I knew the real you was in there somewhere.
This fantastic children’s book deals with the great human fault of trying to “fit it” with the crowd. Kids will learn about how trying to please one’s peers by hiding one’s true self can actually be self-destructive.
“Camilla Cream loves lima beans,” the story begins, “but she never eats them.” And so, this self-denial in the face of potential ridicule from her classmates causes Camilla to break out in all sorts of strange spots and colors. Like a chameleon, she becomes whatever people say she should be. The only possible cure is a mouthful of lima beans, which in reality is an opportunity for her to be her true self again.
This attitude of fearing peer pressure generally starts at about age 6, when self-awareness is in full swing, though of course we’ve all seen traces of it in kids much younger than that. In my class of 5-6 year olds, the kids tend to enter the Fall with not a care in the world, though by Spring they’re just like mini-teenagers, fully self-conscious, yet better behaved and less melodramatic. Some care too much about their clothing, others have become emotional bullies, while still others are actually embarrassed at their scholastic success, because it makes them different from their peers.
Certainly, only a few students change in such drastically negative ways as those mentioned above, for most mature in what I guess we can call “the socially acceptable” way. But what is this positive type of growth and why is it socially acceptable? It’s a growth that places Self no longer at the center of the universe (as is the case for all children from Day One) but in proper perspective as one person among many. The “proper” part of this perspective is that Self is neither above the others (as in the case of the bully), nor below them (as in the case of Camilla Cream), but equal in worth if not in ability (as in the case of the embarrassed genius).
A Bad Case of Stripes brings to life this proper perspective, this socially acceptable self-awareness and avoids (thankfully) the otherwise pervasive selfishness which comes in the forms of self-love, self-acceptance, and the granddaddy of them all, self-esteem. I would recommend this book as a great primer on peer pressure if you allow it to open discussions on the same.
David Shannon‘s illustrations are also wonderful in this book, oil paintings detailing thick characters just bursting with personality. There are definite traces of Norman Rockwell in those faces, too, which are sure to remain alive in your kids’ imaginations for years to come.