I never saw the “invisible people” at the library. They were not the quintessential smelly, sleeping in public with tattered clothing variety. Security moved “those people” out like they might infect the masses.
No, the invisible people knew how to blend in. In retrospect, they were definitely there. But, I didn’t have the eyes to see them. After working with a couple of groups that aid the homeless, I know what to look for. But prior to this, they didn’t even exist in my world.
Not so long ago the homeless were invisible in picture books too. It took the efforts of a giant (Eve Bunting) to break that barrier. Her masterwork, Fly Away Home, remains the most balanced representation of homelessness to grace the market.
The Can Man is about more than just one invisible population. Oddly enough, biracial families are virtually nonexistent in picture books, and I’ve never seen a Black/Asian couple and their kids in a picture book before. So when I saw that “Tim”, the boy who befriends The Can Man, came from a biracial family I couldn’t believe it! I literally turned the pages back just to double check. Is this real?! Gratefully, yes. Yes it is, and it’s about time!
So what is the book about?
The Can Man is a heartwarming – if somewhat romanticized – story of homelessness and hope, minus the common issues that often parallel homelessness: mental illness and drug addiction.
What Laura E. Williams doesn’t deliver in hard realities, she makes up for by bringing invisible people to the printed page. While most students are not homeless, a growing percentage are biracial. The presence of positive representations of lived experiences of these families within schools is a critical step in embracing and welcoming populations that often receive neither.