My Strange Shrinking Parents by Zeno Sworder, which has recently been announced for the 2023 CBCA Shortlist in the Picture Book of the Year category, is a stunning, reflective, artful narrative imbued with symbolism and inspired by the creators childhood as a young boy who hails from immigrant parents. This is a story about the sacrifices parents make, in this case the ones that are unique to migrant parents to afford their children opportunities and growth. It’s more than this, it is a story about fierce, unwavering love and its cyclical nature, giving and receiving love, family, belonging and sacrifice.
The story begins with the narrator sharing that his parents were unlike others. They had come from distant lands “with old shoes and empty pockets”. They had hearts full of love for each other and their son, spending quality time together and being resourceful to provide for him. They had limited opportunities and indomitable spirits. They worked hard and shielded their son from their problems and burdens. His mother would tell him “though our lives may be humble, we are giants within”.
On the boys third birthday the parents visit the baker requesting a cake. With not enough money to purchase a cake the parents trade five centimetres of their height. And so begins the use of their height as currency to pay for their child’s education and expenses. As the months pass the inverse relationship of the boy physically growing in height and the parents shrinking becomes more and more obvious. The more they provide, the smaller they and their world becomes; however, their love and fierce determination to provide in no way shrinks. Their son’s world enlarges as he completes his studies, gains employment and experiences new opportunities. While their son grows taller so does his love, deep admiration and complete respect for his parents. He becomes a man unapologetically proud to be himself as his courage has grown whereby, he not only appreciates his differences but embraces them.
Zeno Sworder’s superb illustrations have a fairy tale quality about them while conveying the harsh realities of life for immigrants. They deftly capture the characters emotions and feelings in such powerful and moving ways. The muted tones, comprised of grey, blue and violet add to the reflective vibe. Each page demands the reader to linger as the evocative illustrations are brimming with details and more parts to this sensitive, beautiful yet heart wrenching story.