You’re in Good Paws – Maureen Fergus and Kathryn Durst, Tundra Books, 2019
There is a genre of children’s books dedicated to preparing kids for a trip to the hospital, a frightening prospect however you look at it. Curious George checked in twice, once after his antics led to a broken bone in Curious George Takes a Job, and once when he mistook a puzzle piece for a possibly delicious candy. Maureen Fergus and Kathryn Durst’s You’re in Good Paws comforts children with a humorous premise: the patient, Leo, is a boy, while all the hospital staff, as well as his fellow patients, are animals. At the same time that Leo’s experience is a cartoon fantasy of suspended disbelief, the basic information provided is totally sound. The hospital is a place where dedicated and kind professionals are there to help you get better.
The surgery waiting room has all the familiar elements: books, crayons, the ubiquitous busy bead maze for toddlers, and puzzles (please don’t even think about ingesting the pieces). However, instead of anxious children and parents, we see a porcupine or hedgehog reading Quill and Quire magazine, a sight-impaired bat, and a bird who seems to have gotten his head stuck in a jar of peanut butter.
If you have ever had doubts about the skills of a doctor, you will empathize with Leo when he meets Dr. Stan, a mouse: “At first, Leo was worried about Dr. Stan’s tiny size and lack of opposable thumbs.” Who could blame him? Soon, Dr. Stan’s friendliness and obvious knowledge puts Leo at ease, even though, as in an Alice in Wonderland reversal of dimensions, the doctor needs to stand on a table to look Leo over. (image)
Given that no child could approach having his tonsils out with anything but fear, the silliness of the book might seem slightly irreverent, but the book emphasizes a sense of order and predictability from beginning to end. Leo is helped into a hospital gown by his parents, whose utterly calm and sensible demeanor is the key to Leo’s cooperation. Nurse Lorraine, a cow who is both competent and maternal. wheels him into the operating room on a stretcher; he is holding a teddy bear, and a picture on the hallway wall shows a dachshund so long he needs to separate frames.
Without belittling a child’s anxiety, the story suggests that stress might respond to unexpected sources of help, such as a friendly hippo in the recovery room whose skateboard had spun out of control. Of course, Leo’s hospitalization is due to a normal childhood health issue that is easily reversed; the book does not pretend to cover very possible reason for visiting a hospital. The sense of normality and routine, and of everyday life going on in spite of Leo’s surgery, could still be applied in other situations requiring a trip to the hospital. As Leo recovers, he visits other rooms, including a cafeteria and the maternity ward. Durst’s signature exaggeration of faces and expressions allows all of her species to register human emotions. A stork delivers a puppy to proud parents, three ducklings follow their parent, perhaps to visit a new sibling, and two large white bears beam with joy at their cub in an incubator.
Humans and animals overlap again, as the book concludes on the first day of school for both. Even after a trip to the hospital and a full recovery, life continues to present kids with challenges and new reasons to be afraid. A good book, which respects their feelings and offers both helpful facts and colorful distractions can convince kids that You’re in Good Paws.