There are a ton of books out there for children who are experiencing their parents’ divorce. Many of them try to put a happy spin on divorce or can be summed up simply as telling kids that they “are not alone.” Both types of books do children of divorce a disservice either by trying to convince them that they shouldn’t feel like their world has been shattered or by sending the message that they should just “get over it” because there are plenty of people just like them who have gone through the same thing. Both minimize the experiences and feelings of children of divorce.
That is why I was excited to find Where Am I Sleeping Tonight: A Story of Divorce written by Carol Gordon Ekster, illustrated by Sue Ramá and published by Boulden Publishing in 2008. This book does a marvelous job of presenting the issues of living in two different homes following a divorce. It paints a realistic picture and still leaves room for hope. It balances the idea that kids can overcome the consequences of divorce without implying that the process is easy or that kids should just “move on.”
Make sure to check out the end of this article for an interview with the author.
About the Author
Carol Gordon Ekster is a retired teacher who spent over thirty-five years teaching fourth grade. She is a wife and mother from New Hampshire who has been nominated for Who’s Who Among American Teachers and the DisneyHand Teaching Award. She was also a semifinalist for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year award.
Brief Synopsis of the Book
The back cover of this book explains:
Ever wake up and not know where you are? Not sure if your homework is due today or tomorrow? Can’t remember if you have hockey practice tonight? Forgot your homework at your Mom’s and now you re at your Dad’s and can’t get it done? Welcome to the world of Mark and Evan ever since their parent’s divorce their lives and schedules have been scrambled leaving them feeling confused, frustrated and even a little angry with their parents for getting a divorce.
But with time, effort and the assistance of their parents and Mark’s teacher Mrs. DeMott, Mark and Evan get a little more organized, learn ways to better keep track of what’s on their plate helping them to do better in school, and most importantly, start to come to terms with their parents divorce.
This book is the story of one boy and his little brother, told over the span of one morning, as they face the issues of living in two different homes with their divorced parents.
Who Is This Book For?
This is a great book for elementary aged children, particularly older elementary age kids, as it is written from the perspective of a fourth grader whose parents have divorced. I think it would also be beneficial to a younger elementary age child if read by a parent (there is a younger brother in the story who is in first grade). Parents will also benefit from this book by seeing divorce through their children’s eyes.
Review of the Book
When I first read this book, there was one word that stuck in my head – “real.” The book was real. It is told from the perspective of a fourth grade boy and realistically portrays both his worldview and response to his parents’ divorce. From wondering if his parents will reconcile to wanting to tell his parents, “this is your job,” the book does a great job of giving the reader a glimpse into the head of a child living in two homes following the divorce of his parents. The child of divorce reading this book will no doubt be able to relate to much of what the main character conveys.
The book does a good job of presenting a realistic picture of divorce while still offering kids (and parents) hope. The statistics about the impacts of divorce, and the resulting changes that divorce brings, on kids is overwhelming. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that there is hope for children of divorce. No one statistic dooms a child of divorce. That is what we are all about here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids. Divorce presents kids with a set of circumstances and challenges that they never asked for. Kids will not just “get over it,” but with help and support from parents, churches, teachers and other caring adults, kids can overcome the obstacles of the situation that they have been forced into. There is hope, and I think this book does a good job of conveying the idea that, while living in two houses is not easy, there is still hope.
The book is extremely well written and should appeal to elementary age kids. The illustrations are colorful and very well done without being too much or overbearing. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to children whose parents are divorcing or have divorced, parents who have divorced and anyone who works with children of divorce.
A More Detailed Synopsis of the Book
One of the things I like about this book, and a reason I would recommend it to both children of divorce and their parents, is that it takes a very real look at the issues faced by children of divorce. For this portion of the review, I would like to look at some of the issues raised in the book.
1. A General Sense of Confusion
Many children of divorce recount that their life lived between two different houses is/was very confusing.
The book starts with the story of Mark. It begins with Mark’s little brother (Evan) waking up and asking Mark:
Mark, whose house are we at?
We learn in this story that Mark’s and Evan’s parents divorced three years ago. Mark sums up the entire premise of the book on page 2:
“It can be tricky living at two houses.”
For millions and millions of children of divorce, the reality of the chaos and confusion that comes with living their lives in multiple houses is often missed or overlooked by the adults in their lives including their parents, teachers, church workers and everyone else. This book will help you to understand and empathize more with a child’s view of divorce.
2. Life is Tricky
Mark begins to lament that life is getting even trickier as he gets older. Now that Mark is in fourth grade, he explains, he sometimes leaves his books or homework at one house when he is at the other. Mark’s teacher is not very forgiving of the fact that he repeatedly forgets his homework. Given the enormity of the issues and challenges often faced by children of divorce, it can be easy to overlook the more practical problems that kids so often face with living in two homes. Imagine, for a second, needing something that belongs to you and having to pause to try to remember which house you left it in.
3. Differences in Parenting Styles and Incomplete Information
The subtle differences in parenting amongst children of divorce in different homes are also captured in this book in a very real way. For instance, in response to Mark’s repeated failures to remember his homework, new routines are instituted to help him remember. This happened as a result a call from his teacher to both of his parents.
Mark recounts that his mother let him listen to the message while his Dad just told him that his teacher wasn’t happy about all the homework he had been missing. Mark notes, from listening to the message with his mother, that Dad skipped that part of the conversation where his teacher had said:
‘I need your cooperation for Mark to succeed.’
