Johnny Big Ears, The Feel-Good Friend by John Paul Padilla
Me: So guys, what did you think of the book?
Gray: You mean like a rating?
Me: You could give me a rating, or you could just tell me what you thought about it.
Gray: Well, maybe a 3-. (That's out of 5.)
Max: Yeah, it's a medium book, I guess.
Me: Can you tell me anything you did like about it?
Gray: I don't know.
Me: Do you think it had a good message?
Gray: Yeah. Don't be mean to other people...
Max: Wait, what's a message?
Gray: You know, what's the book trying to tell you.
Me: I thought the message was also that we should always remember that we're special just the way we are.
Gray: And we should try to ignore it when other people say mean things about us. Like used to happen to me.
Me: Johnny Big Ears made it sound like it was easy to ignore when kids teased you...
Gray: Well it's not that easy.
Me: I know, sweetie, it isn't. But it is good to always remember how special you are no matter what other kids say.
Max: How come all the kids looked like teenagers when they're all in kindergarten?
Gray: Yeah, those kids look like they're thirteen or fourteen, not five.
Me: I can't argue with you guys there. So any other thoughts?
Max: Well, nothing happened.
Gray: Yeah, it really wasn't much of a story.
--And there you have it, as close to the exact words of our conversation as I can manage. As you can see, the boys didn't love the book. They didn't hate the book.
Personally, I hate to be too hard on a book that really does carry such a positive message, but I did have problems with it. For one thing, I simply couldn't figure out what age this book was directed at. It's about a little boy's first day in kindergarten (although as both Gray and Max said, the kids look more like 8th graders). The message is certainly appropriate for kindergartners, but the book seems far too wordy for most kids that young. And though the boys didn't seem to notice, I had big problems with the constant switching of the tenses. I'm not sure if it was deliberate or just poorly written. Maybe I'm being too picky, but I hate seeing bad examples of writing like that for children who are really just gaining steam in their own writing at this age.
Okay, as I said, I hate to be too hard on this book. If this book can help even one child see him/herself as special and unique just the way they are, then obviously it is truly a worthwhile book. I think that maybe as a mom of a little boy who has been bullied and teased, I was hoping for a little more substance. Oh let's be honest, I was daydreaming about it doing miracles...and that's a terribly unfair starting point to be judging a book from.