About the Holiday
Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact enjoying special moments during each day, doing something spontaneous with friends or family, taking time for a favorite activity, or even savoring a cup of tea may be all you need to feel happier every day! If anxiety, anger, or other emotion is getting in the way of your happiness, this month can provide an impetus to try soothing activities or mend relationships as today’s book shows.
Thanks to Page Street Kids for sending me a copy of Clovis Keeps His Cool for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.
Clovis Keeps His Cool
Written by Katelyn Aronson | Illustrated by Eve Farb
Clovis, a bull and former linebacker for the Cloverdale Chargers football team, had inherited his granny’s china shop. As he delicately unpacked and filled the shelves on inventory day, he reminded himself of his granny’s mantra, “‘Grace, grace. Nothing broken to replace.’” But below the surface, “there was just one problem. Clovis had a temper as big as he was.” Running Granny’s shop made him feel calmer, but one day when three of his old rivals came by, they mocked him, calling him a wimp and teasing him about his apron. One said, “‘Well looky here! The bull in the china shop!’” Clovis felt his anger rising. He breathed in and out and counted to ten, and when his hecklers didn’t get a quick response, they walked away.
Before he got to work on dusting day, Clovis did yoga and listened to calming music. Carefully he polished each piece until it gleamed, but then he heard the voices of his rivals once again. “Clovis clenched his teeth. There it was again—that urge to charge.” But instead, he picked up his cat and stroked her soft fur. Bored by Clovis’s silence, the trio moved on. On the day he created a new display in the front window, Clovis filled the shop with the gentle aroma of a lavender candle and made himself a cup of chamomile tea. As he placed the fragile items in the window, he chanted Granny’s saying. “‘Grace. Grace. Nothing. Broken. To replace.’” But suddenly his rivals were back, smearing the window with their noses.
This time they didn’t stay outside but barged in and began insulting the picture of Granny. Clovis restrained himself until one of his rivals picked up Granny’s favorite teacup and threw it at Clovis, taunting him to catch it like in his old football days. But Clovis couldn’t turn in time and the cup sailed past him and smashed on the floor. “Clovis was all out of grace. He chose the chase. And charged. ‘GET OOOOOOUUT!’” he shouted.
He stormed through the shop pushing them out as china crashed and smashed around him. He chased the three through town, finally cornering them in an alley. This was a Clovis they recognized, and they shook in fear. Clovis was preparing to strike when a teabag that had become tangled on one horn swung into view. With a tear in his eye he thought of Granny and all that had been broken: her teacup, her shop.
But then, “from somewhere deep in Clovis’s memory, Granny’s voice answered: My dear…Grace. Grace. What is broken can be replaced.” He looked at his cowering rivals and told them who he was: “‘Look, I may be a bull. But I’m no bully.’” Then he offered them a cup of tea. Back at the shop, Clovis set up a table and served tea surrounded by the broken china. “For a moment, it was as if they were all on the same team. It made the hecklers think…”
The next day they were back. But they weren’t there to heckle Clovis as he feared. They were there to help. And “they came back the next day and the next.” Each day, Clovis served tea as they put the shop back together. Now Clovis enjoys playing football and practicing yoga with his new friends, and he always has “plenty of grace to go around” while he serves high tea for all.
Katelyn Aronson’s clever take on the idiom “like a bull in a china shop” provides readers with a profound and heartwarming look at issues of anger management, bullying, graciousness, friendship, and being oneself. Through her rich storytelling, kids meet a bull with an outsized temper who uses his granny’s influence and strategies to calm his anger. They also are introduced to a gang of bullies who think it’s funny and/or permissible to torment Clovis past his tipping point and end up breaking a precious family heirloom.
Aronson’s thoughtful pause in her narrative before what seems will be an inevitable fight lets Clovis—and by association, readers—decide to take control of who he really is. His choice propels the story to a poignant lesson. Aronson’s characters give adults and children an opportunity to discuss how Clovis ultimately chooses to treat his rivals with kindness, and—although not presented in the text—what the bullies may have thought about and regretted when Clovis invited them to tea instead of fighting them. Her gracious ending shows kids that just like broken objects, relationships can be mended when both sides work at it.
Eve Farb’s stunning images of Clovis’s China Shop packed with intricately decorated vases, delicate tea sets, and gleaming dishware are gorgeous backdrops to Clovis’s delicate touch in pouring a cup of tea, stocking and cleaning the fragile giftware, and performing his morning yoga ritual. Interposed with these are snapshots of Clovis in his more rough-and-tumble persona. When the bullies show up, they are depicted from Clovis’s (and readers’) point of view through the shop window.
A highlight of Farb’s illustration is her command of the emotional impact of Aronson’s story. The animals’ facial expressions and body language clearly reveal their actions and emotions, and when Granny’s favorite teacup crashes to the floor, the next page spread demonstrates Clovis’s anger in a powerful closeup. As Clovis corners his rivals in the alley, readers once again see them through Clovis’s point of view, but this time the bullies’ eyes hold fear. Another compelling page spread follows this as the teabag—glowing with Granny’s grace—refocuses Clovis’s thinking. Farb’s next bold pages compare and contrast notions of brokenness, connection, and even redirection of energy—all served up with tea and scones.
A unique and emotionally resonant story that will captivate kids and can spark important discussions, Clovis Keeps His Cool is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.
Ages 4 – 8
Page Street Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1645672135
Discover more about Katelyn Aronson and her books on her website.
You can connect with Eve Farb on Instagram.
Happiness Happens Month Activity
Happiness Is… Game
Happiness is all around you! Grab one or more friends to play a game that reveals what things make you happy.
- Like the “Geography” game: the first player names something that makes them happy, the next player must think of something that starts with the last letter of the word the previous player said. The game continues with each player continuing the pattern. Players drop out as they cannot think of a word. The last player left is the winner.
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Picture Book Review