DIXMONT — When the second graders taught by Virginia Butler Gray don “My Magic Glasses,” they think — not about lunch, recess, or what’s on TV, but about how they can respond positively to a particular emotion or situation.
During the 23 years that she has taught at the Etna-Dixmont School, Gray has witnessed the social interaction prevalent among 7- and 8-year-olds. Friendship, often defined by association with specific playmates, is important to them. So are families.
At school, at home, or elsewhere, young children may encounter social situations to which they are not sure how to respond, such as a playmate’s rejection, family discord, or perhaps the loss of a pet. “Seeing the stresses that children are under today, I wondered if I could help them deal with some of the simple stresses in their lives,” Gray said.
She envisioned writing a book that could teach children how they can control their thoughts and responses in different situations. Based on all the reading that Gray has done with her students — and she describes reading as “the best time of the day” — “I thought about what would draw children into a book.
“They need some rhymes and Dr. Seussishness,” Gray said, smiling. “Rhymes help pull them into the story.”
While commuting to school from her Hermon home, Gray often thought about incorporating a particular rhyme into her book. “I wanted a repeating line,” she explained. “The idea came to me, ‘I put on my glasses and what do I see.’ That was it.”
“My Magic Glasses” takes its title from the concept that a child can look at a particular situation through magic glasses and think about a positive response. As Gray writes in her book, a child realizes that “my glasses are magic; I use them to see, when things don’t feel right, the way I want to be.”
The 20-page, full-color book covers situations and emotions that young children often encounter:
• There is rejection. “Today I was playing outside with my friends … When all of a sudden my friend said to me, why don’t you go home now, it’s no fun with three,” the rejection occurs.
The child realizes that “at first I was hurt by the words my friend said, but then I remembered it’s not about [my] head. It’s what’s in my heart and I hold the controller. I need not be sad by the words of another.
“So … I put on my [magic] glasses and what do I see? The words of those others need not affect me.”
• There is guilt. “I reach for my glasses whenever I’m sad about things I have done that make me feel bad,” a child thinks. Blaming the problem on someone else would be easy, so after donning the magic glasses, the child realizes that “my power to learn will keep me on track. For blaming of others, I will not go back.”
• There is fear, an emotion often experienced by young children facing unfamiliar activities or situations. “I begin to feel anxious, I worry, I fret, and then I remember, my glasses I’ll get,” a child thinks. “So … I put on my glasses and magically see it’s good to try new things. It didn’t hurt me.”
“My Magic Glasses” also talks about anger, frustration, and other emotions and how children can, by putting “on my glasses,” realize that “it’s so fun you see, to know my solutions are inside of me.”
The book teaches responsibility, Gray stressed. Rather than letting situations determine how they should respond, children can learn “that they are in charge,” she said.
“If we can teach them sooner and ingrain this in them, it can benefit them now and all their lives,” she said.
Gray approached Balboa Press last April about publishing the book, which is her first. She worked with Balboa to find photos appropriate to each theme. “The concepts that I was looking for, that was the most difficult part of the book, finding pictures that portray the emotions,” Gray said.
“My Magic Glasses” was released on Nov. 16, 2012. By then Gray had read it to her students “to see if it pulled them in.
“That ‘I put on my glasses and what do I see,’ they caught right on to that,” she said. Each student then made a pair of glasses; depending on the topic being discussed in class, a child now may don magic glasses and think about a solution.
“We do cover looking at things from a different perspective, trying to understand how someone else sees a situation,” Gray said. “When they come to me now and tell me that a friend won’t play with them, I say, ‘What can you do about that?’
“They start taking responsibility for how they feel, [for] what they will do,” she said.
Priced at $12.99 plus tax, “My Magic Glasses” is available at the Briar Patch in Bangor and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Balboa Press. For more information, email Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.