Chestnut came home from school on Friday practically groaning
under her massive backpack. The culprit? A load of books gathered from a
mysterious box her teachers provided. Anyone could take home a book—free. Most
kids took one. She took…six?
She worked through them most of the weekend, very happily. First one, then the other, sort of hopping between them, until she came to this:
It's not quite as sweetness and light as it looks from this particular cover.
Not to say that she disliked it—far from it. She loved it. Until it got so scary that she couldn't read anymore, and I, as is usual, was called in in my professional capacity as book finisher*, ie: "Mommy, this book is too scary, can you finish it and let me know how it ends?" Of course, I've done this before. And I'm happy to report that this time I didn't end up crying like a small child on the subway. But I did end up…surprised.
Most kids books by American authors tend to shy away from out and out calling the villains, well, villains. Especially if they're kids. It's usually a much more "understanding" approach, in which we find out that the person who was mean is actually just scared. Or nervous. Or has bad self-esteem. Or his/her parents are going through a divorce. Or or or….
But in this? This very British book? She's just BAD. Really bad. She's awful, nasty, spoiled, evil. She's scary.
There was something so excellent and freeing about reading it. I spend so much time trying to get my kids to develop empathy and understanding for the little creeps who push them off jungle gyms or drop books on their heads. Instead of ever saying, "Wow, that kid is a horrible child."
Yes, there is a virtue to suspending judgment, especially with children. But then again there is virtue, too, in acknowledging the truth of a situation. I always fear that my kids won't give enough benefit to the doubt. But when she finally did finish reading the book (once assured that there wasn't going to be anything too horrible), Chestnut said, "Wow, she was bad," about the villain of the book, Angel (really).
"Bad like X?" I asked (X, who's name has been changed to protect the guilty, is Chestnut's current nemesis).
"Oh no, Mommy. X is just bad, Angel is evil. There's a difference." And I thought: right. And how excellent of the book to give a person the room to make that distinction.
*Note: professional book finisher: is this stupid and damaging to a kid? Or caring and understanding? I never get these things right.