This book is a delight. Jean Little was a Canadian author who wrote over 50 children’s books, and her books often center on disabled characters. Little herself was legally blind from birth, and I think that the delicacy and realism of her novels really come through as a result of her own experiences. Mine for Keeps was her first children’s novel, which I just found out when doing research for this review, but it doesn’t seem like it’s uncertain or unpolished at all. It’s very confident in its execution.
Mine for Keeps is about Sally Copeland, who has cerebral palsy and has been living in a special school away from home to learn how to be independent. Now she’s going to be living at home and going to school with non-disabled children for the first time, and she’s very afraid and overwhelmed. Little is so good at describing fear and how it can cause you to lash out and act badly. I like in her books when she has her main characters be complicated and angry that other people don’t understand how hard things are for them. In this care, Sally’s parents are very supportive and caring, and they have several good scenes where they respond to her anger and terror with compassion and clear explanations as to why they are putting her in mainstream school and making her do things by herself. One of the themes in all of Little’s books I’ve read is the need for the disabled person to try to do as much as possible by themself, and I think this is a direct result of her own life. Through the course of Mine for Keeps, Sally learns what she’s capable of and also helps the Dutch children who live nearby feel at home in Canada. And she forms a touching relationship with a dog, which is another hallmark of Little’s work.
Some of the book is dated, but I think the general themes hold up very well, and the emotional nuance and care stand up as well. I loved this book.
Warnings for: fear of dogs (it’s overcome), someone being called a cripple cruelly, ableism from people to Sally, children getting measles and Rheumatic fever