The Breaking News
Bad news breaks and a young girl tries to make sense of it. A gray cloud slips over the family and the community. The parents are sad and distracted. “Suddenly Mom is glued to the television. Dad can’t stop checking his phone. They whisper and I pretend not to hear.” The mother even forgets to tuck the girl into bed at night. Her schoolmates feel the weight of the bad news, too.
Like any child, the nameless girl just wants to help. But what can just a child do? First she tries to make her parents laugh, then shares her plans to create a force field to protect everyone, and finally tries her hardest to be on her best behavior all the time—none of which seem to make a difference, but all of which capture how a child might react to the impact of bad news.
In a moment of insight, she realizes that if she could do just one small thing it might help. The one small thing doesn’t change the bad news, but it does shift the mood. Ultimately, it lifts the spirits of her family and her neighborhood without promising a magic solution. “Small things don’t solve everything. The bad news is still there, after all. But then again . . . so . . . are . . . we.” The subtle metaphor of plants from the first to the last page is a nice touch.
Author and illustrator Sara Lynne Reul’s simple text and nameless characters give the story a universal sense—an “every child” story, if you will. Her uncluttered illustrations and changing brightness effectively capture the shift from sadness to resilience. Reul’s artwork nicely conveys a dynamic energy, no doubt a result of her training as a 2-D animator. An added bonus is that the characters just happen to be multicultural.
The story implies a major news story—maybe on the level of 9/11, maybe a school shooting—the reader doesn’t know. But the beauty of this story is that a specific kind of event would only narrow the value of the book. In fact, the ambiguous nature of the bad news makes the story highly appropriate when a child is confronted with a bad news tragedy, whether it’s national, community, or personal.
This isn’t a random bedtime story to read to a sleepy three-year old, though. Even though the sparse text and picture book format imply a preschool audience, the subject matter and treatment could be unsettling for a young child who didn’t have a context for the theme. In the right circumstance, though, it would be a powerful conversation starter for preschoolers through early elementary children when faced with a tragic event.