The fox, the giant, and the boy who grew flowers

Put money in here ...

This morning on the radio I heard that Terry Fox began his run 30 years ago today. N is always intrigued by the Terry Fox story, which she hears at the beginning of each school year as kids gear up for the annual Terry Fox run. The poster above is one she made last year and taped to the lamppost, with a little pocket below for passersby to put money in. (And yes, they did!) If you look closely, you can see Terry running with gusto, artificial limb and real one carefully depicted, as well as a car following him, partially concealed by a cosmos bloom.

Over the course of writing the novel that is still underway, I have often thought about what makes a person courageous and proactive rather than debilitated by fear. When something terrible happens to you, how do you absorb it, actually embrace it so that you can continue moving forward in life?

The book I’m working on now is about a girl who grows and grows to giant proportions before anyone understands what’s wrong with her. Thinking back, it’s interesting to me that my first instinct was to portray this character as a victim rather than someone who transcends her affliction and actually has something powerful to offer. It’s taken me several drafts to figure out that when something is taken away, something else is given. Which must be what happened to Terry Fox, and is why we think of him as a hero rather than a victim.

Among N’s great collection of picture books, one of my favourites is The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz. It tells the story of oddball Rink Bowagon, a boy from the deep country whose misfit family is a “hotbed of strange and exotic talents.” His Uncle Dud tames rattlesnakes, his brothers and cousins are shapeshifters, and he himself sprouts flowers all over his body during each full moon. His mother carefully clips them away before sending him off to school, but the children avoid him anyway, sensing his difference, until one day a girl named Angelina moves to town. She has one leg shorter than the other, always wears a flower behind her right ear, and is drawn to the quiet boy at the back of the class.

Wojtowicz was inspired to write this book by her autistic brother, who’s given her a “remarkable window” on the world. She dedicates the book to him, for showing her that “what makes us different is what makes us wonderful.”

The illustrations by Montreal artist Steve Adams are among the most beautiful I’ve seen in children’s books. They somehow remind me of circuses and old wooden marionettes, and have a luminous quality that matches the charm of the story.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “The fox, the giant, and the boy who grew flowers

  1. Vic

    I put money in there. That was the coolest thing to show up on a lamppost in our ‘hood since I have lived here. 🙂

  2. Lenny

    A great theme and one that cannot be reiterated too often. Even if the signs aren’t visible on the outside it’s how we all feel, at times, on the inside.

  3. Tiki

    What a wonderful post. I’d love to read The Boy Who Grew Flowers; it sounds like a great story.
    I completely understand why questions like the one you ask in your second paragraph fascinate. They do me, too, and as a fellow writer I know that one of the exciting things about writing is that you get to try to answer those kinds of questions in a way, or at least try out possible situations and reactions on your various characters. In doing so, of course, you try on or imagine the corresponding feelings, and then decide which ones fit the character and the story best.
    Thanks for the post. I’d been waiting patiently and looking forward to it.

  4. Marilyn

    What a sweet thing for Vic (and others) to do, to put money in that little envelope. I would have done it too. This sounds like a nice book, but it is so heart-wrenching to read about little children who sit alone for one reason or another. Thank goodness for the Angelinas who befriend them

  5. tk

    I happen to know Marilyn was one of those Angelinas herself back in the day. And Bravo.

  6. jim

    Did you know Kristen that the Portuguese have a Terry Fox day? I wonder how many other countries hold them to raise money for cancer research?

  7. blairpet

    Love this, and love the idea of someone traditionally thought to be a “victim” acknowledged as the hero they truly are. Thanks Kristen.

  8. Heidi

    It’s about reaching out and knowing it will make a difference…….. but also about not knowing whether it will make a difference and doing it anyways.

    • kristendenhartog

      Yes! To make it into even more of a conundrum, maybe him “doing it anyway,” not knowing it would make a difference, is what others found so inspiring about him.

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