I had never heard of this book before my friend Annie recommended it to me. Her well-loved copy of “I Can Jump Puddles” by Australian author Alan Marshall chronicles his own childhood in the early 1900s after contracting and becoming crippled by the disease polio. It is an extremely poignant book about persevering and ultimately triumphing in the face of adversity.
This autobiography is a truly honest account of what it was like to grow up disabled because of a disease which has been eradicated in the developed world due to vaccinations. I think that this book is the perfect companion to “A Fortunate Life” by A. B. Facey, a book I reviewed earlier this year. Born only 8 years apart, where Bert is an able-bodied young Australian boy with no family to speak of, Alan is a disabled Australian boy with a very supportive family. Each of their strengths is the other’s weakness. Despite their different if equally challenging backgrounds, both boys demonstrate gumption, resilience and ingenuity when the odds are stacked against them. They set out to prove themselves in a world that expects them to fail and grow into strong, well-rounded men.
However, where Facey’s writing is simple, Marshall’s is beautiful. He brings the people of his childhood to life with his insightful observations, and shares his own internal struggles between the energetic, rambunctious boy he still is at heart and the disabled boy he has found himself to be through no fault of his own.
Marshall’s relationship with his wild, eccentric, born-before-his-time father is just a wonder to behold. His love of horses and his determination to make his father proud make for compelling, emotional reading. The detail he goes into in describing the suffering, rehabilitation and ultimate handicap of polio is heartbreaking. However, the story as a whole is an uplifting tale of a boy whose spirit would not be broken.
I would definitely recommend this book to kids, adults and vaccination skeptics alike.
(photo taken from: http://www.okpb.cz/web2005/Marshall/AM-life.htm)