Books about patching: Reviews of “The Pirate of Kindergarten” and “PatchLand Adventures: Fishing with Grandpa”
I’ve noted before that while there are quite a few books for kids about wearing glasses, there are even fewer that talk about wearing an eye patch. I thought I’d review two of the books that are out there, “The Pirate of Kindergarten” by George Ella Lyon and “Patchland Adventures: Fishing with Grandpa” by Carmen Swick.
“The Pirate of Kindergarten” by Gearge Ella Lyon is a 2011 winner of the Schneider Family book awards, which is awarded to a book that “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience.” It follows the story of kindergartner, Ginny. Ginny is smart and determined, and she loves reading. The only problem is that Ginny sees double. Two of every chair, two of the bunny she tries to cut out of paper, two of each word and letter she tries to read… Not surprisingly, it leads to a lot difficulties for her as she tries to get through kindergarten:
But Ginny’s eyes played tricks. She read “cat cat ran ran fast fast.” She thought everyone saw this way. She didn’t know they were tricks.
When other kids laughed, Ginny really tightened her mind the way you tie a knot in a rope. Then she could remember to read only “Cat ran fast.”
Eventually, it is vision screening day. The nurse giving the eye test recognizes that Ginny is seeing double and kindly explains that “most people see only one.” Ginny is then sent to an eye doctor and prescribed glasses, and given a patch to start wearing that day. The patch immediately solves her double vision and she becomes a Kindergarten Pirate who can do all the things she’d struggled with previously.
The writing in this book is lovely. You can’t help but feel for Ginny, who is trying so hard, not even aware that she’s facing difficulties that others don’t have because she sees things differently than her classmates. The illustrations by Lynne Avril are fantastic, too, depicting not just the Ginny’s double vision, but also her confusion because of it. You see double letters and numbers swirling all around her. Zoe definitely loved the book (though she hasn’t had to patch for over a year, a point that may be relevant as you’ll see).
Despite that, I have some serious hesitations in recommending this book. Most kids who need to wear an eye patch are not doing so because they see double, they’re doing so because they have amblyopia. And a child who is dealing with amblyopia will more likely have nearly the exact opposite experience as Ginny’s. An amblyopic child often does not know they have a vision problem because their strong eye is seeing just fine, and because their brain has suppressed the vision of one eye, they won’t see double. And once they are given a patch, they will have difficulties seeing, as opposed to Ginny’s immediate visual improvement with the patch. Furthermore, one of the results of patching treatment may be double vision if the amblyopia is due to strabismus – that means the visual input from both eyes is being recognized (see Amber’s post about her daughter seeing double).
I worry that this book could confuse the issue of why a child needs to wear a patch, and make it harder for them to explain to others what they’re going through. And I would hate for a child who is going to start patching as amblyopia treatment to read this book and think that they will immediately see better because of their patch (certainly we hope the longer-term outcome is improved vision). It is a great book for depicting what it’s like to live with double vision, though, and if your child is dealing with that, I do recommend it. It is also a great book for depicting the struggles that others go through that we so often are unaware of.
“PatchLand Adventures: Fishing with Grandpa” by Carmen Swick is a book based on her son’s experiences with patching. Preston’s best buddy is his dog, Beau, and they do everything together, including wearing an eye patch to treat amblyopia. In this first Patchland Adventures book, Preston and Beau go fishing with grandpa. After a busy day of fishing, he heads to bed with his eye patch under his pillow. That leads him to dream of a world wear all the animals wear patches (and fly planes and play baseball). The next morning, he and his dog head to his eye doctor appointment where he learns that his eye is getting stronger, but he still needs to continue patching. His eye doctor also explains a bit about amblyopia and patching treatment.
It’s kind of funny that this book, with a talking dog and dreams of other animals wearing patches, is really quite realistic, in some respects. I really appreciated the Preston’s honesty in the very first page of the book where he talks to his dog about needing to patch:
“Mom says we have to put on our eye patches on so our weak eye can get stronger.”
“I don’t want to wear it either, but we can do anything with a patch on.”
This book is unique, too, in that it shows only the middle part of the patching journey – that long hard slog through patching every single day. It does not talk about the beginning of the patching journey, when a child first starts dealing with patching, and it doesn’t show an ending of the patching either. While Preston’s vision has improved at the end of the book, he still needs to continue patching. When Zoe first read this book over a year ago, she was in the midst of patching, and about to head out to her first follow-up visit. I really appreciated the fact that this book helped to raise the possibility that her doctor might tell her she’d need to continue patching (and indeed, that’s what happened). Zoe enjoyed the book, and I think, related to the character of Preston, who did not like wearing an eye patch, but still did so and continued to pursue his favorite activities while patching.
The story is told all through dialogue between the characters, with Preston narrating the dream. It is laid out a little like a comic book, with each page a separate panel, and the dialog set near the character speaking it. The illustrations, by Joey Manfre, are simple and bold. It is not my favorite style of illustration, but it fits the story.
The author, Carmen Swick, has written two other stories about Preston’s PatchLand adventures. Book two “Camping at Mimi’s Ranch” is expected to be published this fall. She writes more about her family’s experiences on her blog Patch Land Writings.
Full disclosure: I did receive a copy of her book for free last year when Zoe was going dealing with amblyopia. I do not believe that has influenced my review.