The Madonna in the Suitcase: Miriam’s Story (Book Review)

Miriam Collage with Txt & edge

A Book Review, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp of

The Madonna in the Suitcase by Huberta Hellendoorn

The Madonna in the Suitcase is a heart warming read!   Published in 2009,  this book is written by Huberta Hellendoorn, who tells the story of her daughter Miriam, a courageous young woman with a strong character, reflected in the bold colours and clearly defined figures portrayed in her artwork.  Miriam was born with Down Syndrome.  This book is, however, more than simply a story of a family raising a child with “special needs”.

“It is a story of parental love and devotion… one which demonstrates the wonderful benefits to any child given the commitment which flows from such love and devotion… no child can reach its full potential, whether personally, emotionally or intellectually, if he or she is not brought up by parents who make such a commitment… there is now overwhelming medical evidence to support this claim.  Miriam did achieve supported independence and success as an artist, to a degree beyond the expectations of society in general if not those of her family and persons who knew her well…”  David Stewart, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences (Retired), University of Otago.

This life story, written with love by a mother  for her daughter will, as well as being an inspiring general read, be useful to those who work with people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities, and their families.   Miriam is a strong, individual personality and her story humanises a disability which many in society still remain reasonably uninformed about, and which often comes, therefore, with preconceived limiting beliefs.

Miriam’s artistic talent shines through in the colourful examples of her work, printed amongst the text, along with family photographs as she grows from a child into a young woman.  I love her artwork, it gives a strong sense of her vibrant, interesting character.  I have some  particular favourites, as I’m sure you will also.

"Dancing Flowers", by Miriam Hellendoorn

“Dancing Flowers”, by Miriam Hellendoorn


"Patrician Women" by Miriam Hellendoorn

“Patrician Women”, by Miriam Hellendoorn

As in any life story, there are highs and lows, happy and sad scenes making up the canvas of colours that is Miriam’s life.  As readers we feel for the author as she remembers the harder times and views the world as it must have appeared through the eyes of her daughter.

Hellendoorn prefaces her book with: “Dear Reader, in 2001, just before her 40th birthday, our Down Syndrome daughter, Miriam, had a stroke which left her severely paralysed.  All her hard-won achievements to communicate (verbally, literately and artistically) seemed lost.  In telling and showing Miriam her own life story, I hope to give her back the memories and words for who she is and what she has achieved.  I want to show not just Miriam, but everyone, how significant she is.

Anyone who reads this book cannot doubt that Huberta Hellendoorn has achieved her aim.  She is also a role model for parents, teachers and caregivers everywhere– all our children are precious and thrive with love, optimism, structure and positive emotional input.

Huberta Hellendoorn and daughter Miriam enjoying a cuppa in the sun

Huberta Hellendoorn and daughter Miriam enjoying a cuppa in the sun

Related to this:  See also our post A User Manual for My Daughter by Karola Gaede Franklyn.




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