The night before Hadley started preschool, we read Dotty by Erica S. Perl together. I ordered it special for Hadley because after reading about it on Erica's blog, I thought it would be the perfect fit for my girl with the huge imagination.
Hadley and I meet Ida, who goes to school with her new lunch box and her pal Dotty. I can't do Dotty justice by trying to describe what she looks like. I will just say that the illustrator, Julia Denos, made Hadley gasp with glee when she first saw Dotty on the page.
Dotty is Ida's imaginary friend, and follows Ida around on a leash. When Ida goes to school, she learns that her other classmates have imaginary friends too, however, as the school year continues, and "the green finally returns," Ida finds that Dotty is the only one around.
In one part, Ida is sitting on a swing, Dotty's leash in hand, when Katya, one of her classmates, comes to sit next to her. She begins to tease Ida about Dotty in that subtle way that girls do, and in a scene that took our breath away, Dotty shoves Katya to the ground.
When I read a book that I love, it's hard to know what to emphasize.There is so much I love about Dotty. I love the pictures. I love the part where Katya and Ida write apology notes to each other, and in their own handwriting, they creatively find a way to say they're sorry without really being sorry. I love Ms Raymond's role in the story. She asks Ida who Dotty is, and in a terribly emotional scene, Ida can't tell her. Ms Raymond is the teacher I hoped I always was. She doesn't push Ida for information, but instead, asks Ida if she would mind explaining to Dotty that shoving is inappropriate behavior for the classroom. And then Ms Raymond pulls a leash out of her desk and hands it to Ida. "Oh, I'm sorry. That one's mine." She then gives Ida Dotty's leash. In the last scene, Ms Raymond walks out with Gert, a kind of giraffe/antelope hybrid, and says to her pal, "..no snacking on the way home. You know it spoils your dinner."
Around the same time Hadley and I were reading Dotty, another book, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, came under attack. A loud mouth who I'm sure hasn't read the book, decided that the story isn't appropriate and I believe went so far as to call it "soft porn." I was upset about this judgement, as ridiculous as it is, because I love Speak. And while I haven't been through what Melinda has been through, the story left a mark on me. Like Dotty, I could palpably remember what it feels like to grow up.
The reason I write both about Dotty and Speak in the same post is because when I read that Speak was under attack, I thought, "So if they take that one off the shelves, who draws the line at other books?" Even though Dotty is a different situation, for me, my throat gets tight when I read it because like Halse, Perl is writing about something that is real. I never want my girls to go through what Melinda did, but to miss out on seeing Melinda find her voice again would be a tragedy. And what a lovely thing to have a story like Dotty so Hadley and eventually Harper learn that if you want to have an imaginary friend, by all means, have one! Don't let the Katya's of the world tell you any differently. Do I want my girls to know pain? No. Will they? Yes. And I believe that by reading stories like Dotty and Speak they can hold the hands of Ida and Melinda while they themselves grow up.
In the book Shouts and Whispers, edited by Jennifer L. Holberg, Katherine Paterson quotes Flannery O'Connor in an essay called "Image and Imagination." O'Connor says, "Fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty than you shouldn't write fiction." Katherine Paterson goes on to ask, "....is fiction possible where there is no fall? I don't think that it is. Isn't it the broken image, the damaged image of God in humankind, that is the stuff of fiction, whether we're speaking of Peter Rabbit or Anna Karenina?" Barbara Brown Taylor writes in an essay called "Way Beyond Belief" that words create a "....memory of having felt deeply alive for a moment - or profoundly sad - or so close to the pulsing truth of things that all the hair on your arms stood up." Why is all this important? Because I believe that reading stories teaches us how to live. I want my girls to know how to live, even when bad things happen.
I'm finishing up this post while Hadley is pulling a stuffed animal around on a leash. The leash is actually a couple of hair ribbons I tied together and clipped to the animal's ear. I can hear her talking to him, or her (the gender changes on a daily basis). She's telling him that it's time to go for a walk. "Maybe we'll find a park later, but I'm not sure you can swing by yourself. You can watch me swing or take a nap while I play." Hadley's been pulling different animals around on homemade leashes since she's read Dotty, and when I watch her do this, I see that Erica S. Perl opened Hadley's world up a little more, and gave her another way to use her imagination. And for that, I am very thankful.