Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw

Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Rating: 5 stars

Kindergarten teachers should be required to read Jacob's Eye Patch at the beginning of school each year.  The authors  (Jacob and his mom) do a great job of explaining one boy's need for and experience with an eye patch, and the book is easily used to teach empathetic ways to approach other kids who have things (an eye patch, a cast, a wheelchair, braces) that make them stand out.

Here's the story: Jacob and his mother are rushing to the science store, but she keeps on chatting with any and every person who comments on her son's eye patch.  There are a lot of them, and, much to Jacob's dismay, they get held up again and again. He creates excuses for why they need to hurry ("We need to catch a plane for Argentina!") and smart-alec/funny answers to why he needs an eye patch ("I don't speak English"). He simply does not want to talk about it at that time, on that day.
Jacob's mom did want to answer...
She talked and talked about the eye patch.

Until he is at the science store, when the light-up globe that he's coveted is in his hands.  Then he's ready to talk.

When a curious kid-bystander asks, "Why do you have a Band-Aid on your eye?" He calmly explains that his left eye doesn't work as well as his right eye, so he needs to wear an eye patch to cover his right eye so his left eye will get stronger. While he and the girl look at his new globe together, he sees that her mouth is full of braces.  He's curious, but thinks she might not want to talk about it right now.

At the beginning of the summer, Lorelei was told that she needed an eye patch.  For just two hours a day, one of her impossibly bright blue eyes will be covered up in an effort to strengthen the other one. This seemingly tiny addition to my day has provided an eruption of lessons in empathy in me, but also in my young Lorelei. Finding this book in the waiting room at the ophthalmologist helped give her the words that she didn't have but needed to wear it and answer questions about it.

"I'll wear it to camp!  I think I'm ready!" she said boldly as she climbed into my car with a teddy bear eye patch on her face.  Along the way, I suggested we role play a bit, so she could practice explaining why she needs to wear an eye patch.  She didn't want to.  Her normally bold voice steadily decreased until it was just a whimper, and I could sense a trembling chin in my rear view mirror.  As we approached her school on that first day of camp, she got a little weepy.  "I don't know.  I'm scared."

My maternal suggestion: "Take it off!  You don't have to wear it right now."  Avoidance is, after all, one option I like to employ in my own life...

So she did take it off before being whisked from my car in the unexpectedly short carpool line to her waiting math teacher.  The eye patch fell to the bottom of my car, happily finding a place amidst Cheerios and snack bar wrappers and library hold cards.

Eye-patch wearing Lorelei reads to Kiefer at the library.
Some hours later, we had a good discussion about standing out, on being different: The idea of it is so fun!  Look at me!  I'm different!  But then, she realized that standing out and being different comes at a price: having a whole lot of attention directed at you.  Kids are curious.  They ask questions.  You'll have their attention, all right.  Ready or not, here it comes…  Clearly Lorelei was not ready then.  But she looked down at the bottom of the car and saw her teddy bear eye patch right where she had dropped it.  She picked it up, finding it still sticky.

"I have to wear it for another hour, right, Mom?  I think I'll do it at the library."

This time, she heeded my advice and practiced what she would say when someone would ask her.  Just a few sentences, but having them ready in her back pocket gave a little more confidence to deal with her first day of going public with an attention-grabbing eye patch (did I mention sparkles decorated the space surrounding the teddy bears?).

We walked into the very familiar library, a place we go at least twice a week.  As a book lover and book blogger they know me and my kids very, very well. After being there for about fifteen minutes, she whispered to me, "No one has said anything."  I discreetly asked the head librarian to ask her about it.  Daniella pretended to wander around the library until she just happened to arrive at the spot Lorelei was in and moved books around for a minute before looking down at my daughter.

"Lorelei!  Hi there!  What happened to your eye?"

Lorelei paused. She collected herself as I held my breath. Then she said, "I'm okay.  My left eye isn't as strong as my right.  I have to wear this eye patch two hours a day on my right eye so my left eye becomes as strong as my right."  She responded just as confidently and bravely when another librarian asked about it on the way out (this one was not prompted by me, promise).

We have learned so much in the past few days about standing out, being unique, having empathy for others, having courage, learning to ask about something that's different about someone else, having the words to say before you actually need to say them.  I'm humbled by the gratitude I feel for my three kids' health--we've been so amazingly lucky--but also so grateful to have this little opportunity to teach not just Lorelei but also Ben and Kiefer the definition of empathy.

I know this is a super long entry, but I really wish this book was stocked in every elementary school library across the country.  It was the first book I requested that our library buy, and I bought a copy to donate to our preschool's library.  It is just one boy's story of what it feels like to stand out and to be asked questions that usually stem from curiosity and genuine care.  But it provides kids to walk a few steps in Jacob's shoes, to feel like him for just a few minutes, and then have that empathetic experience on which to draw when they see someone different.  Or maybe, like Jacob and Lorelei, it'll be them that stands out.

Remember: sparkly eye patches rock!

Check out the book's website by clicking HERE.

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