A man in a beat-up van arrived with boxes and bags of more worldly goods.
“Tomorrow’s garbage day,” hinted Mom. “I can help you sort things.”
“This isn’t trash, Rose,” Aunt Pearl replied sharply. “It’s my life.”
Marta was only six, but she knew a problem when she saw one.
Dan and Marta have never met their Aunt Pearl, but one summer day Aunt Pearl arrives on their doorstep, pushing a shopping cart full of her belongings. More of her possessions are delivered by a man in a beat-up van. The children’s mother, Rose, and their Aunt Pearl are polar opposites. Mom likes the house to be as “neat as a pin, with nothing out of place” whereas Aunt Pearl, who is accustomed to sleeping on park benches, in hostels or on a friend’s couch, is messy and, to boot, a hoarder. Marta takes quite a shine to her aunt, copying her somewhat Bohemian style of dress, and she likes to accompany her aunt on garbage day as they search for items which deserve a “second chance”. When Marta invites her aunt to her day camp, Aunt Pearl gets the kids to decorate a table top with old bottle caps, a gift for Rose. As autumn approaches, Aunt Pearl grows quieter and more introspective, abandoning her garbage day treasure hunts and spending time just staring into the ravine at the bottom of the yard. Though she is young, Marta recognizes her aunt’s need to be alone. One fall morning, when Aunt Pearl does not come down to breakfast, the family realizes that she has left and wonders why.
Aunt Pearl’s decision to leave the comfort of her sister’s home is a mystery. The story’s open-ended conclusion is sure to spark thoughtful discussion on people’s differences, what it means to be supportive, and why someone would choose the unpredictability and stress of being homeless over living in a nice home with a caring family.
Luxbacher’s muted collage-style illustrations, rendered in pencil, watercolor and acrylic paint and found papers and gouache, perfectly suit the mood of the story and provide interesting details and subtle clues to add to the reader’s understanding.
With neither judgment nor didacticism, Aunt Pearl, a quiet and sensitively written story, one that teaches readers about love, family, compassion, acceptance, and ultimately, about letting go.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.