During my summer jobs in college, I worked for numerous camps for kids of varying ages. One of these was Energy Express, a six-week reading and nutritional enrichment program for rural children in West Virginia. Because we spent so much time immersed in children's literature--reading it, writing about it, drawing scenes from books, acting out our favorite stories--I developed a real appreciation for kids' books at this time. I started accumulating a small collection I wanted to save for my own kids around 1996.
These have come in very handy since Darius spends so much time with us, and we generally read at least one book together before bedtime. He tends to pick the same stories over and over, so last night it was a pleasant surprise when he chose a book we hadn't read before: How Smudge Came.
It had been at least a decade since I'd read the book, and I honestly didn't remember much about it other than a girl finds a stray puppy. We snuggled down in bed under the covers and I began reading. Darius likes to ask a lot of questions about the story and the illustrations, so it ends up being a slow process. As we read and discussed each page, Ivan was moving around the room, getting ready for bed. Then I got to a page where another character is introduced and read:
Here's Jan, who isn't very old, but he is ugly with disease and he is going to die.
Ivan froze and said, "What the hell are you reading?" Darius turned to me with wide eyes. Apparently unable to muster any sensitivity and compassion at such an unexpected turn in the story, I burst out laughing.
As it turns out, the story is about a girl with Down's Syndrome who lives in a group home. She rescues a stray puppy in a snow storm and tries to hide him in her room. She cleans for a nearby Hospice facility during the day, and takes the puppy to work with her to meet the residents. The story ultimately has a happy ending, but it understandably brought up a lot of questions for Darius. We ended up having a conversation about death, dying, and Hospice right before turning out the lights for the night. Lovely bedtime topics for a small child.
Oh, yeah. I'm really a natural.