MTYT: Sam’s Pet Temper

This is the last installment of June’s MTYT, in which we chose books that discuss emotions common to children, such as loss, fear and anger. However, these books come with a twist, in which the emotions are personified. These stories also show children being able to come to grips with these emotions, and the focus is on the actual story rather than just a list of coping strategies. We’ve been discussing books such as these due to a focus in schools on developing emotional health within children. This week, we are discussing the emotion of anger in Sam’s Pet Temper.

Sam's Pet Temper

MARIA: On a Canadian playground, Sam is frustratedly waiting; waiting for a turn on the swing, the slide, the fun! He waits for so long that a temper, like he has never seen before, appears. The temper clears out the playground, which means no more waiting for Sam, so he is delighted. The temper follows Sam home and causes all kinds of trouble, until his mom requests, “control your temper.” Having a temper is more trouble than Sam expected, especially since it is not him but his temper that is kicking his sister, so he starts to wish he had no temper. The next day, the temper follows Sam to school and causes so much trouble that he is sent home earlier than his peers! At home, Sam tries several strategies that he saw in his household and at school for calming down. He tries them all and with a great deal of persistence he finally controls his Temper. Most important, now he knows what to do if a temper reappears.

SUSAN: I prefer books that are not written to teach lessons, because I think kids like to figure things out on their own. So Orion (in Orion and the Dark) doesn’t give a lesson to readers about a change in perspective-it is simply a wonderful story about a boy who changes his perception of the Dark. This book is similar. It is about controlling your temper..but WOW, what a temper!! I love the variety of ways that Marion Arbona personifies Sam’s anger. It morphs from a small cloud, to a black cloud with a huge red mouth that gets Sam into all kinds of trouble, to a giant angry snake, and finally a huge storm cloud before Sam controls it. So when Sam tries all kinds of things to control his temper, the emphasis is on the humor of the illustrations and the size of the temper-not on the strategies! Yes, this book can be used to teach strategies, but it is more about the explosive temper that takes over young kids! What did you think of the personification?

MARIA: I’m intrigued by stories that detach the emotion from the character experiencing it. Statements like “It is not me, it is the temper” are also common in stories like The Snurtch (by Sean Ferell) when Ruthie would claim that it was not her, but the Snurtch throwing the chairs and calling names. While I can see how it might be important to offer a concrete representation of an abstract concept, I wonder about the consequences of implying that the emotions are not really part of you. How can children explore their own emotional humanity when strong emotions are represented as beyond self? I can relate to not feeling like self when one is experiencing a strong emotion, especially, but simultaneously, isn’t it from our deepest truth that those feelings emerge?

SUSAN: I think that the detachment is interesting to explore because I agree, when we are able to say that our emotions are beyond ourselves, we can then cast the blame rather than own up to what we are feeling. I think our human condition wants to blame something else for what we struggle with-it is something or someone else’s fault-and that does not lead to that emotional health we are concerned about. Part of emotional maturity is owning up to what we feel. On the other hand, I think that humor can be a window into exploring tough emotions, and the way Sam’s temper is portrayed (much like the Snurtch) is outlandish. That humorous personification can help kids understand that anger is a normal part of life, that it can feel huge, and that there is hope that it can be controlled.

Title: Sam’s Pet Temper
Author: Sangeeta Bhadra
Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN: 9781771382755
Date Published: September 1st 2014

This is the fourth and final installment of June’s MTYT. The first week of June we discussed Life Without Nico, and the second week we talked about Orion and the Dark. Last week, our featured book was The Bad Mood and The Stick. Check back next week to see what books we choose for July!

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