Lyon, George Ella. (2010). The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. by Lynne Avril. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Ginny is a little girl who sees everything double, but does not realize she is seeing anything differently than others. She stumbles into things, cannot read properly and finds even cutting along the dotted line to be a challenge. When the school nurse realizes she is seeing double, she is sent to a doctor, who gives her a prescription and a temporary eye patch over one eye until her vision can be corrected. Now, with one covered, she can finally see, read, use scissors and run and play.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
The art and text in this story work seamlessly to show readers what it is like to see with double vision and how frustrating it is to have an undiagnosed visual impairment.
The brightly colored illustrations show the world as Ginny sees it, with overlays of repeated images everywhere. By using darker lines around half the objects, readers can tell that half the images are the results of Ginny’s visual differences. Lyon writes, “Getting there was hard, though, with all those chairs. She knew only half of them were real, but which ones?” This line perfectly and poignantly captures the problem in the story and the emotional frustration of Ginny, who keeps trying so hard to succeed despite her difficulties.
Ginny’s teacher tells her things that are meant to be helpful (but aren’t) such as, “We read with our eyes, not our noses” and “Just once, Ginny. We read it just once.” But of course, for Ginny, she saw it twice. Her teacher praises her originality for the three-eared bunny, without realizing it is a symptom of a visual impairment.
In her notes for this module, Dr. Vardell writes:
In past reading materials, the characters with disabilities have often been portrayed as: "(a) pitiable and pathetic; (b) the object of violence; (c) sinister or evil; (d) an enhancement of the book's "atmosphere"; (e) "Super Crip"; (f) laughable; (g) their own worst-and only-enemy; (h) a burden; (i) nonsexual; and (j) incapable of participating fully in everyday life" (Andrews 1998). To accurately portray an individual with a disability authors and publishers must understand the multifaceted dimensions of the individual. Authentic books should also use people-first language in which the person is mentioned before his/her impairment (for example, ‘the child with a learning disability’ instead of the ‘learning disabled child’.) (Disabilities in Literature for Young People, n.p.)
Lyon’s book exemplifies this advice. The first line of the book is not something like, “Ginny couldn’t see well,” but “Ginny loved Reading Circle.” This is a line that shows a positive strength about Ginny and sets her up to be more than a stereotype. She clearly loves to learn. There is already a clue about her challenge in the art, as the reading circle is shown with the haloes of double-vision, but Ginny herself is smiling. On the next page, it does show that someone “always laughed” when she fell down, but rather than being shown as “pitiable and pathetic,” (Vardell, n.p.) Ginny instead “loved reading anyway.” Ginny’s energy and determination are reflected in the bold watercolors, pastels and colored pencils used.
Ginny has a defender in Ms. Cleo, even if she did not understand what was going on. When Ginny is teased about her three-eared bunny, Ms. Cleo tells the boy, “Mind your own bunnies.” Ginny does get frustrated enough about that bunny to stick her scissors in the paste—she’s not some ideal example of a zen-like student who never gets angry. She’s a real human being.
A big turning point of the story is when Ginny starts to cry at the realization that most people only see one of each thing, when the nurse has figured out she has double-vision. This page is set apart from all the others by being completely blue except for a white teardrop in the middle with the text, “Ginny started to cry,” with a lighter blue halo around the teardrop to keep the double-vision impairment in the fore-front. It halts the movement of the story and makes the reader sit for a moment with the sadness Ginny feels about being different and realizing things are harder for her than others. This gives students a chance to develop sensitivity in children, as they place themselves in Ginny’s shoes. This book can help “replace negative stereotypes with knowledge and understanding about disabilities (Andrews, 1998)” (Vardell, n.p.)
When Ginny goes to the doctor and receives her patch, some children might have been uncomfortable or embarrassed—but not Ginny. She becomes “the pirate of kindergarten.” This fun name evokes adventure and bravery. It is not that she is some sort of super hero at this point. Rather, the relief of being able to use her scissors and run without tripping is overwhelming, not to mention her ability to “read and read and read.” And the story ends back with her taking her place in the Reading Circle—in her eye patch—“without knocking over a single chair.” The problem is solved. Even though Ginny still has her eye-patch at the end of the story, no one is teasing her and she is able to do all the things she wanted to do. The author, through the words of the doctor, tells us that eventually, she will no longer need the patch, but the patch is not an issue for Ginny.
Dr. Vardell writes, “Historically, the most common disabilities represented in children’s literature are orthopedic or visual impairments” (Disabilities in Literature for Young People, n.p.) The Pirate of Kindergarten is about a girl who has a visual impairment, but it’s not a type of visual impairment that is commonly seen on the shelves. A child with double-vision will very much appreciate being represented in a book, and a book like this would be excellent to read with a child about to go to school with their own eye patch. Those children might just be inspired to become pirates of their grade, too!
