Elephant, Piggie, and a Broken Heart

I just spent 13 hours driving from Jackson to Bend in one day. Car rides with my 3 year-old have suddenly become fun and bearable.

During one of my turns in the back seat (aka, the entertainment seat), we were reading Mo Willems’ Are You Ready To Play Outside? (in the Elephant and Piggie series). Whenever I read one of Willems’ books, especially the ones in this series, I marvel at how Willems is a master at writing age-appropriate inference. Often times, I will read a story to Karsten and feel the need to explain something that is inferred, but not specially mentioned or shown. But when I read Willems’ books, I hold back. Elephant and Piggie are drawn with such amazing body language, that kids can infer so much from their expressions. Then, the characters reinforce that inference with dialog. After many reads, during which I would tell Karsten what Piggie was feeling (based on the illustrations) and then have her tell us the same thing herself, I realized just how brilliant Willems is. He encourages kids to really observe the characters (shown in the minimalism of the illustrations) and then confirms their inference with natural (and funny) dialog. My husband is a kindergarten teacher and he agrees. Willems is a master.

Take two. We’re listening to some mix CD from a former student of my husband. Taio Cruz (I didn’t know who we was before this song) croons a peppy rap song, Break Your Heart. The song tells girls not to fall in love with Cruz, because he will break their hearts. Enter inference gone wrong.

After hearing the song, Karsten had this response:

“Breaking your heart sounds like a bad idea because it would take all your love away.”

Collective aawwww, right?

Karsten was visibly shaken. He didn’t want his heart to be broken. My husband had to convince him that we had so much love for him that his heart could never break. (How’s that for setting him up for teenage heartbreak?) When the song came on again later, Karsten thought that the singer was going to cut us all open and take our hearts out. It was getting worse with each listen.

It really struck me then how Karsten takes things so literally. (And how well he listens when I think he’s not. And how little I actually listen to song lyrics.) He’s a pretty emotionally sensitive child, and I realize I want to be aware of what I’m exposing him to. I’m not sure when it’s developmentally appropriate to understand the abstract meaning behind Cruz’s song, but for now, for a while really, I think it will be fine to stick with Mo Willems.

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