I’ve been talking to several families who are trying to teach their children, mostly girls, about friendship—how to make friends, how to deal with “mean girls”, how to forgive, how to take the initiative to make and heal friendships. It’s hard stuff for adults sometimes, much harder for six to fourteen year olds who are apt to misinterpret nonverbal communication, take offense easily, become shy and inhibited, or on the opposite end, be inconsiderate and even rude to one another.
Take Wing is an older book, published in 1968, for middle grade readers by Canadian author Jean Little. It’s primarily about ten year old Laurel Ross and her eight year old brother James. Laurel realizes, even though no one else in the family agrees, that James is different, slow to learn and immature for his age. Then when Mrs. Ross breaks her hip and has to stay in the hospital for months, everyone in the family, including Aunt Jessica and cousin Elspeth, must come to terms with James’s problems and try to find out what to do to help him. So James and his “mental retardation” (the term used in the book which would need to be discussed and reinterpreted in today’s terminology) are the main issues in the story.
However, the book is also about friendship and how to make friends and how to resolve differences and misunderstandings. Laurel and her cousin Elspeth start to become friends when Aunt Jessica and Elspeth move into the Ross’s house to help out while Mom is in the hospital. But it’s a false start, marred by a series of missteps and crossed wires. Finally, Elspeth and Laurel learn to communicate with one another and restart their friendship. The same kind of misunderstanding and hurt feelings has been holding Laurel back from being friends with the girl down the street. The road to mending this friendship also takes communication and some courage on the part of both girls.
I would really like to hand this book to a couple of eight to twelve year olds I know. It’s a quiet, gentle story, but I think it might be good bibliotherapy for some sensitive, insecure, and easily discouraged young ladies who need an extra push to “take wing.”
This poem by Jean Little, who “has been partially blind since birth as a result of scars on her cornea and is frequently accompanied by a guide dog,” is featured in the book. From the poem and the book and Mrs. Little’s other novels, I would guess that Jean Little knew what it was like to be different and a bit diffident when she was growing up. And perhaps she can teach some of us, adult, teen or chlid, to “endure through the (friendship) journey’s stress.”A friendship is a fragile thing
Like the dust of the moon on a butterfly’s wing
Presuming on it is like trying
To keep a butterfly from flying
You cup your hands, try not to clutch
But it is crippled by your touch
By all the self-involved demands
Implicit in your closing hands
Yet, deep in love, there also lies,
The bravery of butterflies.
Butterflies go through nights of storm
Migrating to a land that’s warm.
They drift in brilliant frailty,
Testaments to mortality,
And all the while, they own the strength
To mount the wind and come at length
Home again, their loveliness
Enduring through the journey’s stress.
A treasured friendship also can
Survive the blundering of man.
Although it is a fragile thing,
It has the courage to take wing,
Dare to ride the dark, and come