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
“Ginny has double vision, although she doesn't receive that diagnosis (and a treatment plan) until the final pages of this vividly empathetic book. Without lecturing or making Ginny the object of pity, Lyons (Sleepsong) and Avril (Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse), who works in cheery but remarkably expressive pastels, show how disorientating and alienating it feels when something as fundamental as visual perception goes awry. "If she didn't keep her mind tied tight when Ms. Cleo gave them rabbit pictures, she might cut out one ear and another and another. Once she got so mad, she stuck the scissors in the paste." The arrival of a vision screener at school is a little gem of narrative tension: since Ginny can see fine when one eye is covered, will her problem be caught? Readers will be reassured and gratified to know that the answer is yes ("Do you see two of me?" asks the nurse kindly. "Do you know... that most people see only one?") Even those with 20/20 vision will feel Ginny's sense of relief, and close the book confident of her progress. Ages 4-8.” Publishers Weekly, May 17, 2010.
“Ginny enjoys kindergarten, but she does have some difficulties, and occasionally children laugh when she runs into chairs or reads lines of text twice. Her teacher notices that the child closes one eye to read, but on Vision Screening Day, the school nurse discovers that Ginny has double vision. When the doctor gives her a temporary eye patch, Ginny wears it with style and becomes a Kindergarten Pirate, suddenly better at numbers, scissors, and reading and no longer tense from concentrating in order to avoid mistakes. Created with pastels, acrylics, and colored pencils, Avril's bold and wonderfully vivid mixed-media illustrations sometimes portray the classroom through Ginny's eyes, with overlapping images of chairs, books, and people, though they usually present an outside perspective. Based on Lyon's own experience, the sensitively written story radiates empathy and good humor. Even children who have not experienced Ginny's problem will understand her occasional frustration and find it intriguing that one person can literally see the world differently from another,” Booklist, May 1, 2010.
“K-Gr 2-Ginny suffers from undiagnosed double vision, and seeing two of everything is causing her difficulties in school. On vision screening day, a nurse discovers the problem, and the prescribed eye patch gives Ginny a new identity-the pirate of kindergarten. Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly, and Avril's astute chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of "two of everything" provide a vivid window into Ginny's pre-treatment world. It is not until the end of the story that Ginny declares herself a pirate, but as a metaphor for confidence and competence, her patch effectively declares her to be captain of her own ship. Julia [sic] Chen Headley's The Patch (Charlesbridge, 2006) is another story about a pirate with vision issues.”- June 1, 2010.
Winner of the 2010 Schneider Family Book Award
- Read other books by George Ella Lyon and do an author study. She writes for children, teens and adults. Some of her other books for children include: No Dessert Forever, Mother to Tigers as well as, You and Me and Home Sweet Home.
- Read The Patch, by Justina Chen Headley. How does Becca respond differently to her patch for amblyopia than Ginny does to hers? (Becca is upset at first, and then comes up with many imaginative reasons for her patch before telling the truth.) Compare and contrast Becca and Ginny with a Venn Diagram.
- Read informational books about double-vision or another visual impairment and compare it to what was learned from The Pirate of Kindergarten. Consider Living with Blindness, by Patsy Westcott, which also discusses other types of visual impairments, as well as provides a simple explanation of how the eye works.
- Read a book that celebrates people as unique individuals, such as Hooray for You: A Celebration of You-Ness, by Marianne Richmond.
- Talk about service dogs and how they help some people with visual impairments. There are a number of children’s books on this topic, as well.
- Explore George Ella Lyon’s website, which is at http://www.georgeellalyon.com/ . She is, by the way, a girl. She says she is named after her brother George and her sister Ella.
6. PERSONAL REACTIONS
The art in the story is so cleverly done to show what Ginny sees. I really enjoyed seeing how the artist and author worked together so well, knowing that they probably never spoke, because that is the way the publishing business usually works. Authors and illustrators do their work separately, for the most part. I just loved how the illustrations were handled. My kids enjoyed this book. It is a fast read, but has a real impact on how children may view another child who has a visual impairment. I think it’s a great addition to a library.
Headley, Justina Chen. (2006.) The Patch. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Lyon, George Ella. (2003). Mother to Tigers. New York: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Lyon, George Ella. (2006). No Dessert Forever! New York: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Lyon, George Ella. (2009). You and Me and Home Sweet Home. New York: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Richmond, Marianne. (2001.) Hooray for You: A Celebration of You-ness. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Vardell, Sylvia. (2008.) “Overview” Culture 6 Inclusion Lit Texas Woman’s University. Blackboard class LS 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. Web. Accessed November 18, 2013.
Westcott, Patsy. (1999). Living with Blindness. Austin: Raintree Publishers.