By Susan Mallette
Read how one mouse mom meets her son’s emotional needs gently, despite pressure from a neighbor to do what is expected.
Title: Owen by Kevin Henkes
Ages: 2 through 7
Summary: Mrs. Tweezers, a worldly-wise neighbor, offers ways to help Owen part with Fuzzy, his yellow blanket. His parents try her advice until Owen’s mom, trusting her son’s need for the blanket, has a wonderful idea that allows him to keep his blanket with him during school.
Themes: comfort objects, growing up, listening to children's needs
Children will enjoy acting out how Owen plays with Fuzzy, his blanket. Try some of these playful activities.
You will need two boxes or laundry baskets to carry a small blanket, “in-between, inside, outside, upside down.”
“Fuzzy played Captain Plunger with Owen.” Try using a blanket as a cape while carrying a plunger, just like Owen and Fuzzy.
Try playing hide and seek with a small blanket, just like “Fuzzy helped Owen become invisible.”
Talking About Comfort Objects
Fuzzy was essential to Owen when it came to nail clippings and haircuts and trips to the dentist.
Talk with your child about how familiar objects like blankets or toys can help comfort people. Talk about why seeing a familiar loved thing can help make you feel better when you are scared. Discuss why it might be scary to Owen to have his fingernails or toenails clipped or why Owen might be afraid to get his haircut or go to the dentist. Reassure your child that these experiences as well as some she may have herself (such as a trip to the doctor for a check-up) can seem scary because she hasn’t experienced them before. Once she knows what to expect, her fears get smaller.
Even adults find security in familiar objects when they are facing a scary or unknown experience. If you have a familiar object that comforted you during a trying time as an adult. tell your child about it. When I had my first child, I took an old quilt that my mom had bought me as a child to the hospital.
When Owen wasn’t looking, his father dipped Owen’s favorite corner of Fuzzy into a jar of vinegar.
Why did Owen’s father dip Fuzzy in vinegar? Vinegar is a cleaning agent, but it also smells unpleasant. Owen’s father was trying to get Owen not to like Fuzzy.
What to do:
Try dipping a cloth in vinegar. Smell it. Does it smell strong?
Then Owen rubbed the smelly corner all around in his sandbox, buried it in the garden, and dug it up again.
What to do:
Try dipping the cloth you soaked in vinegar in dirt or sand. Does it still smell like vinegar?
Talking About School
“ What are we going to do?” asked Owen’s mother. “School is starting soon,” said Owen’s father. “Can’t bring a blanket to school,” said Mrs. Tweezers.
Why can’t Owen bring Fuzzy to school? What will happen? Talk about why Owen’s parents don’t want him to bring Fuzzy the blanket to school. Discuss how they love Owen and are afraid that he will be called a baby by other children or asked by adults to put his blanket away during school. Owen’s parents don’t want him to have to go through leaving Fuzzy during school and are trying to prepare him to leave Fuzzy now while he is still at home.
Why is it okay for adults and children to bring blankets to hospitals or doctor’s offices but not school? Is it okay for Owen to bring his blanket to school? Children don’t often do that.
Ask your child why Owen wants to bring his blanket to school? Owen has never been to school, and he is afraid. He has had a great time at home with Fuzzy and doesn’t want that fun to end.
If your child is going to school soon, talk about school: what children do there, how they are treated, how they will get to school and get home, how they will eat lunch, what might happen if they have to go to the bathroom or need help zipping their coat.
“ I have an idea!” said Owen’s mother. First she snipped. And then she sewed.
Talk about what Owen’s mother did. She cut Owen’s blanket into handkerchiefs to dry his eyes now and to carry in his pocket later when he goes to school. Ask your child if he thinks Owen will be teased or asked to put away his blanket during school now that it is a handkerchief and not a blanket.
What to do: An older child might enjoy cutting a blanket into handkerchiefs and stitching around the edges. A younger child might enjoy practicing stitches on a yellow piece of poster board with hole punches to guide where the needle and thread go through.
What you will need:
Poster board (yellow, like Owen’s blanket)
Shoe lace, or yarn with clear tape wrapped around the tip
What to do:
Cut the poster board into a square. Hole punch equal spaces around the edges. Tie a knot in the end of a shoelace or yarn and attach and pull it through a hole in the poster board. Use clear tape to keep the knot secure in the hole. Teach your child how to stitch in and out of the hole punches.
Natural Parenting Tip
Owen’s parents tried traditional techniques to get him to stop carrying his blanket. They bribed him, saying that the blanket fairy would leave him a big-boy gift. They tried making his blanket smell bad, thinking he would associate the vinegar smell to the blanket and not like it anymore. They tried just saying “no”; Owen cried and cried.
At that moment, Owen’s parents realized that Owen needed the blanket, and they decided to come up with a way to help him keep the blanket during school.
Sometimes parents need to trust their instincts and get creative. Instead of remembering how he was forced to part with his blanket, Owen and his Mom will laugh together in later years about how she made it possible for him to take his comfort object to school with him. My guess is that Owen won’t need his yellow handkerchiefs for long -- but until he decides that he doesn’t, they will be in his pocket to comfort him when he feels scared.
Susan Regan Mallette, a former English teacher, spends her time homeschooling, writing curriculum and homemaking. See more about Susan.