Rosemary Wells gets kids in a way that is not precious or dogmatic. She genuinely understands the way kids think and what makes them tick and she is able to translate this, through her art and her words, into wonderful, timeless picture books in the same way that Kevin Henkes is able to capture the import and essence of childhood experiences and convey those emotions in a universal way. Having been a passionate consumer of picture books well before the birth of my first child some nineteen years ago, I have cannoncial favorites against whom I compare everyone else - William Steig, Bill Peet, and Rosemary Wells. These three are among the first author/illustrators who's work I began collecting seriously two decades ago. In fact, while I own a handful of prints by some of my favorite picture book illustrators, the one original piece of artwork (given to me by my impulsive husband more than ten years ago) is a variation of Janet, Queen of the Bunny Planet, from the superb trilogy Voyage to the Bunny Planet. While I have stopped following Well's career in the last few years, mostly because my youngest has outgrown her target audience, the five and under crowd, I want to take the publication of Miracle Melts Down to introduce you to her work (if it is new to you) and convince you as to why you should go back to the library or bookstore and seek out her older works, pictured below, most of which are available in paperback, as well as her new series, Kindergators.
What I love most about Wells is her nonjudgemental approach to the issues and emotions of childhood. Wells is never didactic in her approach. She shows, not tells, and this makes her books and characters all the more endearing. While she has excelled in presenting these experiences in the home (Max & Ruby, which were books long, long before they were a cartoon show) she excels in the classroom setting, blending humor with examples of empathy and acceptance. Yes, these are teaching books, the very type of book I usually loathe. However, when done right, this kind of book is invaluable. With Kindergators Wells takes the classroom setting to present some of the social and emotional issues that all kids encounter.
With Miracle Melts Down, Wells tackles one of my favorite subjects - to read about, not be party to... Our kids are growing up in a world there there are a lot more rules than when we were kids, as well as a lot more temptations and diversions that call for boundaries. Wells knows this and she incorporates this into her books. Wells also knows some of the shortcuts we parents take these days and what important practices might fall by the wayside in service of them. Wells begins her Kindergators books at the dinner table with mom or dad asking, or being told, what happened at school today. Before the story has even started, Wells is setting an example, presenting good practices.
In Miracle Melts Down, Harry, from the first book in the series, Hands off Harry!, tells his parents about Miracle's difficult day. It all starts when Miracle sneaks a "supersize pack of Fudgettes" to school in her coat pocket. She knows what Miss Harmony says, "Bring it to school, bring it to share." She also knows that Miss Harmony always says, "Only healthy snacks in school." Still, Miracle visits the coat closet over and over, sneaking a Fudgette every time. Eventually, Miracle reaches into her pocket and pulls out a chocolatey-goopy hand, her candy having melted into a "big chocolate blob" because she hung her jacket over the radiator. Miracle runs to the bathroom and melts down under one of the sinks, where Miss Harmony finds her.
The rest of the book is taken up with Miss Harmony trying to get through her day while also consoling and calming Miracle with the "Feel Better Song," and other devices while the rest of the class brainstorms, trying to come up with ideas for things that might soothe Miracle. Despite the attention given to this negative behavior (c'mon, the kid was on a sugar high) there is no coddling on the part of the teacher or the students. Instead, there is thoughtful attention given to their classmate and friend. There is empathy and outreach when, as always seems to be the case once a melt down has happened, nothing seems to go right afterwards. Miracle manages to pull it together and take note of her actions and the day ends on a positive note and ends her book with an author's note titled, "Creating Harmony" in which she discusses empathy, presents talking points for parents and kids and reiterates Miss Harmony's helpful hints for diffusing a crisis.
Honestly, I Wells didn't have the gravitas and track record for fantastic, brilliant picture books she does, in other words, if anyone else had tried to do what she is doing with Kindergators, I am sure I would have dismissed it since it is so rare that any children's book author can present these concepts in an educational way that is also entertaining. But, Wells does this very thing extremely well. Better than anyone else out there. I hope that you will seek out her books for the sake of reading and owning a great picture book but, if the day comes that you do need a "teaching book" I hope Rosemary Wells is the first person you will turn to.
Source: Review Copy