January 28, 2011
Accepting and Celebrating Differences
by Grady Harp
Larry Peterson has accomplished many feats in this his first children's book: he has provided an entertaining and clever story that will definitely entertain youngsters, illustrated the book with absolutely first-class drawings, and has delivered a message much needed in the education of children (and parents alike!) - to learn to accept differences in others and in ourselves.
Willie Wiggins has an odd way of ambulating - he has slippery feet that cause him to slip and slide around, unable to climb tress or perform in other forms of play. He hates his slippery feet, and so does his mother and he is the laughing stock of his friends because he slips around instead of walking or running. His mother takes the matter in hand and has special shoes that will prevent Willie from sliding around. Problem? Willie hates the "stupidest, ugliest shoes in the whole world."
When Willie steps into his ugly stupid corrective shoes even his mother laughs at him as do all of his friends at school, making Willie miserable - until Willie wakes up from his dream and realizes he hasn't worn the new shoes yet! When he indeed puts on the shoes not only can he walk normally but he also becomes the envy of his friends for the fabulous new shoes he wears!
Peterson's story flows so well and is so well married to the illustrations that the book is at once engrossing and entertaining as well as being sophisticated. Caldecott and Newbery Awards alert! The only aspect of the book that in a way takes it from the intended reader is the added instructions at the end - well meant ways of listing things that are different in us and in other people and how to deal with these differences. It is one of those examples of overkill as the book is so beautifully done that adding the workbook or study guide at the end feels tacked on and extraneous and because the story and presentation itself makes such a finely honed point: it comes close to dumbing down the reader.
Final diagnosis? Excellent book by a fine new author/illustrator. Hopefully many more books will come from Larry Peterson and Tribute Books.