In another part of the book, Mark explains that he likes being at his Dad’s house better, not because he loves his Dad more than his Mom, but because his Dad lets them play until they are in a “computer stupor.” Meanwhile, his mom and new step-dad have lots of rules.
These inconsistent parenting standards leave kids to fend for themselves when it comes to reconciling their parents differing worldviews and parenting styles. Many fathers in particular (as non-custodial parents) frequently relax on the disciplinarian role as they want to “make the most” of their time. While there may be short-term rewards for this (e.g., the kids like being there better), the long-term implications far outweigh any temporary benefit.
4. Increased Responsibility
As Mark’s Dad drops him and his brother off for school one morning, he reminds them that he will see them in a couple of days and asks Mark if that is when floor hockey starts. Mark answers:
“Think so, Dad.” Actually, I feel like saying, “Isn’t that what I count on you for, Dad, to help keep my schedule straight? You’re the one who got divorced.”
Like so many other children of divorce, Mark’s Dad (perhaps quite innocently) put Mark in a position of increased responsibility. The job of keeping track of schedules has apparently shifted from parents to kids following the divorce.
5. The Wish for Reconciliation
This book also deals with the almost universal wish of children of divorce that their parents would reconcile. Mark remembers:
Every wish I’ve made on a wishbone or birthday candles, has been a wish for the to get back together. Maybe it’s time to wish for something I can actually get.
An Interview with the Author
Ms. Ekster was kind enough to grant us an interview to go along with this article. We were interested in the book, but we also wanted to get her insights into working with children of divorce. Here is what we asked her and her responses.
What prompted you to write a book about divorce?
The inspiration for this story came through my experience as a teacher. Over the years, more and more of my students experienced the pain of divorce. This touched me. But there was one boy who had a schedule like the main character, and I had to write this story. I think I also wanted to get across the fact, as I did in my classroom, that you always want to be someone who can be counted on, that no matter what goes on in your life, you need to be responsible. I believe that responsible and caring citizens can make the world a better place.
What do you hope kids take away from this book?
I want children to know they are not alone in their problems, and they can overcome any hurdles that come their way. I hope they get the message that you should always be your best self no matter what kind of difficult times you’re going through. I also wanted kids who have friends with divorced parents to have empathy for others in this difficult situation.
What do you hope parents take away from this book?
I want parents to realize the pain children go through when their parents divorce. I think each parent needs to consider their children’s feelings before making unkind statements about the other parent, and when making living arrangements for the children. Their best interests must always be in the forefront.
What has the response been to your book? Specifically, how has it been received, first by children whose parents have been divorced, and secondly by parents?
I’ve been very gratified with children’s, parents’, book store owners’, and counselors’ responses to my book. Some adults have told me they wish they had this book around when they were a child going through their parents’ divorce. I am grateful to be able to touch lives through my writing.
In your experiences as a teacher, have you dealt with many children of divorce? If so, what types of reactions or changes did you see in kids whose parents were divorced or divorcing?
Yes, I dealt with many children experiencing divorce. It seemed that there was an increase in divorce during the last few years of my 35 years of teaching 4th grade. Kids going through their parents’ divorce recently seemed sadder, preoccupied, and more emotional. Some kids who went through a difficult divorce were at times angry.
Your book seems to have a sense of hope that I really appreciate – a sense of hope that kids really can overcome the consequences of divorce. Where do you think this hope comes from?
I’m so glad you felt that hope! I am an optimist at heart and do believe with love, inspiration, a positive attitude, and trust, a family will heal in time. Though the separation for children from both parents together will always be difficult for some kids, I do believe that in time, all involved come to understand why this path was taken.
What advice would you give to someone who works with kids specifically about working with children of divorce?
I think it’s essential to continue to keep your expectations high for all children, but treat them with love and compassion. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad about what’s happening in their lives and that they can do anything they set their minds to. Just reinforce that the divorce is not an excuse to slack off. I also think it’s so important to keep the lines of communication open. That’s why books are so wonderful. You can read a book like mine together with children, and then have a discussion or ask children to write about their feelings, if they’re more comfortable with that. Bibliotherapy is a wonderful way to explore a child’s emotions about difficult topics.
At Divorce Ministry 4 Kids, part of our goal is to get the local church to step up and minister to children of divorce. What advice or words of wisdom would you offer to church leaders about why and how they should serve the children of divorce?
I think I answered this question above, but I also believe it could be helpful to have a small group of kids who’ve been through divorce meet together to see they are not alone and explore topics they want to talk about.
If you could say one thing to a child whose parents are currently getting divorced, what would it be?
Find other joys to help you at this time: maybe reading a new book, spending time with loving grandparents, joining a new sports’ team, or working hard on a school subject or project. There will always be ups and downs in life. Ride this wave as best you can and put your energies in positive directions. Reach out to trusted adults…like school teachers and counselors, if your parents are having a difficult time themselves. Hang in there!
I understand that you have a new book coming out next year sometime. Please tell us a little about that book.
My new picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, from the new innovative publisher, Character Publishing, is expected out fall 2011. As Ruth looks for something for her mom in a crazily messy room, she keeps finding other things she’s lost. Readers and listeners can laugh together while having the opportunity to discuss this universal family issue. It will help five through ten year olds, and maybe parents, too, see the benefit of being organized, as Ruth discovers when her disorganization prevents her from playing with a new friend.
It is that desire to help with all kinds of life issues that drive the many stories I write. Even though I’m a retired teacher, I will always be a teacher at heart. You can find out more about Carol and her books at http://www.carolgordonekster.com.
You can find this book, and many others, in our Divorce Ministry 4 Kids Bookstore.