“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson
This week as a group we have been reading and discussing the book Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt. This book explores big themes of hunger, food access, and financial resources all through the lens of friendship; a theme that all children can relate to. Throughout these discussions I often struggle with using the word “help” as it can reinforce hierarchy. But I have found it hard to explain social justice topics to children without using the word “help” because it is a word that they all understand so well and experience everyday as small children. So far, our discussion of Maddi’s Fridge has been based around which characters are helping and why. Through talking about “helping” those who do not have access to healthy food, I try to use words like “community”, “working together”, and “taking care” to imply a sense of humanity and love rather than pity. What I love most about Maddi’s Fridge is how it implies a sense of mutual liberation. The two main characters, who are best friends, have stories that mirror each other both involving needing help from their friend. After we read the book, children drew pictures of times they helped someone or someone helped them. Hopefully this gave them the sense that we can all be helpers and we all can be helped. Relying on help from others is never a fixed part of someone’s identity, as we saw when Maddi’s situation shifted at the end of the story. Below I have included some pictures of key pages of the book; perhaps it will spark some conversations at home!
The book begins by introducing two friends Sofia and Maddi who both love playing at the playground until the sun sets; a feeling that most children listening to this story can really relate to. Immediately we learn something that Maddi is excellent at and that Sofia feels less confident in; the climbing wall. At this point neither friends are realizing the ways they can help each other. They climb up the wall and run up the stairs separately. They race each other up the stairs to get a snack from Maddi’s apartment.
After learning a skill that Maddi has, we also learn about something that Maddi doesn’t have; a full refrigerator. Maddi is embarrassed to admit this to her best friend and has her promise not to tell. Making this promise seems to create a higher level of trust and closeness between them as we begin to see them encouraging each other more.
Sofia goes home that night to have dinner with her family, who appears to have a bountiful fridge. For three nights in a row Sofia asks her mom if what they are having for dinner is good for kids (wondering if she could bring it for Maddi). She tries twice to sneak food from her house in her backpack to bring to Maddi but it turns out fish and eggs are both not good for backpacks so by the time she arrived at school she had smelly fish one day, and cracked eggs the next. Sofia seems to be feeling pretty defeated at this point because both of her attempts to help her friend did not work out.
As usual they go to the climbing wall after school. This is the first time we see Maddi using words of encouragement to help Sofia get up the climbing wall. Sofia falling off the wall is symbolic of her disappointing efforts to help her friend. It is after Maddi tells her to “Keep trying” that Sofia actually does successfully help Maddi.
On the third consecutive night, Sofia has burritos for dinner, so she sneaks burritos in her backpack that night to bring to Maddi. Much to both of their surprise, burritos are good for backpacks and kids! At this point Sofia looks proud and Maddi looks satisfied to be eating a burrito. Sofia’s ability to help Maddi inspired Maddi to help Sofia with what she needed; a hand to get to the top of the climbing wall.
After realizing how important cooperation was for the climbing wall; Sofia realizes she might need some cooperation from her mother to help Maddi in a bigger way.
Sofia’s mom thanks Sofia for telling her and together they put together bags of groceries to bring to Maddi’s house. When they bring the groceries by, Sofia and Maddi run off to the playground one last time and reaffirm their friendship.
The end of the book shows them walking up stairs together, symbolic of the ways in which they both helped with each other’s needs and can rise together. Throughout most of the book they are playing on different levels of the climbing wall, have different amounts of food on their plates, and run different speeds. The last page leaves readers with this feeling of mutual liberation, and the importance of meeting others exactly where they are in life.