Kids Corner: A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton
In keeping with the theme of books that teach a lesson, we decided to review A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton. E picked this book out herself during one of our trips to the bookstore. It’s certainly eye catching with it’s bright orange cover and vivid illustrations inside the book, but Emma liked the cover because “that girl is trying to talk to the cute animal.”
In my line of work, I spend some time helping people trying to reframe events in their lives. We all have a tendency to read intentions into other people’s actions and we are often wrong in our interpretations. My daughter is also at a development stage where she sees the intentions of her friends as very black and white. For example, last week she came home saying “x doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.” When I asked her why she said, “she ran away from me outside.” Was she running away from her? Perhaps, but maybe she was also just running around playing her own game. Of course, the next day they were best friends again so the action of running away had nothing to do with not wanting to be friends again.
A Tale of Two Beasts is a book that attempts to teach children about perspective taking. It is broken into two chapters. The first one tells the story from the perspective of the girl, who when walking home through the “deep dark woods,” spies a strange little beast and “rescues” him. She takes him him, wraps him in a scarf, gives him a bath, and shows him to her friends but despite all her good care, he runs away. Chapter two tells the same story but this time from the “strange beast’s” perspective. He tells us how he was swinging happily on a branch when all of a sudden he is “ambushed by a terrible beast” who ties him up, carries him to her secret lair, makes him disgustingly clean, and shows him off to a “herd of even wilder beasts. Each of the two stories close with either the girl or the animal realizing that perhaps the other person isn’t such a terrible beast after all and that perhaps they misread each other.
Theory of Mind – the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own – usually develops more fully in the preschool years with the average child not fully understanding that others think differently from them until at least 4 years old. So this book is best for the older preschooler or kindergartener. E generally got the concept of the book after we discussed it several times, but we had to spend a lot of time explaining in order for her to fully understand why the book was funny. Since she identified with the girl, she initially read the book as if the animal was just being mean to the girl. She had a hard time switching perspectives to understand the animal’s viewpoint. Here’s her review:
Me: E, What did you think of the book?
E: I liked it.
Me: What was the book about?
E: A girl and a beast
Me: What did you like about it?
E. I liked the most that they liked each other at the end
Me: Was there anything you didn’t like about it?
E: I didn’t like when the beast’s face was red (there is a page where the animal looks angry and his face is red) and that he didn’t like the people (the girl’s friends). He didn’t like the girl or her friends when he first saw them.
Me: And, what did he learn at the end?
E: That they weren’t so terrible after all.
Me: What about the girl. Did she learn anything?
E: At first she thought he was a mean beast but then she learned that he was a nice animal because he ran away but then came back
Me: Why did he run away?
E: Because he thought she was a beast.
Me: How many stars do you give it?
E: Four and a half stars.
Overall, I do recommend this book. It was a cute concept that triggered some nice discussions between us about how different people can see the same events in very different ways. Younger children will appreciate the two stories and the bright illustrations, but only older children will truly be able to understand the message behind the book.
Want to try A Tale of Two Beasts for your children? You can find it here:A Tale of Two Beasts
Have you read any other children’s books that focus on perspective taking? What recommendations do you have?