Everybody’s different on Everybody Street

Re-release of landmark children’s book underlines continuing relevance of original message of inclusiveness

By Starr Cunningham

 

It’s practically impossible to be a child or parent in Nova Scotia and not recognize the name Sheree Fitch. This colourful and charming poet, author, and literacy advocate is one of our province’s most cherished resources. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to call her both a role model and friend.

I first met Sheree when I worked for CTV Atlantic. She joined me on the interview set many times to share her latest works with confidence, silliness, and a contagious smile. Beyond appearing as a guest on CTV, Sheree also offered wisdom and support when I forayed into the world of children’s literature. While writing My Goat Gertrude and Gertrude at the Beach she openly shared many words of encouragement and inspiration with me.
Needless to say, I was honoured when she invited me to MC the opening of her amazing Mable Murple’s Book Shoppe & Dreamery in River John, N.S. just last summer.

I write all this because it’s almost uncanny that our paths have crossed, so intricately, once again. This time because of our passion for mental health awareness and education.

Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street is the title of her tried and true book written to raise awareness of mental illness and addiction. It was first released more than 17 years ago as a poem designed to be a fundraiser for the Nova Scotia Hospital Foundation. That was the name of our organization back in 2001, long before I joined the team and before we grew into the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. Some things change, and some things don’t. Thankfully, Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street is one of those gems that has stayed the course.

The poem was commissioned by the Foundation to recognize the 10th anniversary of our signature event, Festival of Trees, which celebrates 27 years on Nov. 23 and 24. At first, Sheree was hesitant to get involved. She worried the stigma of mental illness was just too strong. But after talking it over with her husband, Gilles, she realized she was the right person and it was precisely the right time to get people talking about mental illness.

“Seventeen years ago, some people thought this was a good idea,” Sheree says. “Seventeen years later it still is, and while the stigma surrounding mental illness has been challenged, it’s still there.”

That’s exactly why Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street was re-released by Nimbus Publishing earlier this year. Its message of tolerance and understanding is just as pertinent now.

“This book is just as relevant today as it was 20 years ago,” says Nimbus Publishing General Manager, Terrilee Bulgar. “The rhyming text, which celebrates the differences in people, is both playful and profound and relays an important message to young and old alike. We are thrilled Sheree and [illustrator] Emma [Fitzgerald] were able to collaborate to bring this message to a new generation of readers.”

“It’s an ongoing, never-ending educational piece,” Sheree says. “I’m beside myself happy this book has come out again. There are universal topics here. We just don’t know what’s going on with the people we encounter. We can’t know what they might be going through.”

Given its message of tolerance and acceptance, Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street resonates with both children and adults. The common refrain throughout the book is simple, yet incredibly insightful… “If ever you go travelling on Everybody Street, you’ll see everybody’s different than everyone you meet.”

I had the pleasure of hearing Sheree read her book at a Foundation fundraiser in Pictou County just last year.

The sold-out audience at our Models for Mental Health event joined in with their home county sweetheart to belt out the familiar refrain that’s included on every second page. Hearing so many voices unite to add volume to Sheree’s message of hope and love brought tears to my eyes and a swell of pride to my heart. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the most impact. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the case for Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street.

While I appreciate every page of this beautifully illustrated book, there’s one page that always makes me pause. Its rhyme is unassuming and written for a child to understand, yet it hits the nail squarely on the head when it comes to describing the human condition.

“Some prefer the sunshine, some live in the dark
Some of us have shelter, some sleep in the park
Some are mad as thunder, some are sad as rain
Most of us are glad at times, and… all of us know pain.”

When asked where the inspiration for this timeless poem came from, Sheree’s answer proves yet again why she was most certainly the right person to take on this project for the Foundation.

“I think it was a given poem, Starr,” Sheree says. “I think it came to me for a reason.” Sheree, I think so too.

You can order Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street online or purchase it at a bookstore near you. Published by Nimbus Publishing, Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street features Sheree’s words and artwork by Emma Fitzgerald.

Starr Cunningham is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. She’s an acclaimed journalist, best-selling children’s author, and volunteer. She was recently recognized as a Canadian Difference Maker – 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health and is a winner of the Northwood Foundation 2017 Live More Advocacy Award.

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