In the past six years, we have moved house five times, once across 14,500 km from Swansea, South Wales to Perth, Western Australia. Moving is a big pain, both in the backside and, of course, in the heart.
But once the dust has settled, and the stress and excitement has passed, it can also feel oddly comforting. It is reassuring to know that you can make a home for yourself and your family in different spaces and places. Obviously, it is a great privilege to have a safe, comfortable home in which to live, wherever that may be. My challenges have been minuscule compared with people who have actual housing struggles forcing them to move often.
Stories about moving are always worth telling and re-telling, whatever your circumstances. We might seek to create permanent, “forever” homes, super-comfortable and familiar. Homes which express every facet of our personalities and serve all our needs. But we are always going to be subject to bigger forces, some utterly unpredictable (see 2020 so far…). We are always going to need to say goodbye to phases of our lives and start new ones.
Two books published in Australia in recent years capture beautifully this ending-beginning time. The first, Clare’s Goodbye by Libby Gleeson (Little Hare Books, 2017) focuses on the ending. Through Anna Pignataro’s hatched and smudged illustrations, sprouting with bright leaves and flowers, we follow three siblings saying goodbye to their home. The youngest, Clare, is not taking part. She will not speak, she looks away.
In the chaos and jumble of moving, depicted in Pignataro’s mix of drawing and collage, Clare disappears. Her brother and sister search from room to room, eventually finding her in their old bedroom. There, her eyes are closed, but her arms are thrown wide and she is spinning and dancing around the empty room. It is her way of saying goodbye and her brother and sister join her in the dance. It’s great to read a book which fully acknowledges the depths of feeling stirred by moving and how difficult they can be to express. The story also shows how a child can create their own ritual, their own outlet for these complicated emotions.
Goodbye House Hello House (Allen & Unwin, 2019) by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ann James, deals with both the ending and the beginning. A cheeky-faced, scruff-haired kid, drawn in black and white, spends her last hours in her home reflecting on “the last time” she will do everything there: “This is the last timeI will swing on this gate”, “…eat at this table” and “…dream by this fire”. Arriving at her new home, she experiences all the first times: “This the first time I’ll jump over these cracks”, “…push open this gate”, “…look over this fence”. Although the child is moving from the country to the city, and the differences are noted – rivers and ponies vs bright city lights – it is all the similarities which sing loudest as the two parts of the book mirror each other. James’ illustrations juxtapose black and white particulars with impressionistic painted views of the rooms and the outdoors – the feelings matter more than the details.
Shirley Hughes’ Moving Molly, about a move from the town to the country, is as old as I am – it was first published in 1978. Hughes’ brilliance is in seeing from Molly’s point of view. We are immersed in the details she notices – a torn flap of wallpaper, the sound of cats at night, how few people are passing by her front gate at the new house. Bored, with her brother and sister at school, Molly starts exploring, finding her way through a hole in the fence into next door’s overgrown garden where there are cats to meet, plants to water, trees to climb. A beautiful spread shows how all this fires her imagination – she’s building castles, crossing high bridges, meeting tigers. Eventually another family move in to the house, and Molly’s next discovery is a pair of twins through the hole in the fence.
Stories about moving certainly stick in the mind. I still remember Topsy and Tim Move House, and how they put butter on the cat’s paws.
Which books about moving have meant something to you and your kids?