Monday, October 31, 2011

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

NOTE: We are experiencing massive power outages here in the Northeast today. I decided to reprise a seasonally timely post from the past since Sally, this week's blogging Write Sister, is one of the 220,000 without power at this moment in New Hampshire. This post was written by me and originally published on October 30, 2008. Andy

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine yesterday. She teaches kindergarten and reads at least 2 or 3 picture books every day to her lucky students. Because she's teaching in a very inclusive private school, she has been able to work any and all holidays into the curriculum. Until this year.

Apparently, one of her students is afraid of witches. His mother has insisted that no books featuring a witch character be read to the class. There'll be no Piggie Pie! in that classroom this year. Margie Palatini's Gritch the Witch is going to have to find some other group of kids to delight. That's too bad. Gritch just may have helped that child deal with his witch issues.

I know this mother is well-intentioned, but I don't believe she is doing her little one any favors by screening out the witches. I think that we give our personal demons great power when we close our eyes, cover our ears, and run screaming from them. Face your fears, I say!

In my opinion, when we over-validate a child's fearful reaction, we are telling that child s/he needs to be afraid. S/he needs to be very afraid. That mother could easily turn the fear switch "off" and empower her son. All she needs is a lap and a few thoughtfully chosen picture books. She could start with Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona, and follow up with Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom. Even though it doesn't feature a witch, I'd recommend reading Linda Williams's The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Talk about facing your fears! That old woman is chased through the darkening woods by clomping shoes, wiggling pants, a shaking shirt, two clapping white gloves, one nodding black hat, and a pumpkin head. They scared the hell out of her, but she dealt with it. "I am not afraid of you!" With those simple yet powerful words she took control of the fearsome pumpkin head and his disembodied accessories. She directed them to assemble themselves into a scarecrow in her garden. What a completely satisfying ending!

Unless this mother rethinks her approach, this little guy is doomed to live in fear. He'll never get to that satisfying ending, because he isn't allowed to read the book. It has been placed out of his reach.

Now that's scary.