I Dare You Not to Cry

A huge thank you to Susan for another great post on children’s books. I am sure I will be sobbing after I read the featured books:

When I had my first son, my friends and relatives eagerly sent me children’s books that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of making parents cry. But while a sleep-deprived mother would seem to be an easy target, I was usually annoyed instead of moved. I’m a person who prefers Jon Stewart to the Oxygen Network. At the first sight of deliberately cutesy, heart-wringing narratives, especially ones with adorable bunnies, my eyes tend to roll up rather than tear up.

So I was astonished when the following two books snuck past my defenses. Why didn’t they set off my mush alarms? While they do remind me about the fragility and importance of love, these books actually tell interesting stories. They feature unusual characters and settings. They surprise me. The emotions come from the stories – the emotions aren’t the excuses for the stories.

Or maybe, deep down, I’m just a marshmallow.


The Sea Serpent and Me, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Catia Chien. At first, this appears to be simply a version of “boy raises dragon,” but with a little girl and a sea serpent. The serpent first appears in the girl’s bathtub, dropping out of the faucet, “so small I could hold him in my hands.” They play together, and he sleeps by her bed in a fish tank. But soon the serpent grows too big, and they both realize it’s time for him to live in the ocean. The misgivings they both have about saying goodbye spread out over several poetic and freshly-written pages, as they try to comfort each other with descriptions of a friendly ocean where “manta rays swim like dancing blankets” and there are “fish shaped like guitars.” When the parenthood metaphor hits you, I challenge you to finish the book with dry eyes.


The Dog Who Belonged to No One, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Amy Bates. A lonely girl and a stray dog find each other. The dog, “a perfectly nice fellow,” tries to be helpful to everyone around him, but no one notices. Lia, who has to spend the weekends working for her parents’ bakery, doesn’t have the chance to make friends. When a storm blows up, they both find their way to the bakery, and neither of them is alone after that. The book is saved from being sickly-sweet by its very specific setting – a slice of America’s past, in which people in a town keep livestock and a little girl bicycles to deliver bread. The watercolor illustrations masterfully evoke emotion through unusual angles and contrasting colors. One especially lovely page shows the gray, stormy streets of the town, with Lia and the dog both racing to the only bright spot – the warm yellow bakery.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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