The Possibility of Consolation

I
got a publicity email asking if I want to review Winter's Tail. And since I can't resist a good Shakespearean pun,
and it was 11 at night, I said, "Sure!"
I got an email back thanking me in advance for reviewing it.
"Oops," I returned. "I can't promise to review it, I can only promise to read it and consider reviewing it."
"Fair enough," (or something like that) the next email said. And there's a giveaway. The book was on its way.
It got to my mail box this past Tuesday, where I picked it up on my way
to a middle school fair, which is a herd-like
gathering of nervous parents, middle school principals, lots of
tri-folded promotional leaflets, and sweet 7th graders who shove the leaflets parents' hands while everyone circulates sweatily in a
stifling gym and worries about the future. I jostled around with
Winter's Tail weighing down my bag, then dragged it along with me on my
ride home (I ran into a neighbor there), then wedged it in my armpit just a few doors down from my house. Almost home—and then I ran into another neighbor who told me something that changed the way I viewed everything: earlier that day, at our school, at pickup time, a
little boy in pre K had run into the street and been hit by a car. He was going
to live, but it looked like he had lost his foot.
Something like this, of course, erases everything else, because keeping
one's children safe is the most important thing in the world. Nothing
else matters when put next to it.
Later that night, I read the book.

Winter

Winter's
Tail is not a well-written book. Its tone never wavers from cheerfully
earnest. The sentences can be
strangely convoluted. There are A LOT of words, so it's a bit much for
a new reader; it's more for a teacher to read to a class.

But.
The
story it tells is deeply moving. A baby dolphin (cue the cries of
"Cute!" from far too many little girls) gets caught in a net and is
rescued, but loses her tail. She can't swim well and stay healthy
without it, so scientists and doctors work together to create a
prosthetic tail. The innovations made while creating the tail have now
helped many others with prostheses, including Iraq war veterans. And
Winter herself now serves as a powerful example to children, especially
those who need technology to function. Her very existence, and her
struggle, serves as consolation and inspiration, I think, to them.
While I am leery of "issue" books, there are far too few books
that acknowledge the many among us who face these sorts of struggles,
whether with health or other issues. This book may not be told or presented exactly how I would
wish, but I am deeply grateful for its existence.

I found out later that the little boy at our school is recovering, and
that it seems that he will keep his foot, for which we are all profoundly grateful, though many other struggles
present themselves. Here's hoping that this post finds you all well and healthy and as whole as you can be.

Now for the giveaway (could there be a more crass transition?). The
publisher wants to give one of this blog's readers a "Winter pack,"
which consists of the book, a keychain, a stuffed animal, and a Winter
DS game. So if you are interested, or want to give this to someone who
is, how about you give us a recommendation of a book that offers consolation. The winner will be selected
randomly (numbers out of a hat is what we're thinking over here…) Oh, and there's also an essay contest on the scholastic website, if you're so inspired.

15 thoughts on “The Possibility of Consolation

  1. Follow My Leader has always been my favorite consolation book. You may be blind, but you can still read and write and have best friends and go hiking with the Scouts, and you can even learn to forgive the guy who threw the firecracker. Realistic? Well, no — who would be quite that good natured in real life? But it meant a lot to me when I was 10 and loved to read and was told I might go blind.

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  2. Teri, I think I remember that book! With the seeing-eye dog? And the kid who threw the firecracker teased the dog, and the dog growled at him?
    I remember next to nothing else about that book, but obviously those snippets have stuck with me for 30 yrs…

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  3. Each little bird that sings. My daughter read it and told me about it. Hmmm. Girl adores her dog and does NOT like her cousin. Dog dies while saving said cousin. Well. Not the best selection, but all I can come up with LOL. Winter is at the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida. It’s small but very interesting. My daughter would love it I would too. I looked for the essay, but could only find contests that had already ended.

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  4. “The Table Where Rich People Sit” by Byrd Baylor. Not the same sort of consolation,but great for inspiring appreciation and gratitude instead of feelings of lacking in kids. I use it with my 4th graders around Thanksgiving.

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  5. “It’s Not the End of the World” by Judy Blume. Not so much of an issue now, but I was the only kid in my classes in elementary school with divorced parents and it was nice reading about a divorcing family.

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  6. Lovely review! You’re right–there’s a real place for this sort of book, even if clumsily written. I am really glad the little guy is going to keep his foot.
    Perhaps the opposite type of read would be the Depressing Issue book, often used to talk about environmental topics. I am thinking about this because of one my MIL just gave my 2.5-yo son. (Or tried to; frankly, he will never see this one.) There are 11 fish swimming around the reef, then one gets speared, so there are 10, one dies because the coral is damaged, another gets caught in fish propellers… I am not exaggerating. I am a thorough environmentalist, and the book has its earnest heart in the right place (it was published by a reef protection association), but it’s totally counterproductive.

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  7. Erika – yes, that’s the one! I think the boys were playing baseball when no-goodnik Mike decides to light a firecracker with a too-short fuse. Kablooie! No more vision for our hero.
    It always cracked me up that the protagonist’s name was Jimmy Carter (long before the president by that name) and that the author’s name was James Garfield (somewhat after the president by *that* name).

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  8. I remember Follow My Leader too. I can credit that book as being the reason I’m terrified of firecrackers.
    I read a lot of “issue” books when I was in about junior high, things like “Izzy Willy Nilly” (about a girl in a wheel chair) and “What’s Wrong With Daddy?” about Alzheimer’s. Truthfully, I never felt like any of those books did anything but make me feel very worldly for reading about such tragic things; they didn’t actually prepare me or give me any perspective.
    Though I can certainly see a constantly positive tone could be annoying, this book sounds intriguing–and I’ve never heard this story before. I do day care and have a little boy here who’s obsessed with sharks/whales/dolphins. I can see that being a really inspirational story to kids.

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  9. I honestly don’t remember it well enough to know if you’d consider it a consolation book, but I loved a short chapter book when I was little called The Seeing Summer. Or something close to that. A new girl moves into a neighborhood and she’s blind. It is about how she gets to be friends with a child already living there and the sighted child is amazed at all the things her friend who can’t see can still do. I feel like there is some huge problem or crisis in the book, but I can no longer remember what it is…

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  10. Hmm, the only consolation/issue books I know of are in Norwegian… I was always wary of them when I was young: They seemed too earnest about their message, and most of them weren’t very exciting or well-written. But I’ve come to appreciate them as an adult. It’s important that they exist, so people can be consoled from them (well, obviously ;). I only wish more of the authors put the story, if not first, then not last, compared to the message they’re trying to get through. I think they would get more readers that way – and also readers who wouldn’t normally think of the book as something they’d want to read. Everyone likes a good yarn, but it’s not so fun to read a book that you know has A Really Important Topic.

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  11. My son loves all things aquatic so I’m smiling about Follow My Leader and thinking that the Madeleine L’Engle books were my consolations. The nerdy girls grew up to have cool lives, hanging out with other nerds doing cool things and all those meanies from school didn’t seem to be there at all. That was real consolation in my youth.

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  12. OH, how I loved “Izzy, Willy-Nilly.” I didn’t know that others even knew about that book. I read it in seventh or eighth grade, when high school was still glamourous, and it scared the HELL out of me re: drinking/driving.
    I still have it on my bookshelf, in the hopes that my daughter will pick it up someday & be similarly affected.

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