Do You See What I See?

Alison Morris - March 18, 2008

I love that you never know what a particular kid is going to connect with in any given book. You’ll often expect it to be X, but later find it was Y, which is often some variable you hadn’t even considered before!

Such was the case for me recently, when I sent three books to a kindergarten-aged pal o’ mine named Mirin. In Mirin’s package were The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum written by Kate Bernheimer and illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli, Timothy and the Strong Pajamas by Viviane Schwarz (which I asked her to please share with her younger brother Rowan), and The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster written by A.W. Flaherty and illustrated by Scott Magoon.

In the case of the latter, I thought maybe the monster theme or the picky eating theme or the plucky girl theme or even the sea-going boat theme would probably stand out for Mirin, but… no. She latched onto a still-more kid-friendly theme than any of these — one I barely noted as I read the book, and should have. Obviously. Duh.

An expert artist and writer (I can’t believe she writes like this in kindergarten), here’s the Valentine I received from Mirin:

Tucked inside it was this note: 

Translation: "Dear Alison, Thank you for the books. I took the Loch Ness Monster one to my grandma’s house because the girl in it was going to her grandma’s house too. Love, Mirin"

OF COURSE! The Grandma connection! How could I have missed it!

I would like to think that this means that The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster is now grandmother-themed enough to have a rightful place on our Mother’s Day display or a Grandparents’ Day feature, but one of the challenges of assembling a book display is the fact that books that don’t APPEAR to fit the theme do NOT, in most cases, fit the display. Instead they look like books other customers have discarded on your table because they didn’t know where to reshelve them or were simply too lazy to do so. If you fill your displays with books that don’t look like they belong on them, your display will look cluttered and you will look clueless. Sad but true.

It’s unfortunate, then, that so many books can fit a million different bills at once but visually appear to fit only one or two. Last week I was giving a book talk to parents at the Wellesley College Child Study Center and asked the director, Mary Ucci, if there were any themes or topics that she was looking for in books these days and having a hard time finding. She said that "attachment" is a theme on which they’re forever needing good books, and that her all-time favorite attachment book is Make Way for Ducklings. In the book (as you all know, I hope) Mr. Mallard leaves (and is gone for quite some time, actually) but he comes back again. It’s as simple as that, and yet what example could be more relevant to the life of a preschooler in an age of business travel and/or two working parents?

My parents read Make Way for Ducklings to met countless times when I was a child, and since then I’ve read it almost as many times to myself and/or others. But if you’d asked me to name the best book with an attachment theme, McCloskey’s masterpiece would not have come to mind. Of all the themes I could easily spot in that book, that one was simply not on my immediate radar.

Obviously the conclusion here is that kids aren’t the only ones who connect with books in unique or surprising ways. As readers we each come to a text with our own ideas and experiences and needs and wishes — what we see on the page is inevitably influenced by all of these things. I love it whenever kids like Mirin or professionals like Mary allow me to see a book through a different lens and find something there that I hadn’t seen previously.

What about you and your thematic connections? Do you have some good attachment book suggestions or have a funny "I thought this book was about ____, but so-and-so saw it as ______ " story? If so, please share! I can then at least make those recommendations to others, even if I can’t necessarily use them in a book display!

2 thoughts on “Do You See What I See?

  1. Carter Hasegawa

    That’s a wonderful reading of “Make Way for Ducklings,” I didn’t see it that way either. “The Girl in the Castle in the Museum” is one of my new favorite books. I absolutely love the illustrations, but the story itself is wonderful too.

  2. Andrea V.

    A nice one on attachment is I’ll See You When the Moon Is Full by Jim Fowler. A father leaving on a business trip tells his son to watch the moon each night; the moon will be full when he returns.


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