Tuesday, February 5, 2019


By Paul Schmid
(Harper, 2012)

By David Milgrim
(Henry Holt and Company, 2015)

Kids easily connect to wild animals. Running around, roaring and growling, is incredibly freeing. (Why did we ever stop?)

I’m a big fan of Paul Schmid’s Petunia. I first discovered her in the delightful A Pet for Petunia when she begged and begged her parents for a pet skunk. As a teacher and principal, I often carried the book from classroom to classroom, one of my Stack of Five. (I do a quick book talk about five picture books and then let the audience vote to determine which one I read aloud during the visit.) Sadly, the book was rarely chosen no matter how much I talked it up.

It seems Petunia is an in-between character. On the cover of each book, she wears a purple and white striped dress. Sadly, I suspect that the color and her gender caused many of the boys in class to withhold their vote. They say boys are less inclined to warm up to books with girls as the main character; I’m intent on changing that. I think many of the girls don’t vote to hear about Petunia because she’s not stereotypically girlish. She’s more Olivia (the pig) than Belle (the princess).

I often read A Pet for Petunia as a “bonus read” after the top vote getter. (“But it didn’t even come in second,” someone always says. Ah, let’s expand our horizons.)

Like it’s predecessor, Petunia Goes Wild works best as a read-aloud when you’ve read it to yourself a couple of times. You want to nail the part of Petunia. There are stereotypes to be broken, after all. Petunia has a stuffed animal that’s a lion and—no, she doesn’t want a pet lion this time around. Rather, Petunia is a lion. She roars at passersby from the front yard, she crawls and eats from the floor, she even bathes in a mud puddle. So very lion-ly.

For a parent, all this feral, feline behavior can be problematic. As in A Pet for Petunia our feisty, persistent main character eventually drives her parents to utter exasperation. There is an incredibly wordy page that is the most fun to read out loud. It’s a classic parental rant.

And, as a read-aloud, at least, kids love it. They all have parents who’ve succumbed to a rant.

Petunia is both genuinely funny and wildly imaginative.

The cover photo of David Milgrim’s Wild Feelings shows the main character—a boy this time—dressed as a lion, mouth agape in full roar. Milgrim goes through a series of familiar similes, comparing feelings to animals.

Do you ever feel...
as stubborn as a mule?

Or as chicken
as a chicken?

This is a book for kids—especially boys—to connect with a range of often negatively viewed feelings. It’s a springboard for talking about them and normalizing them.

So what’s an acceptable thing to do when you’re “rrrrrreally mad”? How do you recover when it’s all over, when perhaps things didn’t go so smoothly while you were in the midst of the mood?

Picture books like this not only entertain, but they open the door for talking about more difficult things. They can be reference points after the fact as well. (Remember that book we read about...?) If kids can name their feelings and talk about them, the “bad” feelings won’t go away but they’ll learn how to work through them (more appropriately over a period of time). They’ll also give their temperamental friends some support and/or space when they’re in such a mood.

I’m wild about both these books. Track them down and have a roaring good time sharing them with the kids closest to you.

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