Thursday, July 9, 2009

Harriet's had enough by Elissa Haden Guest, illustrated by Paul Meisel - review

Harriet's had enough by Elissa Haden Guest, illustrated by Paul Meisel
I have two words for you: Most realistic (without being sad and weird and scary) book about a mommy-kid fight I've ever seen.

Now I recognize that that's ... 18 words. But I want to emphasize: it's quite a feat. How many books can you think of that are about a kid getting pissed off? Oh, I'd say about 8% of all picture books have to do with a kid losing his/her temper, and the consequences thereof. Most of them are about dumb little freak-outs, but a few (When Sophie Gets Angry, The Red Dragon, No Dessert Ever) try to address the kind of overwhelming anger that is actually scary to a kid. I actually find those books scary. It's tricky.

There are far fewer books that deal with a parent getting angry. Every parent knows that sometimes that kid just pushes the right buttons. You're not supposed to react - you're the grownup - but, well, it happens. To every parent. All the time. But, as I say, very few books that hit this.

Harriet's mom wants Harriet to pick up her toys. Tells her three times. Harriet says no, kicks over a bunch of blocks. And there we go. Harriet's being carried up to her room to "cool down". "No, YOU need to cool down!" counters Harriet, which earns her a door-slam on top of her time out.

The other day, my 7-year-old was standing in front of me lying to me.
Mad as hell, I grated, "How does it make YOU feel when someone is lying to you?!"
"It makes me want to SMACK them!" he hurls back.
"Well what do you know? Another thing we have in common!" I yell.
We stood there looking at each other until he cracked up. It's a good thing he and I have the same sense of humor too.

After Harriet threatens to run away, and is worn down by the kindness of her family, she is given the chance to apologize to her mom, which she does. Mama apologizes in turn for yelling and for the door slam, and then everybody helps each other with their tasks so that they can all sit down to dinner together.

Some parents think apologizing to a kid leaves the kid on shaky ground - that the kid needs to think of the adult as infallible in order to feel secure. I think that when a parent has demonstrated fallibility - like when the parent has lost his or her temper - you need to model sincere regret. How else is the kid going to know how to gracefully extricate him- or herself from the terrible stupid things that he or she has will have said or done in a fit of anger?

Life skills, baby. It's not just tying your shoes.

1 comment:

marjorie said...

this sounds great; thanks for the heads-up.

funny, another good genuinely-P.O.'d-mom kids' book ALSO features a harriet: Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox.