The first 2020 issue of Bookbird has a wonderful article on reading difficult books to very young children. It’s about a two-day project at each of three preschool centers where educators worked with preschoolers through Oliver Jeffers’s picturebook The Heart and the Bottle (2010). From its large, awkward size to the ambiguities of its storyline, the book offers many ways to deepen connections between words and pictures on a page and the lived experiences of young children. But reading it is tough.
The article opens with a Kafka passage, ending this way:
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
Starting with the “big sadnesses” of children living in the reality of the world, the article addresses adult reluctance to deal with hard feelings. Teachers confess to worrying about not being able to manage their emotions in front of the children.
The term “sitting with” is used consistently, and it’s a wonderful way to think about it. One can “sit with” and acknowledge hard feelings without needing to solve a problem or provide a solution. The world isn’t instantly fixable, or even fixable at all, so why not simply allow the feelings to be, and thereby validate them?
This account of a “somewhat successful, and somewhat failed, project” is moving because it combines individual responses to the experience from adults and children without privileging one over the other. The writers conclude:
Because we are too little habituated to sitting with discomfort and to tolerating sad feelings as we read books aloud, teaching this book remains a brave and challenging act.
Provoking a pause, permitting us to “sit with…” our feelings. Isn’t this practically necessary to being human?