Unwavering Self-Worth Inside and Outside the Box
Soup du Jour:
Today we look at a “clump” of four books about independent thinkers who, without fanfare or animosity, disregard the judgements of others and are simply happy being who they are.
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Second Helpings (transcript of podcast):
In a society where the media, schools and, sadly, even parents often expect us to conform to prescribed, cookie-cutter ways of being, a common challenge for adults and children alike is to understand and appreciate out-of-the-box thinking or behavior in ourselves and others. With so much emphasis on conforming, being or even befriending a person who is viewed as different can be a scary and isolating experience.It’s not surprising, then, that we sometimes go to great lengths to reject or hide our unique selves — and to avoid those who don’t.
Many children’s books and, to a greater extent, movies attempt to reduce the social stigma against being different through boisterous victory-of-the-underdog themed stories in which the independent thinker saves the day and, to the rousing cheers of once-distant peers, instantly becomes the poster child of popularity. There is no denying that such victories feel great but I believe stories which present quiet appreciation, improved understanding or simply congenial co-existence go further to help children deal with different ways of being.
Before looking at the books, let me explain that I like to read to my two daughters in clumps. That is, I like to read in one sitting several books that are completely parallel in certain ways – offering similar characters, situations, or themes – but are different enough to make the clumped reading interesting. I clump by activity (riding a bike, say), by storyline (several variations on the Frog Prince story, for example) or, as in the case today, by explorations of a similar “type” of character (a girl that is viewed as being “different”). There are many books that deal with differences in, what I believe are, very constructive ways. Today we look at a “clump” of four books about independent thinkers who, without fanfare or animosity, disregard the judgements of others and are simply happy being who they are.
Odd Velvet (Mary Whitcomb Illustrated by Tara Calahan King; 1998 Chronicle Books) tells the story of a happily independent school girl who has bypassed the consumer mentality of her peers and finds beauty and entertainment in the world around her. What I love about this story is that Violet’s unimposing enjoyment of life remains steadfast throughout: her self esteem easily withstands the taunts of her classmates and she remains true to her nature as she gradually gains the respect of her peers. Violet’s self worth is clearly not tied to her judgment by others.
The Recess Queen (Alexis O’Neill Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith; 2002 Scholastic Press) relays, in snappy, what is it? Hip hop beat? the story of a school yard bully effortlessly felled by the teeny tiny independently minded Katie Sue, “a kid you might scare with a jump and a boo!”. Here again, the beauty of the story — for me — is in Katie Sue’s unwavering sense of self worth regardless of her noticeably different approach to life and in the fact that she takes in stride both the bullying and her offhanded deflation of the bully.
Suki’s Kimono ( Chieri Uegaki Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch; 2003 Kids Can Press) is a refreshing celebration of individuality and joie de vivre. This first-day-of-school story contrasts the uninhibited and happily independent six year old Suki with her self-conscious, stiff and validation-seeking sisters – and their complete embarrassment that their little sister is wearing a kimono to school. Although I think Suki could do without the applause of her classmates, Suki’s sunny self-assurance remains constant throughout and she gains no satisfaction from the fact that her sisters’ preparation and preening brought them nothing but exasperation.
Annie Bizzanni (Frances Halle Illustrated by Fil et Julie; 2006 Bayard Canada Books) introduces us to a creative, multi-tasking and impulsive free-spirit who lives life in large slices which she feels no pressure to complete. Although her friends are obviously amused, inconvenienced and, sometimes, scared by Annie’s quirky behavior what I love about this book is that Annie’s way of being is simply portrayed as being different — not better or worse — than that of her peers, that her friends love her for who she is and that she is very happy being herself.
Although society may expect it, we’re not cookie cutouts and we all fall inside and outside various different boxes. We might as well enjoy ourselves!
Thanks for listening. I’m Andrea Ross from the Just One More Book! Podcast and we’ve been Swimming in Literary Soup.