Children's Book Review: My Mouth is a Volcano
One reason we read stories to kids is to get across messages on social skills. But nothing turns off a kid like a behaviour lesson thinly disguised as a story. Weaving a behavioural message into an engaging narrative is a tricky dance for a children's author - but Julia Cook, in her book My Mouth is a Volcano, pulls it off with ease. She delivers a book in which the basic message is "Don't Interrupt", but with a dash of humour and a repetitive passage a la Robert Munsch, the medicine goes down without a struggle.
The book's main character, Louis, keeps interrupting. His "important words" keep erupting out of his mouth while others are speaking. When others become upset, he says, "It was my volcano's fault."
Louis continues to erupt until, one day as he is telling the class about the time he went fishing, someone interrupts him. Suddenly he sees how rude it is to speak while others are speaking. With this twist in the story, Cook taps into the egocentric world of a child, whereby something has to happen to Louis himself before he realizes how it makes others feel. It's the golden-rule epiphany that all social beings have at one time or other: That person is doing something that I think is rude. Wait a minute - so if I do the same thing, people will think I'm rude!
While road-testing the book with a couple of Grade Ones, I discovered that certain kids found it a little too wordy to hold their attention 100% of the time; but with a little on-the-fly editing, this minor bother was overcome. In general, I found the book a great social skills conversation opener for primary-aged kids, whether in the classroom or at home.
Cook uses her experience as a school guidance counselor to inform a whole series of books that, in her words, "teach [children] to become 'better'". Her other books with a behavioural message include Bully B.E.A.N.S. about proactively preventing bullying, and A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue about constantly telling on others. Cook even has a behavioural book aimed at parents: My Mom Thinks She’s My Volleyball Coach…But She’s Not! - for parents who find themselves getting a little too wrapped up in their kids' sports games.
It seems we can all work on our social behaviour a little, no matter what our age.