It does not matter how old they are. You can see it in their posture even before you have a chance to glance at their faces. They will try to be brave. They will try to keep their feelings hidden but if one of your students has had a shift in the dynamics of their home life, you will know.
You will carefully and with kindness offer them support. One of the best things you can do is to give them a book which mirrors their experiences. Many times a book will hold more weight than anything anyone else can say. A book holds a kind of authority. It's a type of magical connection.
One of the finest titless I have read about a child adjusting to separation (divorce) is Weekends With Max And His Dad (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 5, 2016) written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Katie Kath. Even before I finished the first ten pages, the end of chapter one in part one, I hugged this book with my heart (and my hands). It speaks to those in this position. It speaks to those who are not, helping them to understand.
When Max's dad came to pick him up on Friday night, he said, "Tomorrow, I will show you my new neighborhood."
"Sorry, Dad," said Max. "Tomorrow I have spy duty. You'll have to call me Agent Pepperoni."
"Oh," said Dad. "Okay."
"But you can be my helper spy," said Max. "You can be Agent Cheese."
"Not Agent Lightning? Or Agent Super-Cool Guy?" asked Dad.
Max arrives at his dad's new apartment for the first time since his parent's separation. Having recently finished reading The Sneaky Book of Spy Skills, he has plans to make this weekend alone with his dad an adventure. To his father's credit he joins in on the fun with equal measure reading Max's book, donning a disguise along with his son and giving them a secret mission. Listening, note and picture taking and map making prove beneficial on their unplanned tour of the area shops. Secret sharing with a third agent, the newest member of the team, will have readers inwardly cheering for this son and this father.
Between superhero and archenemy battles, ukulele playing and a return visit to the local cafe to order the County's Best Bacon and Pineapple Pancakes both Max and his dad discover important pieces of information about each other. They also make the acquaintance of a wonderful apartment resident and her two basset hounds, Barkis and Peggoty. Make believe, running, the acquisition of Olle and a super-secret project further cement the caring, wonderful relationship between Max and his dad.
Looking forward to the third weekend visit Max can hardly contain his excitement. His best buddy, Warren, is coming for a sleepover. The boys are your proverbial two peas in a pod but Warren does offer comments helping Max to alter his perspectives. Bonds of friendships and Michigan mammal habitats are built to last with a quest ensuring each is of the highest order. As the final chapter in the third part comes to a close, two tasks yield satisfying results. In the mathematics of love two equals one.
With every sentence read in this book my admiration for Linda Urban and her masterful ability to create endearing characters grew. Through the conversations between her characters, their lively and loving personalities nearly walk off the pages into our space. Not only do we enjoy the interactions of the primary characters but the secondary characters play a significant role in the ebb and flow of the narrative. Their presence increases the eloquence in an already wonderful story of a boy and his father.
In my way of thinking Linda Urban, through the people in this book, shows us how to be our best possible selves. Fashioning a new normal is not an easy task but each individual chooses to place the other person first. This is what love, unconditional love, is. Another technique Urban uses is to end each chapter with a promise of things to come or with a sense of achievement or peace of mind. Here are a couple of sample passages.
"Do you like it?" asked Dad.
"It's very blue," said Max. He didn't want to say what he was really feeling. What he was feeling was like somebody was sitting on his chest. Max had liked the Detroit Lions last year, when he was in second grade. He still liked the Detroit Lions now, but not as much. And he did not think he liked blue very much at all. He could not imagine a spy with a blue room and football curtains.
"Are you okay?" asked Dad.
Max did not want to hurt Dad's feelings. "I'm tired," he said. He pretended to yawn.
The lady in the pink apron gave Max and Dad each a large wedge of chocolate. They posed for a picture with Mr. Benetti. Snap snap snap snap snap snap snap! went all the cameras in the room.
"So much for being inconspicuous," said Dad. "I guess there'll be no spying in Italy for us. Our cover is blown."
Max took another bite of heavenly chocolate.
"It's worth it."
When you open the dust jacket you can see that the circles employed on the front have been used on the back to the left. The same colors are used, orange, green and a larger, deep golden yellow. I like the idea of circles, no beginning and no end. On the back Barkis and Peggoty are exuberantly checking out (sniffing) a pot of flowers. On the book case in the same shade of pale yellow used on the jacket, etched in gold, a basset hound is posed on its hind legs howling. A dark chocolate brown extends from the spine into the front and back of the case canvas.
The circles are used by illustrator Katie Kath on the title page and at the beginning of each of the three parts. Black and white animated, detailed and spirited pictures are seen at nearly every page turn. They are altered in size and perspective to further define moments in the story. My favorite ones are when Max and his dad are spies.
Weekends With Max And His Dad written by Linda Urban with illustrations by Katie Kath brings pure joy to readers for its wondrous, lighthearted view of real people. Everyone wins when you have people around you who look at life as half full, regardless of the circumstances. This book needs to be read aloud. It should be in classrooms, libraries and on the shelves in homes. I do adore it, every single page.
To learn more about Linda Urban and Katie Kath and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. To read an excerpt of the book follow this link to the publisher's website.