A Book Review of Argo & Me
Chandra Ghosh Ippen, the author, expertly provides emotional distance of these heavy topics by focusing on the experience of caring for a rescue dog. This makes the story more palatable for the young child. She gently weaves the shared experience of the boy into the story, as follows.
"People I lived with before had big problems and didn't always take good care of me."
The illustrations, in gray, faded colors, show the reader some of the negative experiences of the boy. This brings the reader to not only feel compassion for the dog, but for the boy also.
This book serves as an excellent model for compassion and understanding when dealing with a child or a dog, with a history of traumatic experiences. Child and adult readers alike, will feel their heart plunge into deep empathy when reading this book. Ms. Ippen stresses the importance of gentleness, observation, listening skills and taking time and patience to earn the trust of someone with past hurts.
"People had not always been kind. Some people had hurt him, and Argo didn't know
that we were different."
Zeze and Paul, the animal shelter staff, represent kind foster parents of Argo. In dealing with Argo's intense fear, they get down at his level and gently wait while playing soft music. This eventually lures Argo to start to trust and move toward them on his own. What great modeling of empathic caregivers!
Argo & Me provides examples of many fears, more common ones like thunderstorms, and unique ones based on personal experiences, like boots, or in the boy's case, suitcases. Suitcases reminded the boy of the sad goodbyes and signified to him another move. But with time and repeated positive experiences, the boy learned that suitcases were for fun trips! This illustrates the hopefulness of being able to change and put some fears to rest when in a positive environment.
Later in the story, the boy becomes angry with Argo for chewing on his stuffed animal. Argo reacts with fear and sadness. The family notices that bad moods may remind Argo of bad days in his past. The boy was able to return to Argo later and repair the situation. This scene is significant in two ways. One is the crucial concept that anger does not have to mean loss of love or connection. This is part of learning to feel safe in a secure environment. The second point is that there is meaning behind acting out behavior. Reacting with anger is normal, although taking a deep breath and working on understanding the meaning behind it, is a kinder, more effective way to handle these situations.
Another topic that the book addresses that I value deeply, is keeping past positive relationships as much as possible in the lives of these children. The family ran into Zeze and Paul at the dog park. Argo enjoyed sharing memories with his past family in the company of his current family. Setting up these visits can help the child feel whole by combining parts of their past lives with the present. It can also model positive loss, as shown in the following quote:
"Even when they're not with us, they live in our hearts."
If you pay close attention, you can surmise that the boy was adopted by a single dad. This is a great message of the possibilities of finding love in non-traditional families. The framed photos on the last spread of the book, displaying the boy's new life with past connections, ends the story on a beautiful note. This leaves the reader with feelings of hopefulness that, even if you had a rough start on life, you can find love and connection in your future.
The illustrations, by Erich Ippin Jr., reflect the messages and moods of the story. The soft shades of blue add to the feelings of gentleness and compassion. The sad moments are colored in gray and dull hues, while the happy moments are reflected in bright shades. The illustrations are fun and will appeal to young children.
To purchase this book or check out other books from this author, click HERE.
An Activity Idea for Argo & Me
-Large Craft Sticks
-white paper or cardstock
-Decorating options (jewels, glitter glue, buttons, small stickers, etc.)
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