MTYT: The Snurtch

We continue our conversation about the portrayal of emotional and behavioral disabilities in picturebooks, specifically characters who wrestle with childhood depression, anxiety, and outbursts. In the first three weeks, we looked at The Red TreeVirginia Wolf, and Jack’s Worry. This week Maria and Megan take on The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso.

The Snurtch

MARIA: “No one has a life as difficult as Ruthie’s,” she likes school, the students, her classroom, reading, writing, and math. Still, she has a problem called Snurtch. The Snurtch is illustrated as a monster-like creature, that follows Ruthie to school and makes her do a lot of not nice deeds. Ruthie burps, throws pencils, makes rude noises, and destroys George’s artwork. During art Ruthie draws the Snurtch and shares that the Snurtch is the one who makes the noises and throws the pencils. Some of the children feel sorry for Ruthie while others, including George, forgive Ruthie for everything that has happened. After that, Ruthie still has a Snurtch that goes with her to school. However, she seems relieved once she sees that she is not the only one with a Snurtch.

This book is interesting and I cannot wait to hear your perspective, Megan. The way I read the story portrays Ruthie as liking school, but she has a hard time controlling her impulses (many times they look like anger bursts) in the classroom. On one hand, the text is clever in describing a situation that happens frequently in early childhood classrooms and in life in general. While it is assumed that dealing with emotions, expectations, and rules is more challenging for children, often adults struggle with the same issues.

I find the idea of a Snurtch to be a creative way to provide language for a young child to talk about complex emotions and behaviors that are not okay within the peer culture and challenging within the educator culture. On the other hand, I wonder about the message behind making the Snurtch responsible for everything. Initially, I thought that the text misses an opportunity for the child to take responsibility for her actions. However, she experiences consequences in the classroom (no one wants to play with her and she sits through what looks like Time Out), and she takes action by trying to explain artistically and verbally what is going on with her behavior. Now I read the Snurtch as a strategy to highlight the fact that these are involuntary acts for which Ruthie shows no pride or joy.

MEGAN: I am torn on how I feel about the book. I like that it creatively deals with the issue of behavior problems. Addressing this issue is important. However, I am not sure what the Snurtch actually is or why Ruthie’s Snurtch is so much larger than other students in the classroom.

While this story broaches the topic of behavior problems, as you state, it does not take on the greater issue of taking responsibility for those behaviors. I find it difficult to judge this book as it is hard to even determine in students, especially young students, if behavior is a clinical/medical issue or learned behavior? When the behavior is learned, then there also needs to be a discussion of taking responsibility, appropriateness, management, and consequences.

True behavior problems of the clinical/medical type should be discussed in classrooms. For that reason, I would use this book. I do not like that at the end of this book, all of the students have some type of Snurtch. I do not know enough about diagnosing this problem to know if this is even a reality. Even though all of the other students’ Snurtchs are smaller than Ruthie’s, the story does not address when a Snurtch is problematic.

If the Snurtch is truly a clinical/medical issue, then all students would not have a Snurtch. If the Snurtch is a learned behavior, all students would not have a Snurtch. If the Snurtch is simply showing feelings of frustration or anger, there would be more variety in the sizes of students’ Snurtchs. For this reason, I do find the book problematic. While I often find books that pose more questions and are open-ended strong resources and good for prompting discussions; I am somewhat on the fence with how I would use this book.

MARIA: “George has one too…” and finally the last page shows that every child has a Snurtch. While I understand the importance of bringing students together through connections, it is misleading to suggest that every child has a Snurtch that will make “sure no one will like George’s drawing” by throwing itself aggressively over George and his picture. My colleague Beatriz Gago, clinical psychologist, read the book and pointed out that Ruthie could be experiencing disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), characterized by extreme irritability, anger, and frequent and intense temper outbursts or an Intermittent Explosive Disorder, described as recurrent behavioral outbursts that are related to an inability to control aggressive impulses. Gago also noticed that while Ruthie acknowledges and accepts her Snurtch, the story does not offer positive coping skills for Ruthie to deal with it. Ruthie’s only coping mechanism in the story is through drawing and occasional punishment.

While children experience the wide spectrum of human emotion, the intensity and frequency varies by individual; Ruthie probably needs different types of support to tame her Snurtch. Teachers and students can find ways to connect that do not suggest that we are always going through similar experiences. By the way, if we all have Snurtches, where is the teacher’s Snurtch? Is it the red and yellow sleepy one on top of the bookshelf?

As I think about our conversation, I wonder if we are overthinking this book. I wonder about the Ruthies we have had in our own classrooms and their families. These children know they are not like others in their classrooms, and they might benefit from us questioning the Snurtch.

MEGAN: There is also an aspect of this book, and all the disability books we selected, that is problematic. Addressing sensitive subjects such as disabilities is a problem instructors of younger students face that instructors of older students do not deal with as much. Many sensitive subjects are first introduced in the early grades. Hence instructors of younger students have to be more subtle and delicate when introducing content to young students for the first time. Providing young students with good literature can be problematic when reading about sensitive topics. Instructors must ask themselves how much information is appropriate and at what age? How can disabilities be adequately addressed while keeping in mind that a correct representational portrayal is necessary? Will this book be sensitive to all and yet realistic? Is the book didactic or does it provide a rich story that demands discussion?

What we discovered is that children must be encouraged to read both broadly and deeply. Text sets, such as the ones we have been exploring allow for a broad understanding of the disability experience. However, it is also important that children engage in more thoughtful inquiry. In this final analysis, our tensions led us to question specific disabilities. No single picture book captured the complexity of a given disability. Therefore, developing a text set around one specific disability might be of great benefit moving forward.

Title: The Snurtch
Author: Sean Ferrell
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Publisher: Atheneum
ISBN: 9781481456562
Date Published: August 30, 2016

This is the final installment of July 2017’s My Take/Your Take. The first post featured The Red Tree, the second featured Virginia Wolf and the third featured Jack’s Worry. To follow the whole conversation, check the WOW Blog every Wednesday.

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