A few days ago I went to one of my daughter’s houses for dinner and the grandkids ran up to me and asked me, of course, to read them stories.

It’s always been what we do.

So we went up to their rooms, and they each chose a book. The oldest chose Rosie Revere Engineer, one of my favorites! The youngest chose a touch and feel book of animals, and then the middle child decided to bring Ruler of the Courtyard.

I don’t think he was sucking up but I can’t rule it out.

So we sat down to read it.

It’s a bit surreal reading a story you’ve written, to your grandkids.

I present the story so often when I do my presentations for primary students. I have a whole way of introducing the themes and concepts in the books and the tension in the story, the genuine fear the main character experiences when she sees what she thinks is a snake, is always good to hook even a young restless audience. But here I was, reading it, like a book!

And yet as I read the story, the grandson who’d chosen it kept interjecting, “But it’s a rope.”

I answered, “Yes, but she thinks it’s a snake.”

“But it’s a rope.” he insisted, and I had to smile.

It reminded me of something I heard an agent say once. He said beware the punchline books. These are books you can read once, and the surprise punchline gets you, but they’re not conducive to multiple readings.

And I wondered right then, if Ruler of the Courtyard fit that category.

Can you read the book with satisfaction even when you know the punch line that it’s not really a snake?

I’d like to think so.

Because really the book is not about the fear of snakes. It’s about the fear of chickens.

The snake is a distraction from the real fear of the bully chickens, who have chased the girl Saba, into the bath house, and who at the beginning of the story are definitely the rulers of the courtyard.

You can see the chickens peeking through the slats of the walls of the bath house. You know that they’re lurking outside, waiting for the heroine to emerge.

And yet when Saba sees the ‘snake’ she and you, the reader, are meant to forget all about those lurking chickens.

In fact, the point I was trying to make in the story is that sometimes a big fear can squish a little fear and put things into perspective. And sometimes it takes love, to overcome fear, the fact that Saba loves her grandmother is why she faces up to what she thinks is a snake.

I remember when we got the illustrations for it. They’re done by R. Gregory Christie who has a very bold scratchy kind of style. I LOVED the illustrations! And I got right away the fact that Christie had played with perspective.

His artwork is brilliant! The story is about putting fear into perspective! And the illustrations play with perspective and yet all this ‘brilliance’ seemed lost on my little grandkids. Mind you they are 4-7 years old.

They didn’t seem to get it.

And when I finished reading the story to them I felt a bit deflated.

It’s definitely not their favorite story.

It’s not like Big Red Lollipop which everyone seems to *get* on the first reading.

And when I finished reading it to them and we went on to the next book, I saw it sitting there, in the pile, and I thought to myself, “For all the thought and work that went into it, it’s just another book.”

And that too put things into perspective.

That’s the nature of art.

We put it out there and not everyone will get it.

And it’s not the fault of anyone. Some books will resonate and some won’t. It’s just the nature of the beast.

And it’s up to us, as parents, teachers, educators, and gatekeepers to make sure that we expose kids to enough art so they can find something they can relate to.

Lots and lots and lots of books so that kids can become connoisseurs and so they can absorb all the morals, the messages and myriad themes that abound, so that they can become educated about the world at large.

And perhaps, when they’re much older, they might revisit such a book, and perhaps then, they might get it.

Who knows?

All we can do is try.