabled kids to read the story in the traditional way and then in a nontraditional way, to see what it is like to experience a book in a format that they do not usually use.
As a disabled kid growing up in the 90s, I did not know that there was such a thing as a disability community. I did not know any disabled adults. I know that this is sadly still true for many disabled kids today. I think that this book is an especially important book for disabled kids and their families, because it is a book about people like them who are living ordinary lives. It is easy to find stories about Helen Keller or Paralympians. It is harder for kids to imagine a future that they don’t know exists, one where people live and work together in a society that is getting more accessible every year. One where they can find a place, find friends, find a chosen community. And as this book shows, that community is vibrant, diverse, and growing. And that community is definitely worth getting to know.