Tuesday, November 30, 2004

When moms and dads have to leave

First published in The News Tribune
Copyright The McClatchy Company Nov 30, 2004

While You Are Away

By Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Renee Graef
Hyperion, 32 pages, $15.99

By Robie H. Harris
Illustrated by Harry Bliss
Candlewick Press, 34 pages
$15.99, ages 4 to 8

"Don't go, Mommy! Take me." "Don't leave me, Daddy!" Every parent has heard a few renditions of those heart-tugging words.
It's tough, but we know that children need to learn how to be with other people, too - and that we need to leave sometimes so they'll know we come back.
As this is the season for grown-up parties, there will be lots of short separations and tearful goodbyes in store. There are also longer and much more serious separations affecting many children in the (South Puget Sound area and other regions throughout the country) - the separations forced by the deployment of military moms and dads. Both kinds of separations can be scary to young children, though. Snuggling in a cozy armchair to read one of these picture books might provide some comfort and cheer.
While You Are Away, by Eileen Spinelli, portrays three children whose military parents are far from home.
The words are from the perspectives of the children. They're sad and sweet.
"While you are on that big ship, Daddy, far, far away, I miss you," one little boy thinks. "I miss baking brownies, hunting for salamanders, collecting river rocks.
"I wonder: where is my daddy sleeping?"
The three situations are inclusive. One child is black, one white, one Hispanic. Two of the youngsters are boys, one a girl. One dad drives a jeep. A mother pilots a jet.
The illustrations by Renee Graef are warm and cheerful. They picture children and parents in comfortable, safe situations, not necessarily an accurate depiction of war zones, but appropriate because the book is aimed at 3- to 7-year-olds.
Don't Forget to Come Back by Robie H. Harris has a completely different feel. Funny and emphatic, with lots to look at in the pictures, children will want to crawl into this one and stay awhile.
A little girl's parents are going out for the evening, so first she tries being reasonable - in numbered cartoon bubbles. "1. I am NOT a baby. 2. I'm a BIG kid. 3. So I do NOT need a stupid babysitter."
When that doesn't work, she resorts to scare tactics, talking of giant, destructive thunderstorms that will come when they leave, tummy aches, throwing up and carnivorous moose.
"That didn't scare daddy at all."
As her mother gets dolled up in front of the mirror, the child grabs her pink umbrella, panda and ballet shoes and announces she's coming along. No go, either. So she hides in a closet.
Sarah, the baby sitter, arrives. Resigned, the girl says goodbye to her parents, again in cartoon bubbles: "DON'T FORGET TO COME BACK!"
Of course, Sarah is tons of fun. They paint toenails silver and purple, and Sarah reads the monster book five times.
The watercolor and ink illustrations by Harry Bliss are wonderful. The elegant mother and balding father look like couples we know, and the art in the family home is fun to look at.
The best picture is the last, after the child has discovered her parents are safely in their bed in the morning. She's snuggled between them telling them about Sarah. "And she didn't let a single moose in."
The family is tiny and cozy viewed through the window. It's snowing outside. And there's a great big moose looking sadly in.
Harris is able to capture the powerful feelings of children with just the right touch. She's never heavy-handed or patronizing. Try her "Goodbye Mousie" when a preschooler's pet dies.
-Rebecca Young

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