Three squeezes are woven into the fabric of the Larson family household. From the time my kids were itsy, they knew that three squeezes when holding hands meant “I love you.” So my heart was immediately captured by Jason Pratt’s poignant picture book, Three Squeezes, illustrated by Chris Sheban (Roaring Brook Press). Jason takes that simple gesture and gives it richer meaning in his wonderful family story. Read about how the story came to be and then rush out to buy your own copy.
Hi, everyone! Happy Friday to you all. Thank you so much, Kirby and friends, for letting me join the Friend Friday fun.
I would like to start by telling you about the phenomenal Mrs. Skelton. When I was in the second grade, I had the
sheer dumb luck wisdom and foresight to be placed in her class. In addition to teaching us to write in cursive, and on top of taking the ENTIRE 2nd grade on a field trip to the beach for a sand castle building contest, she required us to memorize and recite poems of our own choosing.
Most of what I chose that year came from Shel Silverstein, because his poems made me laugh. But one particular poem grabbed hold of me because it wasn’t silly like the others. It was a short, simple piece called “The Little Boy and the Old Man.” It made me sad, but it also gave me a glimpse into the truth that life is often beautifully and profoundly symmetrical (although I probably wouldn’t have used those exact words back then).
Today, I have a second grader of my own. My sweet, silly daughter is— and I say this without an ounce of bias— the most delightful little girl in the history of the planet. (But I digress.) Cora was born with multiple cognitive disabilities that have made speaking and learning more difficult for her than for her peers. She was also born with some physical challenges that have led to years of harnesses, casts, leg braces, and countless speech, physical, and occupational therapy sessions. Speaking and walking correctly have always been hard for her.
Around the same time as Cora’s birth, a beloved older family member was diagnosed with an illness that eventually robbed her of the ability to walk or talk or feed herself. This once brilliant, independent woman was now fully dependent on the loving care of her family members once more.
As I thought about these two loved ones, one at the beginning of her life and the other nearing the end, I was struck once again by the similarities that exist in different seasons of our lives. And for the first time in 30+ years, I thought of that little Shel Silverstein poem. I decided to write a poem of my own: one that would hopefully show that love does not have to be spoken in order to be understood. Like many families, ours uses the silent gesture of three squeezes to express love for each other in those moments when speaking is not possible. I felt that I could work with that idea.
One Sunday morning, I wrote the opening line on the margin of my church bulletin: “When you could neither talk nor stand, life’s hourglass still filled with sand, I gently took your tiny hand and gave it three soft squeezes.” When I later sat down to craft the rest, I knew that I wanted to end by returning to that opening line, but with the parent receiving three soft squeezes from the child. I hoped to capture a bit of the symmetry from the Shel Silverstein poem that had made such an impression on me.
Of course, picture books are much more than words, which leads to the brilliant Chris Sheban. Chris turned Three Squeezes (Roaring Brook Press) into a story about a father and son, and his illustrations are simply breathtaking. He has such a special ability to give heavier topics a touch of whimsy and lighter topics unexpected poignancy. His work adds warmth and depth and humor and makes the story so much better than it was before. I am forever grateful to have had the chance to work with him.
I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read my post, and I hope to meet you in person one day when such things are allowed again. In the meantime, I hope your life is filled with teachers that inspire you, poems that change you, and love that is so obvious it doesn’t need to be spoken to be heard.
Jason Pratt grew up a short bike ride from the beach near Jacksonville, Florida, where he developed his unbreakable habit of saying hello to everyone he passes on the street. He now teaches middle school social studies in the Tampa area. When he is not writing or teaching, Jason can be found fishing, swimming, or paddling Florida’s beautiful waterways. If you happen to see him there, please do say hello. Instagram: @simprattico