By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH and Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ
Last week, we discussed how The Bridge Home has a promise of hope in our thinking about the concept of home. Home as something other than a physical location, but rather something more elusive like hope, provides new possibilities and perspectives on home. This week, we take a look at Fred Stays with Me! by Nancy Coffelt and Tricia Tusa to see what new understandings are possible.
JEAN: I have recommended this book more than once. The girl is caught in the middle when her parents divorce and choose to share custody by shuffling her back and forth–a week here, a week there. She shares with us her space in both homes and the things she eats in both homes. And how her dog, Fred, fits in both situations. However, Fred has ideas of his own. He barks constantly at the poodle next door at Mom’s house and he discovers Dad’s sock drawer and proceeds to eliminate socks one at a time. Both parents are furious and seemingly ready to eliminate Fred from their respective homes until the girl wraps her arms around Fred and says, “Excuse me… Fred stays with ME!” At this point, the parents explore other solutions. Fred becomes part of her new definition of home. It is interesting to me that neither parent recognizes how important Fred is until their daughter raises her strong voice. What is your take, Holly?
HOLLY: I have to hand it to the young protagonist! I like how she asserts herself into the dilemma and reminds them that she, too, has a stake in the situation. They do not get to decide about Fred because Fred stays with her, not them. Yeah, I love that line and what it represents. The young girl disrupts the childism displayed by the parents. Fred is her home, and perhaps the most stable aspect of her life at that point. Adults could well remember this as we shuffle young people around. That blanket that should have been thrown out years ago? That’s home for a young person who needs the stability of “home.” I had not thought about how home and stability are synonymous. We talk about comfort, safety, etc., in respect to our sense of home, but I now think it might be stability. And stability doesn’t always have to be a physical structure, or even one location, but something that makes us feel like we have our feet underneath us. And Fred gives the girl that stability. What do you think about Fred as the stable entity in this girl’s life, even when both parents are still present?
JEAN: Both parents are present… but are they really? I keep thinking about how the parents are not listening, not seeing. Each is wrapped up in their own agonies of the divorce and figuring out how they will weather this storm that they pay only surface attention to the child. The parents each make sure she has a place to sleep, food in her tummy and outings, but it is Fred who listens, Fred who has time to play, Fred who is there for her no matter if she is happy or sad. Fred provides the unconditional love she longs for and needs. The child is also weathering the storm.
In looking at the illustrations, I notice that we never actually see either parent. There are hints of them–one leg each on the first pages, the back of Dad’s head when driving, Dad’s legs from the waist down. But never do we see a face. Rather their characters come through only in the written text, which is the perspective of the child. She presents them very basically in a matter-of-fact manner. I do not feel animosity or anger toward either. The anxiety in this story is directed from each parent toward Fred who is portrayed in a perpetual state of happy! How do you think the colors in the illustration add or subtract from the story?
HOLLY: I like how the softer colors are comforting. I also like the use of white space to allow readers to really look at the illustrations. Fred is a sort of nondescript dog, so the colors effuse from Fred as a comfort entity in the whole story, which covers the young girl’s current situation. The book is the color of Fred, and he brings comfort to the girl, and thus the situation, which could be stressful for the girl if she didn’t have old, stable Fred. And yes, Fred is all sorts of happy, but he is also an object of humor, which also dissipates the stress, anxiety and perhaps the anger the girl could feel. I like that Fred is home, in the emotional sense. So the girl keeps home with her through her relationship and physical closeness with Fred. Seriously lovely picturebook.
[Admin Note: The Bridge Home was our WOW Recommends: Book of the Month for October 2019 and also featured our August 2019 My Take/Take.]
Title: Fred Stays with Me!
Author: Nancy Coffelt
Illustrator: Tricia Tusa
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers
Date Published: January 4, 2011
Throughout July 2020, Holly and Jean give their takes on books in which we carry home within us. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!