Peter has a very good reason for behaving very badly in this workbooklike children’s tale by debut author Brooke and illustrator Soldano (Path of the Outlaws, 2016, etc.).
The story is set in Russia but with no particularly Russian details in either the illustrations or rhyming text. It opens in a town where kids love to play all day long and where everyone is merry: “Even the strange kid who looked like a cherry.” (At first glance, Soldano’s character design doesn’t seem particularly cherrylike, but a second look may have readers giggling over the child’s bald head and stemlike hair.) Christmas is coming, and everyone has a lot to do to prepare; most of the kids try to be extra good so they can reap Santa-given rewards. But there’s one who doesn’t do the right things; he’s “a spitter, a kicker, and a beater” named Peter, who’s aptly punching a wobbly-looking snowman in an illustration, sending its nose flying. After portraying Peter as a seemingly irredeemable fellow, due to exploits that include arson, Brooke promises that the boy’s doing it all for a good reason: he’s trying to help his poor family, who can’t afford firewood. Peter’s dad is a lumberjack, but he’s not physically cut out for the job, and his mother works as a poorly paid maid. That leaves Peter to earn much-needed coal in his stocking through misbehavior: “For Peter knew that toys and candy could be sacrificed / If it meant that his family would not turn to ice.” Although the text includes plenty of throwaway nonsense to create rhymes, including strange hats and a kid with pimples, it also provides a truly compelling examination of the ethics of doing the wrong things for the right reasons. The questions in the back of the book should get kids talking about Peter’s actions as well as about taking care of others in one’s community. Soldano’s whimsical illustrations, featuring large-headed characters and oddly proportioned yaks, belie the serious quandary in the text, but they suit the far-reaching rhymes.
A good potential resource for upper-elementary classroom discussions about motivation, social responsibility, and ethics.