The Other Brother
Carer and author Penny Jaye has engaged her literary talents, to share a beautifully unique insight into the experience of caring for kids.
At the tender age of seven, Penny wrote her first picture book for a school project and was captivated by the whole process.
Ever since that first picture book, Penny knew she loved creating stories for other people to read, but it wasn’t until after her daughter was born around 20 years ago that she decided to try writing for publication. She has now had picture books, children’s non-fiction and even a young adult novel published.
My Forever Family NSW recently discovered Penny’s newest book The Other Brother. It’s a story about the arrival of a new sibling into a happy family of five, told from the perspective of the until-then youngest child, Jayden James, who finds the arrival of the new child quite unsettling.
As a carer, Penny explains that it was several years after their second child was born that she and her husband first had “the foster care conversation”.
“We knew we could have more children biologically, and yet we felt we had space in our family that we could offer to a child who needed it. We briefly considered overseas adoption, as we’d both lived and worked overseas in the past, but felt it was a more direct response to local needs to open our home to a child in Australia,” she said.
“So we began the application process and were finally approved to be carers. Our first placement was a respite situation, and this transitioned into a temporary care arrangement.
“However, our heart had always been to offer a long-term place for someone to join our family. It took a while for the right match to be made, possibly due to the young ages of our biological children, but eventually we welcomed our youngest into our hearts and home.”
Penny acknowledges that life for a foster carer, can get really busy!
“Whether attending educational support meetings, organising contact or remembering to report on your recent dentist visit, there’s a complicated nature to this type of parenting.
“I’ve learned that the things that make me a good mum to my biological children are the same things that make me a good mum to children in care – it’s being able to see them for who they are and put myself in their shoes. This isn’t always easy. But I’ve learned to be kind to myself. I can’t be perfect, but I can love as best as I can.”
Her encouragement for others considering becoming a carer is to “keep asking questions”.
“Keep exploring options until you know what might be right for you. There are many different kinds of families, many different ways to offer care to children who need it.
“So do your research, speak to other carers, listen to stories and learn as much as you can. Yes, foster care can be tough. There are elements of it that will break your heart. But it is also an incredibly powerful, important and meaningful part of life!”
The inspiration for writing The Other Brother came after hearing a social worker comment that there are very few picture books about children in foster care or adoption, and that the books that did exist frequently depicted their characters as animals rather than people.
“Her comments got me thinking; what could a book about foster care be like with real people as its characters? Could the story be told respectfully, acknowledging the reality of out-of-home-care, yet celebrating the nurturing space flexible families can provide?
“I knew immediately that this was a story I wanted to try and write, but it took a few years before I came up with my main characters.”
Another special thing about her book, which isn’t signposted in the text and only hinted at in the illustrations, is that Jayden James is a non-biological member of this family.
“As I imagined this story, Jayden had entered the family through foster care or adoption as an infant. His settled placement is evident in the way he reacts to Mitchell David’s arrival, and adds a unique perspective to the choices and actions he makes as the story unfolds.
“I hope these very subtle themes resonate with many different children and families involved in foster care.”
Penny’s book has been illustrated by Brisbane based illustrator Heidi Cooper Smith and because of the subtle way in which the fostering themes are addressed, the story is open to a range of interpretations. She has been moved by the warm responses she has received.
“One mum, whose son has autism, told me how he had been challenged by this story to consider what it might mean if someone needed to come and stay the night. Another mum, from a family who does not yet do foster care, said the story raised lots of questions from her children and she really appreciated the opportunity to discuss with them some of the issues around children requiring care,” she said.
“A teacher I gave a copy to excitedly hugged it, saying how thrilled she was to be able to share a book that represented the stories of some of the children in her classes. And probably the best response I’ve received so far is a photo of a Dad reading this story to his children, fostered and biological, all squished onto the couch. The soft expression on the foster child’s face was so special. She saw herself in this story. My author heart was happy!”