We’ve had so many different family members visiting and other commitments lately, that several things have had to take a back seat. But somehow, in the midst of all of these activities, we’ve still been able to make it to the library each week. We have hit the jackpot several times recently, yet I am sorely behind on some book reviews that I’ve been meaning to share because of all that’s been going on.
So, without further ado, I want to tell you about Being Frank, written by Donna W. Earnhardt (she’s from North Carolina), and illustrated by Andrea Castellani (he’s from Italy). Published in late 2012, it has already earned some well-deserved recognition, something I especially love hearing when it is an author’s first book, like this one is. Not to mention, she’s a homeschooling mom so how the heck she also found time to write a book too makes it all the more impressive to me.
I happened to find Being Frank on the front shelf near the check-out desk, a place where each week the librarians feature a dozen or so books of varying age levels, usually with a common theme like baseball or winter. It was definitely the cover illustration that drew me in, and, after reading the jacket to see whether it was an intriguing book, I knew we had to take it home.
Here’s why: M is firmly in the age (5 ½) of stating her mind and offering her opinion (which is good), but does not always do so with the softened edges that older folks like us now know how to do (usually!). In fact, I now find myself telling her at least a few times a day, “it’s not what you’re saying, it’s how, you’re saying it.” That is, it’s not her underlying message, it’s the delivery. And, in some ways, that’s a fine line to straddle because you want to raise assertive kids who are honest and feel confident about speaking up, but you don’t want to raise jerks either.
It all comes down to tactful honesty. And this notion is at the heart of Being Frank. Frank is, well, frank. His code is that honesty is the best policy. He tells it like it is to his parents and his friends, and it does not always go over well. I’m sure I am not alone when it comes to kids telling their parents just how wrinkled/grey/hairy/weird in those patterned pants they look, all with innocent hearts but all too stark honesty. And who wants to hear that their freckles look like “the Big Dipper”, that their toupee resembles “a pet weasel” or that they have “bad breath”? (examples from the book, not my real life…well, maybe one!) If only these honest cherubs could just soften the blow a little bit, no?
Frank learns this lesson when he starts to annoy his friends and family with his all-too-honest opinions, and his grandfather shows him a better way that does not require lying, which is what Frank is initially concerned with. Frank’s grandpa demonstrates—with his neighbor lady friend who wears the most outrageous hats and fishes for compliments from him—how you can communicate your opinions better if you just add a little “sugar” to them. The tone in the book is lighthearted and funny, and has the right dose of 5-year old humor. Like in the scene where the grandfather is clipping his toenails on the front porch and yells, “Incoming!” Ewww! M of course had belly laughs at that one while I was gagging. That, perhaps, is the sign of a good children’s book author . . . when the kids laugh and the parents are grossed out.
I think this book helped give a good outsider’s point of view to M as to what we mean when we tell her it’s not necessarily the message she’s trying to give, but the delivery that could use some work. It gives a bit of context seeing someone else struggle with the kind of thing that she is still trying to self-identify in herself.
A note about the illustrations too. They are super colorful, cheerful and humorous. I am not probably going to describe this with any kind of technical correctness, but they are the kind of illustrations that are angular and often with exaggerated features (especially mouths). Personally, it’s not a style of illustration that I am normally drawn to, but it works very well for this story and I know of at least one kid who seems to love it. I look forward to seeing other projects from the illustrator in the future.
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz