Lynn: When my son and his wife divorced, my four-year-old twin grandsons began the delicate dance of spending time with both parents and negotiating complicated calendars. Like so many families, the arrangements included multiple households, alternating schedules, and plenty of confusion. Now, eight years later, the boys have had lots of practice keeping track of where they will be at what time, where their stuff is, and who will be picking them up, but it can still be a challenge for all of us. Explaining these situations to children is just plain hard and I am always interested in books that tackle this tricky topic for our youngest readers. A new chapter book and a fairly recent picture book both look, from a child’s point of view, at the changes divorce brings to their lives.
The first is from the wonderful Linda Urban who, as always, writes with an immediacy and authenticity that relays exactly what many young kids are experiencing. Weekends with Max and His Dad (April 2016) chronicles the first three weekends that third-grader Max spends with his father after his parents have separated. Max’s dad has a brand-new apartment that doesn’t have much in it yet.
“It is very clean,” said Max. He thought that was nicer than saying that it was very white.
Max’s dad may not have unpacked many boxes yet, but he HAS painted and decorated Max’s room. Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions motif is what Max liked last year. Max is into spies now and he can’t imagine a spy with a room like this. Still, he doesn’t want to hurt his dad’s feelings. “It is very blue,” he says. Urban’s stories focus on the small issues of this new life and Max and his dad’s adjustment to it. They shop for a new couch at INEEDA, explore the new neighborhood, and host Max’s best friend for a sleepover. While the story is reassuring and warm, Urban doesn’t shy away from sad or awkward moments, too. There is plenty of sweet humor here and a real sense of comfort for kids experiencing similar situations. By the end of this first book in a planned trilogy, Max understands that both places can be home.
A similar theme is explored in Karen Stanton’s vibrant picture book, Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend (2014). In an arrangement that will be very familiar to many children, Henry spends alternating days with recently divorced parents. Henry describes the two very different places his parents now call home, each of them with many special things for Henry and a bed for his dog, Pomegranate. But “Pomegranate wants to go home” and when the dog runs away, the whole family searches, finding him at Henry’s old house, where a new girl is now living. “Time to leave our old house behind,” says Henry, and the book ends with an encouraging sense that both of these new places can be home.
Adjusting to divorce is, of course, something that takes time, and in both these books the parents are trying to help their child adjust. But young readers will be reassured to find their own challenges reflected in the pages of these encouraging stories.