News Column

Book Worm: Children help review 'Sad Book'

May 14, 2014

By Kathleen Duncan, Victoria Advocate, Texas



May 14--Before I became a journalist, I tried many things. I worked as a book illustrator, a graphic artist, a teacher, an administrative assistant, a project coordinator in an information technology department and a pet photographer, and for a few years, I was a nanny.

Of all my adventures before journalism, I loved working with tiny humans the best.

I realize it may seem strange to call children "tiny humans," but in truth, that's what they are. Sometimes, it seems like people forget that children feel the same emotions as us and deal with similar issues.

I believe some of the greatest authors are those who treat children with the same respect and intelligence as adults.

These authors know that fear, honesty, death, anxiety and the more negative emotions in our everyday life are something that children must face, too. They know that children seek to understand these emotions as much as we do.

Their books don't shield children from the less cheery aspects of life but try to help them understand them. And these books let children know they aren't alone.

A friend recently recommended that I read "Michael Rosen's Sad Book" written by Rosen and illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Rosen's book explores his feelings as he deals with the death of his son. It opens with a goofy, smiling portrait of himself that says "This is me being sad. Maybe you think I'm happy in this picture. Really, I'm sad but pretending I'm happy. I'm doing that because I think people won't like me if I look sad."

He goes on to describe his deep, paralyzing sadness. He writes about how it makes him angry and makes him do things he regrets. Then, he tries to cope with that anger and sadness. He does one thing every day that he can be proud of. He learns to cherish the happy memories he has of his son.

The ending is deeply poignant, illustrating how there isn't always a perfect happy conclusion, but life does go on.

To help me review this book, I asked for help from some book-loving tiny humans in the Crossroads.

Diego Cuellar, 7, and his sister, Ava Cuellar, 6, read this book with me and their mother at the library.

Afterward, Diego told me he liked the book.

"It's about how he feels very sad after what happened; his mom and his son died. He lost his family, and since then, nothing has been the same. He even writes about the sadness," Diego said.

Xavier Gapasin, 5, also read this book with me and his mother, next to a pile of books he had already picked out to go home with.

Xavier said that though he prefers zombies, he also liked "Michael Rosen's Sad Book."

"It was good for him to write about it because he misses him," he said.

Both of the young men shared their own times of feeling sad after reading the story. To me, this really showed how books can help children open up about their own experiences and talk about how they feel.

Xavier spoke about being bullied at school. He said another kid threatened to throw him in a trash can and promised violence if Xavier resisted. Afterward, Xavier did the right thing and reported it to a teacher.

Diego shared about how one time in first grade, he cried all the way through recess because of something the other children said to him. He said he felt better the next day, but he still remembers that day.

After only a few minutes with each of them, I could tell these boys were energetic, happy people who love to smile and laugh. They were full of joy and excitement while talking about their favorite books. It was heartbreaking to hear that they had already experienced challenges in their lives that let them relate to Rosen's sadness in their own way, but I was glad that they felt they could talk about it.

Though it may seem a bit serious for a children's book, this original and honest story about dealing with loss reminds us all that it is OK to feel sad.

"He actually told you what he was sad about, and it made him better at the end. When you talk about things, it makes you feel better," Diego said with a nod of surety.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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(c)2014 Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas)

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Source: Victoria Advocate (TX)