The Sad Little Fact – Jonah Winter and Pete Oswald, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019
It’s a sad, and not so little, fact that today facts are in retreat. The amount of taxes paid by the current occupant of the White House, the size of his inaugural crowd, the reliability of security clearances, the reality of human-made climate change, the validity of our Constitution itself, are all under attack. Do children of an age to enjoy picture books care about these threatened notions? Even a kid knows the approximate difference between a lie and the truth. Here is a new book to help anxious parents encourage their children in their life-long pursuit of reality.
The combination of Jonah Winter’s direct and simple text, leavened with quite a bit of humor, and Pete Oswald’s signature colorful geometric forms (as seen recently in The Good Egg and The Bad Seed), here lost in a sea of falsehoods, forms the perfect vehicle for a ride towards the truth. The first lesson kids will learn here is that facts are vulnerable. They can be ignored, bullied, even buried in a treasure chest so deep in the ground that no one may hear their cries. Children will identify with the small blue wide-eyed dot as it is menaced by long shadowy figures, or pointed at with red-gloved hands. Winter puts into words the message which we all hope to give to our children, even when it seems countercultural to do so:
It’s easy enough to explain who “authorities” are to kids: people who should be responsible for taking care of us, but sometimes don’t act as they should. Winter adds impact to his familiar and kid-friendly vocabulary: tools, dark, angry, big box, bunch of lies, with a limited number of concepts requiring explanation. That is what sets his story apart and makes it a cross-generational experience to read together.
No one likes to be isolated, and the sad little fact is rendered less sad by the fact that he is surrounded by other incontrovertible truths. Kids love jokes, so they will appreciate that ‘A refrigerator is not a moose,” and no one can claim that it is. If they don’t already know that “Christopher Columbus did not discover America,” they should, and what young dinosaur fan doesn’t appreciate the fact that his favorite animals “became extinct 66 million years ago.”
Winter’s lesson is not abstract, and Oswald’s embattled little creatures make them even more concrete. Deceptive imposter facts are ejected from a scary contraption into a gumball machine of lies and released into a panicked world, but they will not succeed. Solidarity and determination save the day:
“And so the fact finders started digging.
Equipped with only shovels, flashlights,
and a need to know the truth,
they dug a tunnel deep, deep underground.”
The best part of the book is its triumphant happy ending. The lie machine is removed like a statue of Stalin and hauled off in a recycling truck. The facts line up in a joyous chorus, standing atop the truth in giant font. A fact is indeed a fact, and the sooner we can succeed in teaching that to our kids, and reminding ourselves of its power, the better the story will end for all of us.