Book Detectives, Take SIX!
You may be familiar with some of William Steig’s picture book titles, Doctor De Soto, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Amos and Boris, or Brave Irene, but have you read his chapter books for children? Sheer entertainment and deeply thoughtful brilliance, I tell you. The nuances in The Real Thief, a very short chapter book, took the adults by surprise this past month. Everyone really entered into the discussion with terrific contributions!
I shared a few facts about William Steig that I discovered on Wikipedia. The most interesting thing, in my opinion, is that he was a cartoonist and sculptor, and he didn’t begin writing stories for children until he was in his sixties. He continued to write into his nineties! It is as if we can soak up the wisdom of a grandfather when reading his books!
We also talked briefly about other books written by William Steig, and I recommended both Abel’s Island and Dominic for those who had enjoyed The Real Thief.
The story takes place in a kingdom in an imaginary world where animals talk and do human things.
The story begins on a sunny day and takes place over a period of time, probably not more than a single season (summer?)
Gawain: goose, honorable, loyal, trustworthy, Chief Guard of the Royal Treasury (but would rather be an architect)
King Basil: bear, loved, fatherly, rich
Derek: mouse, average citizen
Adrian: cat, jealous, Prime Minister
Friends and citizens
What is happening?
Treasure goes missing from the Royal Treasury!
No one can figure out who is stealing the treasure. Gawain is arrested and put on trial. Friendships and relationships are broken. Gawain is found guilty and then escapes. Derek is miserable. Instead of confessing, he steals more treasure to prove Gawain’s innocence. That doesn’t make him feel better so he returns everything to the treasury. But everyone in the kingdom is miserable because Gawain is still gone.
What does Derek need? (Our go-to conflict identifier.)
He needs to tell the truth!
When is the first moment we know that the conflict is going to be resolved?
Derek finds Gawain. Derek confesses and asks for forgiveness. Gawain doesn’t want to forgive, but he gives in when Derek touches him (demonstrating the power of “human” touch and our craving for relationship with others). Gawain forgives Derek and their friendship is restored.
What happens next?
Gawain returns to the kingdom. King Basil and Gawain’s friends ask for forgiveness. Gawain forgives them. Relationships are restored (with increased maturity).
The bulldogs become the new treasury guards. The king appoints Gawain to the office of Royal Architect. Derek becomes Gawain’s assistant and fills the hole in the Royal Treasury as an act of tangible closure.
Man (Mouse) vs. Self
Will Derek be able to overcome his pride, fear, and embarrassment and confess that he is the real thief?
It is a little tricky to identify the protagonist in this story. In the beginning it seems like a story about Gawain, but it is Derek who must push the action forward. Though it is Gawain whose picture appears on the cover, the title reveals the truth.
Forgiveness Restores Relationships
The adults found it interesting that Steig wrote a book about a thief, but the focus wasn’t on stealing. The story was ultimately about the fact that we’re all human and make mistakes. The greatest punishment for our sins is the broken relationships that result. Derek didn’t intend to steal. He wasn’t a malicious thief. The treasures he had stolen lost all of their luster when he knew that he had hurt Gawain. The problem wasn’t solved when he returned the treasures. He had to ask forgiveness in order to restore his relationship with Gawain.
Gawain struggled to forgive, but his unwillingness to forgive would have left him isolated from others. Derek was willing to confess to the king and all of the people. Gawain, the innocent ‘person’ who had taken Derek’s punishment, considered Derek’s debt paid without that public confession because he had already suffered enough. Gawain forgave his friends, but he loved them with a new maturity, knowing that his friends were ‘human’ and not perfect.