I Can Do It Myself by Linda Urban
Years ago, when my son was a preschooler, I watched one of his classmates struggling to put on the many layers of snow gear that can sometimes be required for a Vermont recess. His mom hurried over to help him remove his leg from the armhole of his parka. “I can do it myself!” said the preschooler. And, eventually, he did well enough that he was able to join his pals outside.
I was reminded of him a few days later when I joined that same preschool class for circle time. Ms. Amy was reading The Little Red Hen. You remember The Little Red Hen, right? Hen has some planting to do and she asks her barnyard buddies for help.
“Who will help me sow the wheat?” she asked.
The response was less enthusiastic than she had hoped.
“Not I,” said the dog.
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Not I,” said the duck.
“Then I’ll do it myself,” said Little Red Hen. And she did.
The two moments echoed for me. That hen was persistent. To put it in contemporary lingo, she had grit. So, too, did that snowsuit battling preschooler. It struck me that while the traditional tale of The Little Red Hen is still very useful for underscoring the value of cooperation (Listen, dog, help or you’re going to miss out on fresh baguette at the end of the story), our contemporary preschoolers may find that developing independence is an even greater challenge. For all our talk about the value of grit and perseverance and learning through failure, we modern parents still have a hard time letting kids put on their own snowsuits. (Not to mention writing their own names on their papers, or doing their own homework, or explaining their own challenges to their teachers or . . . )
So began the idea for Little Red Henry – the story of a little boy who wants to do things for himself despite the protestations of his helicopter parents and siblings. On the day that Henry has simply had enough, he decides to make his own breakfast.
“Let me,” says Mama.
“Let me,” says Papa.
“Let me,” say his older siblings Mem and Sven.
“No thank you,” says Little Red Henry. “I can do it myself.” And he does.
The Little Red Hen would be proud, I think.
I’d like to tell you that I wrote Little Red Henry for that little snowsuited preschooler. I kinda did, I suppose. But mostly, I wrote it for myself. I needed the reminder to let my kids try and stumble and get up and try again. I needed to remind myself to be okay with spilled milk and stray Cheerios. Things might get done better or faster or more neatly if I did them, but I needed to remember that was the short view. Good parenting required lifting my head from the moment and taking the long view as often as possible.
I suppose that is why I think of this book as a family story. I hope that parents and kids will read it together. That moms and dads will find as much comfort and reassurance in it as kids find encouragement.
That preschooler in the snowsuit? You should have seen how proud he looked as he marched out to the playground. (It’s the same pride that Madeline Valentine captures so well in the Henry illustrations – wait ‘til you see them!) I don’t know if his mom was proud of herself, but I hope she was. I’m sure she noticed, as I did, that his boots were on the wrong feet. But the small mix-up wasn’t slowing him down him and she let him march on, watching as he made his own unique footprints in the snow.
Linda Urban is the award winning author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Hound Dog True, The Center of Everything, and the picture book Mouse Was Mad. At the moment, she is pretty darn thrilled by Madeline Valentine’s wry and engaging illustrations in their new picture book Little Red Henry and is looking forward to the Fall 2015 release of her next novel, Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two independent-minded children who do many things themselves, but won’t touch the laundry unless she bugs them about it.
CHECK OUT THE OTHER TWO TRIFECTA POSTS CELEBRATING LITTLE RED HENRY TODAY!