I first read I Can Jump Puddles in my childhood, but if asked, I couldn’t honestly tell you what it was about other than the autobiography of a child who had survived polio.
Challenge 6 in the Aussies Rule Reading Challenge, from Sue over on Doddyaboutbooks calls for a book which features a character with a chronic illness or disability, and as I’m looking at expanding my school’s collection of Australia classics, it seemed the ideal time to revisit I Can Jump Puddles.
My first surprise was the innuendo between the men and the nurses in the hospital when Alan was in hospital awaiting his operation. What was clearly a peek show is dismissed by the nurse as nothing but a ‘freckle’, but at the time it had clearly sailed well over my head.
Much more of a surprise was the connection I felt to Alan in this second reading. A connection that hadn’t been apparent as a child, mostly likely because I had not yet experienced the social stigmatism of disability.
I too, can recount many times that society has disabled me more than my own body has. That the weight of words, the “You can’t do this” and the “You shouldn’t do that” was often the catalyst to achieve more than had been expected of me. And like many disabled people, I overcompensate. I work harder to be considered an equal.
During Chapter Twenty-eight, in the midst of a sing-along, a character called Prince sings, “Will the Angels Let Me Play?” a row ensues, where Arthur gives Prince a mouthful for singing a song about a crippled child. Alan, he points out, does not know he is crippled and the song should never have been sung in front of him. That’s when the irony hit home for me – just like Alan had not connected himself to the child in the song, I had not connected myself with Alan as a child. I Can Jump Puddles was a book about a boy with Polio and as far as I was concerned, it was a book about a life that was very different to mine.
As an adult these universal connections between disabled people are crystal clear to me, and while every disabled or chronically ill person travels a different path, we face many of the same challenges.
I Can Jump Puddles isn’t merely a snapshot of the times, or the journey of a boy determined to live fully, it’s a message that deserves to be heard and remembered. It’s a cry of defiance against the social model of disability and a reminder of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.