Here we get contrasting views of what types of books we should bring to young children. A librarian argues for always presenting The Little Engine that Could cheering section. Sarah, deeply involved with children who are struggling and one who isn't, celebrates a book that gently acknowledges that sometimes we aren't quite ready for the task at hand.
Edward in Deep Water (Edward-the-Unready)
by Rosemary Wells
From Publishers Weekly
Featuring the wryly understated texts and drolly detailed ink-and-watercolor art of the Max and Ruby titles, these paper-over-board books introduce the late-blooming Edward the Unready. In each misadventure, the expressive-eyed bear faces a new, decidedly uncomfortable situation. At a swimming party, the lifeguard calls Edward's parents to pick him up after his water wings deflate and he is rescued from the pool's bottom. When a blizzard forces Edward to spend the night at his pal Anthony's house, Anthony's parents realize how miserable their sleepless guest is and dig out the car to take him home. And Edward's first week of playschool is so painful for him that his teacher sends for his parents, announcing, "Not everyone is ready for the same things at the same time." That, of course, encapsulates the message imparted by each of these tales, which inventively reassure kids that it is okay to be "unready." Ages 2-6.
From School Library Journal
PreS-K---Edward is not a helpful role model for young children. In each book, the conclusion is identical--he's just not ready for the given situation. Deep Water features the bear cub at a swimming party, where he is humiliated by the other guests because of his need to wear water wings in the pool. In School, he is dragged into play school and pulled out at the end of the week. In Overnight, the small bear is left to play at a friend's house during a snowstorm. His parents promise to come back soon, but must break their word due to impassable roads, and Edward is inconsolable. In the middle of the night, his host puts chains on the car and follows the snowplow to Edward's home. The books are simply aimed at the wrong audience. Children who are working their way through challenging new experiences need people (and books) to cheer them on and offer them concrete assistance. Parents with sensitivity to their children's developmental stages know their capacities and introduce new experiences gradually, following their leads and supporting them until they have the requisite confidence. The parents depicted here do neither. Wells's characteristically droll, cuddly creations do not rescue the series from its exceedingly counterproductive message. Buy another copy of Watty Piper's classic The Little Engine That Could (Putnam, 1978) to help children bolster their confidence. Mention this series to family therapists for parents who are ready before their children are.
Wendy Lukehart, Dauphin County Library, Harrisburg, PA
by Sarah Puglisi "public school teacher"
What I like best about Edward in these three tales of his "unreadiness" is that Rosemary Wells chose not to make everything work out in a contrived "Hollywood" ending, she risks telling it like it is. Kids value that in stories.
Truthfully in life we often step up to the plate unready to hit the fast ball....I'm a teacher of 1st graders and this week during "You Pick It", a time I read their book choices in shared reading, I read this story of a darling little creature (that doesn't look like a bear to me) who gets invited to a swim party, takes along his water wings though his parents tell him he doesn't need them anymore, gets them popped by girls who squeeze him very hard reacting to his darling immaturity as only girls can, then about drowns. On the bottom of the pool. Edward is very smart about what's true for him--he knew he needed those wings. He's sent home by the lifeguard with the message he's not yet ready for "this kind of party." I guess not. His parents arrive with faces of acceptance and I suppose the gut feeling of "what did we do here to get us in this place".
My children in class spent the week ferreting out all the Rosemary Wells books, it was fascinating because I had a passle of books out to choose from, yet she was all I read. Edward's story got a standing ovation. And it should. Each of these kids this week felt a little nervous and unready to trudge into 1st grade. They are in Sheltered Immersion, not speaking English really, but being instructed in it and really aware of the feeling of maybe being asked to do something beyond them....meanwhile my nephew visiting today(a language maverick) starting 1st next week just finished reading the Narnia books and a kid version of Moby Dick. He tells me Edward is "a book for babies"...until I read it anyway to him and he listened spellbound and said, "Sometimes I know my baby brother feels exactly like that." I think children hearing the Edward story often relate it to the younger brother or sister and their awareness of how that child isn't quite ready to do what they (the older sibling) are doing. The book acknowledges this somehow, in that Well's way, allowing a child to feel the comfort of knowing that someone knows how it feels. Poignant.
Children do care that the little one can't swim well enough yet and feel that "missing out" angst for the sibling. For that matter all of us are a little bit Edward. Life places us in so many situations each day where we know we aren't quite "ready." Maybe one day, not yet. Edward has the most wonderfully ambivilant look on his face as he gets picked up and taken back home after the swim party fiasco. I recall picking up my son after a failed attempt at a sleepover when he was six and not brave enough to go the distance. Same face. Sometimes we just have to wait awhile, grow a little, develop some gears and give it another go. I really recommend this book and it's companions to families. Ages 2 to 7. (And for tenderhearted adults that might be facing their parenting with an awareness that we might be not quite ready for the job and all the complexity it entails.)