“It will hopefully initiate open and honest communication and foster an attitude of hope. 65% percent of total deaths globally due to dementia are women, who are often caregivers at the time of diagnosis. I am hoping my story can help women all around the world recognise the symptoms and provide help and support for their children post diagnosis.”
Today is International Women’s Day and fittingly, it is also the release day for Mama’s Chickens, a new picture book from children’s lit powerhouse and award-winning author Michelle Worthington. To celebrate this serendipitous merging of dates, we would like to highlight Michelle’s work and the important issue she is platforming in her new book that affects over 28,000 Australian mums.
Michelle Worthington is household name in the kid’s lit circles, and she is an international award-winning author, screenwriter and businesswoman. Shortlisted twice for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s picture book of the year, two-time winner of the International Book Award and finalist in the USA Best Book Awards, Michelle also received a Gellett Burgess Award and a Silver Moonbeam Award for her contribution to celebrating diversity in literature. All this to say, Michelle is dedicated to encouraging a strong love of reading and writing in young children and understands the powerful impact literature can have on our children and society.
Her new book, Mama’s Chickens (on sale today!), is a sensitive, beautifully illustrated book that uses backyard chickens to give a closely observed child’s-eye view of early-onset dementia. Mama didn’t really want chickens, but she grows to love them as her dementia symptoms increase. Her young children see that she doesn’t always act like her old self anymore, like when she forgets things, has trouble speaking, or doesn’t recognise faces. Despite this, Mama always finds ways to show the children (and the chickens) just how much they are wanted and loved. The result is a supportive, age-appropriate, and much-needed book about a reality that many families face – families like Michelle’s.
Michelle was diagnosed with Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia (PNFA) in 2021 which is a clinical syndrome associated with frontotemporal lobar degeneration, a form of dementia.
While we may think of Dementia as a disease that only affects the elderly, over 5% of people with Alzheimer’s show symptoms before they are 65 (Mayo Clinic) and Michelle’s personal research has shown that 28,000 of the people currently living in Australia with dementia are Mums under 50 with children at home – just like Michelle.
Like the parent in the story, people with dementia may have memory loss, difficulty thinking, trouble recognising people or begin acting unlike themselves. Michelle has had personal experience with most of these symptoms over the last few years and hopes her book can help children understand what dementia will look like when their caregiver suffers from it and what it will feel like when certain symptoms occur.
Michelle has taken her private, very personal, and developing diagnosis, and turned it into a piece of beautiful art to help children and families navigate their own journeys with dementia. Most importantly, this book shines a light on the women who are not what we first think of when we hear dementia but are just like Mama – navigating a difficult diagnosis while still showing unwavering love for their families. We think that is the very definition of what should be celebrated on International Women’s Day.
What happens when a couple of kids and their mother, who has early-onset dementia, welcome some backyard chickens into their lives? This beautifully illustrated book tells an important, much-needed story about disability and acceptance as Mama loves and cares for her chickens — just as she does her children — despite the challenges she faces.