Helping Children Define Themselves

Is This You? - Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson

I originally was wondering about the purpose of this book (and my original commentary is here) and I am now convinced that maybe I was a little hasty in writing my original review. The more that I think about this book (and maybe I have been thinking a little bit too much about this book, but then again I am certain that there is a whole field of study involving children's literature) the more I come to realise that this is what I would call an interactive existentialist children's book. The reason that it is interactive is because it is a book that encourages children to write a book about themselves, and the reason that I call it existentialist is because it helps children to define themselves.


As I have written previously existentialism can be summed up into two words: define yourself. That is what the book encourages the child to do – define themselves. Basically each page has a series of questions around a single topic: where they live, what they eat, were they sleep, where they go to school. It also gives the child pictures to help them identify themselves with that question. At the end of that page it them asks the child to get a sheet of paper and a draw a picture and to write at the bottom of the picture 'I live in a (shoebox)' or whatever that particular page is about. At the end of the book the child then has a collection of pages which can be put into a book with the title 'This Is Me'.


Okay, the definitions are pretty basic, but then again this is directed at children so it is not going to be asking them to try to define some deep aspect of themselves, such as how they view the moral universe, what religion they are, or how they understand how salvation works, but what it does do is that it helps them look at the world around them and to bring the aspects of that world together into a definition of who they are. The uniqueness of every human being is what this book also draws out because it helps the child to understand that all of these different qualities come together to define who they are, and, as I said, they may be quite simplistic but this is what is to be expected of a children's book.


Furthermore this book assists the child in defining themselves, rather than creating the definition for themselves, or forcing the definition upon them. By that I mean that it helps the child create the definition around themselves rather than letting other people do that for them. This is something that I have come to understand in recent times because it is a subtle form of slavery where somebody will try to create a definition of you and thus try to imprison you in that definition. I can give you two examples of this kind of mentality.


One person that I knew would keep on saying 'ahh, David, but this is what you are like, and because this is what you are like you cannot do this.' What this person is doing is trying to imprison me into a certain characteristic so as to restrict my choices and my freedom. By creating that definition of you, and by letting that person create that definition of you, you are coming under that person's power. Now I understand why I hate it when people say 'ahh, that is so like you David,' because what they are doing is not only creating an assumption about you, but also creating a definition. Another example was when somebody asked me my age and I responded, 'I don't reveal my age because I do not want my age to define who I am,' to which another person responded, 'ah, but I already have you in a box'. My response to that, without even thinking was, 'yeah, but you don't count'. When I look back upon that moment I felt that with that sudden response I gave that person a complete, and metaphorical, slap in the face by implying that while he may believe that he has me in that box, I am not letting myself remain in that box, and in fact, the only box that I am in is the box that he believes that he has put me in when in reality, at least in my version of reality, I am not in a box but in fact free.


So what this book does is that it empowers the reader to help them understand that they are in charge of creating the definition of themselves, and that by creating your own definition you are giving yourself power and in turn you are free. While at this stage it is not going into details regarding not letting others create that definition (this is a child's book, and such lessons can come about at a later stage) it is enabling them to take charge of their own identity.