May 29, 2020

Dealing with Guilt: A Whale of a Mistake

Covid19 note:
It's been several days since Memorial Day weekend, a strangely-adapted schoolyear is  ending,  and many businesses are reopening in this eleventh week of quarantine. The need for physical distancing, masks, hand washing, and mindfulness regarding the greater good of our communities is more necessary now than ever. 
As I write this, the tragic landmark of 100,000+ deaths in the US has been reported and numbers continue to rise. The good news is that I have seen, in person and in social media, the encouraging truth that MANY people understand and respect the ongoing need for individuals to act responsibly. The sad news is that there are others who put personal WANTS above the greater NEEDS of society. 
That is a mistake.
It neglects the facts of science.
And it is a mistake that could prove very hard to live with, but very easy to die from.

Page Street Kids, 2020

Some mistakes can be fixed or forgotten rather easily. Others can be overwhelming, to the people injured and  even to the one causing the harm. A WHALE OF A MISTAKE is written and illustrated by Ioana Hobai.  She has illustrated other engaging picture books. This is the second of her releases in which she provides both the text and illustrations. With a cover and spreads awash in luminous and lilting images (ink, watercolor, acrylic), the narrative as an inner journey plays out on an oceanic scale. The seemingly solid-color endpapers of water/sky blue suggest subtle nuance and movement, foretelling a story with depth and drama. 
The minimalist text arrives in second person voice, insuring a bond between the reader and the appealing character whose identity is also universal, blue-ish, and recognizably distressed. Their "mistake" is generic and unspecified, but the worry that follows feels intensely specific. The progression unfolds from being swallowed whole, unable to navigate the whirlwind resulting from People saying: "What a big mistake!".
As the struggles and swirls change in hue and tone and intensity, "you" regain your footing and find yourself surrounded by unexpected new skyscapes.

"There's a whole universe of mistakes out there." 

Magical colors and swirls call to mind Van Gogh's STARRY NIGHT, morphing into richer pastels and horizons as you learn to move on. 
Hobai's work displays a masterful merging of text and illustration to pace this sweeping story through deeply recognizable stages of guilt, regret, worry, and eventual restoration to firm footing, with the encouraging resolution of becoming a stronger person in the process. There is a lovely interview with Hobai on Maria Marshall's THE PICTURE BOOK BUZZ, here.   
You can find/follow this talented creator on: 
Twitter @ioanahobai
Instagram @ioana.hobai
Mistakes (even those we could objectively label as "small"ones) can be surprisingly worrisome to all of us, but are especially so to young children. The character above is inundated with worrying feelings, leading to a sense of isolation, powerlessness, and distancing from familiar and trusted surroundings. That inner journey often takes place in little ones close to home without catching our attention. To notice and support young children during the journey from mistake to satisfying resolve is an important gift. 

Greenwillow Books, 2016
You may have other picture books on hand to explore these ideas until you are able to take a look at this new release. A timeless classic that might be on your shelves is LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes. In Hobai's book the actual mistake is not even hinted at, and the usual "apologize" or other ways of fixing things is not addressed. Henkes take his now-beloved Lilly on a journey to resolution by providing a highly specific mouse-girl, who makes an all-too-familiar mistake, and manages to take agency in setting things right. Lilly's specificity is an effective way to provide young humans with a sense that there IS an "other side" after making mistakes. In her case, too, the process of worry and regret begins with internal, isolating distress, 
That's why picture books like these are so important, whether we're aware of mistakes as they occur or simply providing a template for processing our (your, their) mistakes when they are made.

I can't resist a final note about the potential mistakes being made by those who too quickly dismiss their need to be cautious for any reason. None of us wants to see a rebound/increase in Covid19 cases. It's my sincere hope that this does not occur, and that the resulting regrets, refections, and recovery are not necessary.

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