Insults and epithets abound in today’s culture and seem socially acceptable in many circles. Now more than ever, it’s important to hold ourselves accountable to high standards of speech and to teach our children to do the same.
Cherise Mericle Harper’s The Invisible Mistakecase is a sweet and humorous tale about a grandpa who helps a little girl make her name-calling right by sharing the lesson learned from a mistake he made in childhood.
A little alligator named Charlotte calls her best friend Kate a big pink baby and immediately runs home and slams the door. Seconds later, the wish that she hadn’t called her friend a big pink baby pushes all her other wishes out of her head. A few seconds after that, Charlotte’s stomach begins to hurt. And Charlotte’s Grandpa steps in with comfort, wisdom and a hilarious little tale of his own.
“Grandpa’s Pie Story” is about the time when Grandpa (as a young alligator) tiptoed downstairs at night, quietly opened the refrigerator and took a few bites of the leftover pie his mother was saving for the next day’s dessert. The next evening, when the family discovers how mysteriously diminished the pie has become, he lies, glancing suspiciously at his little brother John.
What makes this book such a gem is its bright, whimsical illustrations portraying the unhappy effect of a failure to love with our words. Harper actually shows how
Charlotte’s big pink baby name-calling wish moves from her brain to her stomach, making her too sick to eat her favorite dinner, pizza and french fries.
When Grandpa as a young alligator is shown trying to sleep while his stomach aches and pieces of pie chase him in his dreams, we vividly see how our “little” sins not only wound others, but cause emotional and physical pain within ourselves as well.
The Grandpa only finds relief when, five days later, he finally stops trying to pin the crime on John and admits he ate the pie.
“And even though I wasn’t allowed to have dessert for a week,” Grandpa tells Charlotte, “I felt better right away.”
Then Grandpa shares a secret with Charlotte: he keeps a mental suitcase called an “invisible mistakecase” containing all the mistakes he’s made before and never wants to make again. As Grandpa goes on about “heavy on the inside but light on the outside,” Charlotte falls fast asleep.
The next day, Charlotte goes over to Kate’s house swinging an invisible case with Kate’s name on it. A still-sad Kate opens
the door and Charlotte apologizes to her friend, promising never to call her names again.
Like all good children’s books, the moral of The Invisible Mistake Case applies to everyone, no matter what their size. In fact, observing the cute pinkness of Kate the poodle in contrast to the green, sharp-toothed Charlotte, older readers suspect that envy was the root of Charlotte’s big pink baby name-calling.
We who are lucky enough to share this book with children know that our mistakes are rarely once-and-for-all; as we grow, we fail and fail and fail again. An invisible mistakecase is a good thing to have, but forgiving our friends and confessing our envy, dishonesty and spiteful words can make our invisible mistakecases a little lighter even on the inside.
We may never get it completely right in this life. Still, those of us who defy popular culture’s acceptance of harsh and even hateful speech, making any failures right as soon as we discover them, may slowly find healing from the tendency to fall into big pink baby name-calling in its seemingly endless forms.
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