Follow the Rules…? A guest post by Sarah L. Thomson
What’s the biggest difference between childhood and adulthood?
When I think back to myself as a child, I don’t see a huge difference between then and now. I’m still blonde. Still shy. Still happiest with my face in a book. Still softhearted enough to feel bad about stepping on an ant. (My kid is tougher. When we had a bad carpenter ant infestation, I paid her a nickel apiece to squash them.)
But the biggest difference is the rules. Now there are not so many rules.
Still some, of course. Don’t cheat on your taxes. Don’t swear at your boss. Don’t drive on the left.
But not the kind of rules that govern kids, especially in school. Walk, don’t run. Sit here, not there. Read this book, not that one—but only this chapter. And be sure to fill out this form about when and where and how many pages you read!
I was a rule-follower as a kid. I was the one who was never tardy. Who did her homework. Who picked up all her trash at lunch. Who ate her fruit at lunch. That was me.
It’s still me. I don’t leave the dishes in the sink. I won’t play a proper name in Scrabble. I walk the dog precisely when she expects to be walked because her eyes tell me It’s time it’s time it’s time.
But, oh, did I love Pippi Longstocking—the girl who spent her life without any pesky adults and their rules interfering. Pippi let me glimpse a different way of going through life, a way where the rules bend like cooked spaghetti, waver like a mirage, become flexible enough for joy, fun, and friendship to take over.
I started to wonder how a child like Pippi would fare in today’s world, and a character drifted into my mind—a girl sitting in a green armchair as it is unloaded from a moving van, a girl with a grin on her face and a dog at her side.
A girl who can build anything. A girl who can make friends with anyone. A girl who constructs a trampoline in her attic, rides a scooter through a big box store, and bungee jumps off the roof. A girl to whom the rules do not seem to apply.
Then I gave that girl (her name became Rani) a friend a lot like the kid I used to be. A friend named Emily, who wants to be helpful, but who think helping means making sure the rules are followed at all times.
Because Emily cares about Rani. She wants her to be okay. And she knows that all these rules are supposed to keep us safe.
Adults know this too. We love our kids so much. We’re desperate to keep them from harm. That’s why we tell them where to walk and what to eat and what to read and how to think. As I worked on this book, we fell into the well of COVID, and suddenly there were more new rules than anybody could count, telling us where we could go and how close we could stand and who we could hug.
Essential rules, of course. We couldn’t manage without them. Because the world (especially the pandemic world) is enormous, and chaotic, and intimidating. Rules are there to cut that world down to size.
But Rani doesn’t seem to know that rules exist. And Rani is fine. That was the rule #1 of the book (a rule that eventually got broken in revision, as all good rules must)—that no matter what, Rani is always fine. And eventually Emily learns that to help her friend when she truly needs it, breaking a rule or two may be required.
Two Friends, One Dog, and a Very Unusual Week is a book I wrote for the kid I once was—the rule follower, the worrier, the one who wanted everyone to stay careful and safe. It’s also a book I wrote for myself as a parent, watching my own kid (the one who is tough enough to squash ants) begin mastering the complex rules of adolescence and independence.
This book is a reminder and a reassurance to myself that my kid, that kids everywhere, will experiment, push the limits, and find ways to live without the adults who love them. They’ll grow up. They’ll be fine. Even if a rule or two gets broken along the way.
Meet the author
Sarah L. Thomson has published more than forty books for young readers, including prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, picture books and novels. Her work includes a poetic exploration of the beauty in the colors black and brown, a riveting survival story about wildfires and wombats, nonfiction about elephants, frogs, saber-toothed cats, and other fascinating creatures, and of course Two Friends, One Dog, and a Very Unusual Week, which Kirkus Reviews called “touching and inspiring.” Find out more at www.sarahlthomson.com.
About Two Friends, One Dog, and a Very Unusual Week by Sarah L. Thomson, Vin Vogel (Illustrator)
Take Pippi Longstocking’s joie de vivre, blend it with a 21st century urban setting, toss in a dog named Otto for good measure and what do you get? This joyfully carefree story about two unlikely friends.
It’s a pair of silver sequined sneakers that unexpectedly flips Emily’s comfortable, predictable world upside down. Or, more precisely, it’s the girl wearing them.
The shoes belong to Rani, who moves into Emily’s apartment building—and her life—with absolutely no one but her dog Otto. (Her research scientist mother is away in Patagonia.) And that’s only the first rule that Emily watches Rani break without hesitation.
But it’s not just that Rani breaks rules. Most of the time, she doesn’t seem to know the rules exist. Why can’t she bungee jump off their building? Or bring an ice cream truck to school?
For steady and orderly Emily, Rani’s approach to life feels impossible . . . and more than a little irresistible. But is there a place for her in Rani’s world? And should she find a way to make space for Rani in her own?
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publication date: 04/18/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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