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The Patch - a children's picture book by Justina Chen Headley and illustrated by Mitch Vane - will dance into your child's heart

by Robert Abrams
July 3, 2011
The Patch, by Justina Chen Headley and illustrated by Mitch Vane, is an endearing children's picture book. The main character, Becca, is five and an aspiring ballerina. Becca learns she has an eye condition called lazy eye. She has to wear a patch on her stronger eye to help her weak eye improve, and she also needs glasses. Ballerinas, according to Becca, do neither, but her mother insists.

Becca finds a series of inventive ways to explain her eye patch to her friends. Her brother offers to loan her his pirate costume, and she becomes Becca the ballerina pirate. She and her friends jeté over wild waves and plié on the heads of crocodiles on their way to finding treasure. Becca becomes a private eye and then a one-eyed monster. Finally, Becca admits the truth, that she has a lazy eye. Far from ridiculing her, her friends are jealous.

According to the author's note, four out of every 100 children under the age of six suffer from lazy eye (Amblyopia). The Patch provides a positive example to kids facing real issues. Both the text and the illustrations draw you in. In the dance sections of the book, the text and illustrations are well matched: an adult could point to the illustrations while reading the dance terms to give a child a sense of what the terms signify. I could easily see the colorful illustrations converted to a PBS Kids or Nick Jr. cartoon. The stories in The Patch deserve a great choreographer.

The cover illustration of The Patch shows Becca wearing a pink tutu with a pink eye patch. To some extent, Becca is a pink girlie-girl of the sort that Peggy Orenstein worries about in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, but Becca also has assertive qualities that do not fit the stereotype. The complexity and strength of her character are some of the things I like about The Patch. So, while at first glance The Patch looks like a book for girls, it isn't just for girls. My field testing bears this out. My two and three-quarters years old daughter has responded positively to The Patch, but so did my four year old nephew: he asked me to read The Patch to him several times over the course of a week.

If you are looking for high quality children's literature to add to your child's bookshelf, I strongly recommend The Patch.

The Patch is published by Charlesbridge (www.charlesbridge.com). For more information about Ms. Headley, go to www.justinachenheadley.com, and for more information about Ms. Vane, go to www.mitchvane.com.
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