Michael Rosen (text) and Tony Ross (illustrator), Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick, Walker Books, February 2022, 40 pp., RRP $27.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781529502404
In 2020 Michael Rosen, ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen’, became very ill with COVID. He was in intensive care for 40 days, and on his road to recovery had to learn how to walk again. Sticky McStickstick is the story of this challenging process and how along the way a walking stick becomes one of his greatest aids.
The story itself does not provide the COVID backstory, simply a very sick man who has to learn how to walk again. From not being able to get out of bed, to frame, wheelchair, parallel bars then walking stick, Rosen’s story tells how little by little he improves until he arrives at the point where he can walk independently. The text is succinct, focussing on the simple things like “move the right leg, stick down on the right, move the left leg.” This gives a real insight into the slow, literally step-by-step recovery process and how it requires one to focus only on the fundamental things that we as healthy human beings often take for granted. In this same vein the book emphasises that this experience shows Michael what is most important in his life – his family.
Sticky McStickstick is a fun name to say, and by giving an inanimate object a character the story becomes a little lighter for a young audience. For older readers they will be able to recognise the symbolism of the stick – as a reminder of being so unwell and a representation of all those who helped in his recovery.
Tony Ross’ graphic character illustrations are expressive and dynamic, dramatising the act of learning to walk in a very entertaining way. The limited colour palette of watercolour washes in mainly blues and greys suits the sombre themes of recovery and reflection.
This is a quietly accomplished picture book that communicates in a child-friendly way a great appreciation for the challenges of an illness and the people and process involved in recovery. Recommended for ages 5-12 years.
Reviewed by Julie Bertola