The Boy with Flowers in His Hair

This is a sad and happy review. But the book itself is one you should definitely get so I want to put the link right upfront: The Boy with Flowers in His Hair by Jarvis.

This past week, I lost the flowers in my hair, just like David. I wanted to wear a hat to cover my falling flowers, I was worried about scratching people with my bare branches. Jarvis, who made this book for us (sent to me by Candlewick), doesn’t tell us how or why David loses his flowers, or what ultimately precipitates them coming back, and I’m not going to go too much into why I lost mine. The beauty of the book is that it doesn’t go into causes or Why This Happens and How You Should Deal With This Situation. I once read Mac Barnett on the topic of being asked “what you want children to take away from this book,” and I agree with him that it’s an infuriating question: isn’t it up to the kids? Is this really how we think, about correct answers in reading literature? Kids are better than that, aren’t we? What I know this book gave me, seeing David lose his flowers and the protagonist standing by his best friend in a time of pain, was catharsis:

I had read this book to many children at the school library around the time of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which is associated with flowers so it seemed appropriate. The students loved it, and laughed and got quiet and had feelings and laughed again. As with another book I read them, Shawn Harris’s Have You Ever Seen a Flower?, I realized with a thrill that reading the book to a group of captivated children was the best way to enjoy that book, getting immediate feedback and spontaneous sadness and joy.

David, in the book, loses his flowers, but the narrator and protagonist, his best friend, won’t abandon him, and paints new flowers to put in his hair to give him his colour back. Ultimately, David regrows his flowers “prettier than ever,” but the narrator keeps plenty of others to hand, just in case he might ever need them again.

The book has a bit of the feel of a parable, where there’s a hint of symbols beyond the immediacy of practical reality. But I want to put that aside for now because the real strength of the book is in an emotive truth, that sense of catharsis. (Which is related to the sense of parable, but that’s another topic, not for now.)

I lost my flowers when, after difficulties on top of difficulties, and while I’m still struggling with ongoing effects from covid (nothing too severe– but my abilities with words aren’t where they should be or where they were), I was told I wasn’t needed in the school library where I read this book to those wonderful kids. I knew it wasn’t the right place for me, mind you, and in fact I never applied for the position. But it still stung to know that those children, who loved me and whom I loved, weren’t going to have anyone in the library at all, and I was dismissed from there despite (well, because I was) doing a very good job. Yes, my flowers fell off and I felt “twiggy, spiky, and brittle.”

Then my wonderful public library contacted me. They really loved my French storytime I did last month, and would I be willing to do more over the summer? They understood it was a lot to ask, but… (Yes, of course I would!) And I got feedback on some reviews I’d done for another organization. (They’re very excited.) And my Spriggan insisted “a-yen, a-YEN!” when I put down Jamberry. (NOTHING feels better than that.) They were all giving me my flowers back.

This is what reading a true book feels like. We are all David: sometimes we have our own flowers, and sometimes they fall away. But I hope we all also have people like David’s best friend, who understand when our twiggy hair scratches and who think of ways to give us our colour back while we wait to be able to grow new flowers.

Huge, huge thanks to Candlewick press for sending me this one– they sent it when I started at the library and told them I was on the lookout for read-alouds to the Kindergarten class (note that I read this to Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2, and they all loved it in different ways), and I didn’t expect that it would do at least as much for me as for the kids. That’s what great books do. The link again! To my local Brookline Booksmith, but you can also get through if you’re looking for a way to support indie bookshops. (Also the good news for this space is I’ll be able to use my writing time for this space, I hope!)

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