Kids live out the big literary themes, and they feel the conflicts just as deeply. Perhaps we wouldn’t go to the mat for a new kite or a miniature camera, but hey, it’s a big deal to a young one. And this is where a love of literature is born, through identifying with a character who struggles with the same issues we do.
I was so completely captivated by Laura Rankin’s Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie (Bloomsbury, $15.95). I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever had an experience like this—which begs the question: is lying about lying worse than plain lying?—but most kids have told a fib on the level of Ruthie’s. Let it be said that Rankin has created one of the most expressive foxes in literary history. Dressed in a plaid skirt, a rose petal sweater and a pair of Mary Janes, Ruthie’s mobile eyebrows and her sweater tugging and her foot scuffling just exude angst.
Here’s what happened. Ruthie loves miniature things and when she finds a tiny camera on the playground, she is in rapture. Until that cad Martin said it was his. He’d gotten it for his birthday. Ruthie begs to differ. She tells him in no uncertain terms that it is hers and, matter of fact, she got it for her birthday. Well, after that, the lie has to get bigger. Mrs. Olsen is forced to put the camera in her desk until the next day and Ruthie is just beside herself. She can’t remember what 2 + 2 is, she doesn’t hear Mrs. Olsen’s story, her little ears just lose their perk. We know what’s going to happen. Ruthie’s guilt builds to a fever pitch, but oh the confession. How much better she feels. How much better the world looks when one has a clear conscience. Though this would seem to be a morality tale, Rankin plays it very close to Ruthie’s point-of-view and allows young readers, say 4-8 (and up to 46) to vicariously experience the whole cycle.