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Willie is different. He has slippery feet that require him to have special shoes. He's a special kid. Yet, he's worried about how others will perceive him in his new, corrective shoes. This is a window into the mind of a child with differences: physical, psychological and/or intellectual.
Author, Larry Peterson, takes a look at the world of a boy named Willie who is different, not necessarily disabled, but different. Willie's difference is enough to make him feel anxiety over what will help him "fit in". And that is what I think makes this book special. Slippery Willie's Stupid Ugly Shoes exposes a defect in society -- instead of focusing on what makes us alike, the fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, we tend to focus on what makes us different. And, when we do that, we become anxious about what people think, how they will react or behave toward us, and how we will fit in.
I really enjoyed this book and only had a couple of little quirky issues with it. Without telling them that I didn't enjoy the use of the words stupid and hate, I read this book to my girls. Here are some of their comments and my responses to them:
Meggie (age 13) -- "I liked the book, but I wish that the author didn't use the word stupid. This is one of those things that kids say to other kids to make them feel bad. He should have used a different word. Plus, I know you don't like that word. You probably wouldn't ever buy this book or take it out of the library for us. But, I still think it's cute and helpful."
Mom -- You're right, Meg. I didn't like the use of the word stupid. It is something I don't encourage you kids to say...also the word hate. They are strong words that spark strong emotions and tend to be used against people. So, you're more than likely right; if I had not received this book from Larry with a request to review it, I probably wouldn't have selected it off the shelf myself. And then we wouldn't have read this really nice story.
Annie (age 10) -- "I remember when Grace had to go to open house in the wheel chair. People showed her a lot of attention. It wasn't all good. I guess that would make you worry."
Mom -- In the story, Willie didn't even have the shoes on yet and he was worried. I don't remember if Grace was anxious before the open house, but that would be a similar experience if she was. You're right.
Grace (age 9) -- I liked the story and I thought that when everyone was laughing at Willie it was sad that his shoes were so ugly. But, it really didn't matter because they were what he needed and they helped him a lot. It was really mean to laugh at him, though, because he was finally able to do what they did. They should be happy for him.
Mom -- That's right. Lots of people, even your brother Eddie, use equipment and devices that help them access the world in ways similar to the rest of us. It doesn't feel good at all when people stare at your brother or whisper about him. But, we know that it is due to ignorance, and if we simply introduce them to him and the way he is different and the same, it makes everyone more comfortable.
The overall impression of this book was VERY GOOD. The kids liked the story and I liked it, too. It's a great way to introduce children to the fact that kids with differences or disabilities can feel a little anxious about how others with perceive them and accept them. If you can tolerate the words stupid and hate in the story, or substitute other words for pre-readers, you'll enjoy using this book as a conduit to talking to your children about people who are different.
Slippery Willie's Stupid Ugly Shoes, by Larry Peterson, has also received the Catholic Writer's Guild Seal of Approval.
Read more about Slippery Willie at: http://www.slipperywillie.blogspot.com/