“Mom, I sat by myself today at the park. Nobody was playing anything I was interested in. I tried to talk to Luis but he never listens; the game always has to go his way. Mom, Tommy says he has been playing football for 10 years, but he just had his 8th birthday. I don’t understand why he won’t just pass the ball. Gabby kept taking Carlos’s hat. She said it was a game but Carlos didn’t seem to like it.”
When Grady is driving in the car with me or sitting at the dinner table or when his head hits the pillow at night this is the usual conversation or maybe I should say download. I realized during this time how much I just needed to listen. Grady needed time to process these different situations and relationships that came across his path during his day.
How confusing, mystifying, uncomfortable human relationships can be—whether we are 8 or 80.
I was recently introduced to an author named Jon Klassen. The words and the pictures are very simple yet carry a lot of wisdom concerning human relationships.
Three books I read Grady over the course of nights were:
1 ) I want my Hat Back
2) This is not my Hat
3) We found my Hat
Grady would smile and laugh out loud. In I want my Hat Back, the main character, a bear, is running around asking other animals if they have seen his hat. He asks another character, a rabbit, (who, by the way, is wearing the bear’s hat) and the rabbit, in a suspicious way, says he hasn’t seen the hat. The bear continues his search until he realizes he has seen the hat… that rabbit was wearing it! He goes back to confront the rabbit, “You stole my hat!” There is a long look between the two. Then comes a picture of bear sitting down, saying he loves his hat, wearing it on his head. Then a squirrel comes passing by asking if he has seen rabbit. Bear answers in a suspicious way, “Who me?” “Why are you asking me? I wouldn’t eat a rabbit, don’t ask me anymore questions.” This story ends with no clear ending. Could the bear have sat on the rabbit? Ate the rabbit? Could the rabbit have run off? Really anything is possible.
I read an interview with Jon Klassen and he discussed these micro-dramas from childhood. He used the example of Frog and Toad books. How these two characters had unresolved, uneven relationships, where one of them needed one of them more than the other. The underlying thoughts, “I have friends who could leave me or I have friends I could leave. I don’t like them as much as they like me or vice versa.” I researched the author of Frog and Toad after reading Jon Klassen’s interview. Frog and Toad happened to be my childhood favorite as well. It was interesting to find that Arnold Lobel wrote Frog and Toad based on his experiences from second grade. Lobel was sick and out of school for most of that school year and kept himself busy by drawing. He used his animal drawings as a way of coping with the insecurity of his return and making friends. He used these experiences to write Frog and Toad.
Kids don’t want to analyze these relationships. In stories, like in life at this young age, they want to watch them play out—Jon Klassen reminds: validate that they exist.
Isn’t this part of human nature, to want to feel we are not alone in our experiences?
Jon Klassen goes on to explain that children don’t need to know the motivations of characters and can understand questionable behavior in an unexamined way. Kids don’t ask “why did he do that”, like us adults who like to analyze and pull out the meaning or morality.
How would an author answer the why?
Isn’t that for the reader to get too or not get too?
Is there really only one answer to what motivates human behavior?
Children don’t have to ask all of the whys to understand it can happen. Grady didn’t need to ask why the bunny took the bear’s hat or how the bear got the hat back. He related in the human experience, of having something taken and wanting it back, of finding it and getting it back. This is Not my Hat, shows a small fish taking a hat from a big fish and all his internal thinking about it why he does it. What a beautiful example of what we do as humans when we want something and dance into our internal justification. We laugh while reading because we all relate on some level. No story needs to be added to why stealing is wrong. We can all understand the higher moral value but also total relate with the very human behavior.
We Found a Hat, beautifully demonstrates the inner conflict when two friends find something they both want but there is only one. Our desire for something for ourselves mixed with our feelings of wanting to share and be honest is, again, common human nature. It is rarely just a clean action of what’s right. It’s a pull and push to serve ourselves and someone we care about.
And then there is Jon Klassen’s book, The Rock from the Sky, that pushes us adults right off the ledge! The book is about what we cannot control.
Where a rock will land. What could happen in our day. What the future might bring. How things we can imagine will change and all the things we can’t imagine and all the questions that go with it, the what, why, how, when and where! There is SO much we can look up for children now, so much on-the-spot-access to information. We can know a lot of interesting facts. But in the case of our lives, the unknown is our future and the daily things that can happen that are out of our control. This book is addressing the fact we don’t know everything and we are not supposed to know. Part of life happenings are luck, timing, paying attention, listening, trusting, asking for help, admitting we don’t know!
So when I sit down to read Grady a book, especially a Jon Klassen book, I remember that Grady has had a full day with really big experiences. When Grady talks I listen. When we read I let the story be felt. I don’t have to pull the moral or give him instruction on who he should be. I watch him smile and laugh and I let the moment be. I give up my adult longing to know why and I sit on the ledge with the unknown. I become friends with the right now and that is enough.