CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 7 . . . . November 29, 2002
These three books, a project of the Toronto Child Abuse Centre, all deal with sensitive subjects or subjects about which parents might have a hard time talking to their children. Each book has a section at the end called "For Grown-ups" which gives some information about how parents can support their children in talking about the subject covered and explaining why it is important to talk to children about these subjects. The books try to show children how important it is for children to tell when something bad is happening and to keep on telling until they are heard by an adult.
In Respect is Correct, Jennie is having a hard time with teasing and bullies at school. However, when she sees an older woman being bullied, she and Amon run to tell a teacher who comes to help. The older woman phones the school to say how respectful Jennie is, and Jennie is full of pride when her teacher reports Jennie and Amon's actions to the class. She has learned that giving respect is a way to earning respect and that school is not so bad.
In A Tale Worth Telling, David has been physically and mentally hurt by his soccer coach. He has tried to tell his parents and his sister, but they have brushed him off because they are busy with other things. When he changes schools, the teacher assigns two children to help him learn what is expected of him. He is becoming withdrawn, but his new friends persist until he tells them about his problem with the coach, and they then convince him to tell the school janitor whom they all trust. Mr. Green explains that the coach was wrong to hurt David and further tells him that the coach is no good. David is happy that a grown-up has listened to him.
Sam Speaks Out deals with inappropriate touching. Sam's neighbor has been tickling him and touching him in ways that make him feel badly. Afraid to tell, Sam acts out by hurting the family pet, an action for which he is punished. When he finally tells a friend who, in turn, tells her mother, Sam is able to explain what has happened to his parents who validate his feelings. He learns that he was right to trust his feelings and that telling a grown-up is always the right thing to do.
The stories are told in rhyming verse which doesn't really work. The subject matter is very serious, and the rhymes don't give the gravity needed to the message which the author is trying to get across:
[excerpt from Sam Speaks Out]
I think children associate rhyming with fun stories and word-play, and the seriousness of these stories is not suited to rhymes. Parents and children reading these stories without knowing the subject matter would expect a certain lightness because of the rhymes, and instead are faced with very serious messages. Also, the age-group which can understand the message is probably better-served without the rhymes which they might find babyish.
I also find the rhymes forced and unnatural. Words and phrases which don't really have any place in the story are found in it because they are necessary for rhyme or meter (such as the sneeze quoted above). These confuse the story, and the point gets lost so that you aren't sure what is being discussed, as in the case below where I wasn't sure if Sam was telling Charlene that the hockey game turned out great or that his discussion with his parents turned out great:
[excerpt from Sam Speaks Out]
Since people don't speak in rhymes most of the time, children will also have a hard time seeing themselves in these characters. Instead of making the children more comfortable, I think that the rhymes probably put them off and confuse the story.
The watercolors Petra Bockus has done for the book illustrate the action of the story beautifully. They carry the story forward and help the children to see what might be missed in the story itself. The expressions on the children's faces are wonderful and clearly demonstrate what the children in these situations are feeling.
I think that these stories are an attempt at teaching children some very important lessons, but I'm not sure that they succeed in their attempt. I like the sections for grown-ups at the back and feel that these are good resources for parents. I'm not sure that children will understand the messages that are being conveyed in the books.
Lisa Hanson O'Hara is a librarian and mother of three in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.