The Ugly Place
The Ugly Place
When things seem ugly and cloudy in my head and I feel a lot of feelings all at once, I go straight to my ugly place. As I walk there in the chilly summer rain, I push my ugly fists down into my ugly pockets, their ugly corners filled with sand. There is only one way to get to the ugly place, and you have to feel absolutely miserable.
Don’t we all feel ugly and miserable sometimes and want to revel in our unhappiness? Everything becomes ugly, even the pockets in an item of clothing. Even a pleasant summer rain is chilly. Even the marvels of nature, such as tidal pools on the shoreline, are ugly. Life is not good on those days.
Laura Deal has written a relatable picture book that can be used in a unit about self-esteem and the value of communing with nature. Her protagonist is hurt, angry at him/herself and the world, and takes a solo walk along the Arctic shore to let off steam.
Of course, being in nature is the best cure for unhappiness, and only a few pages in the protagonist begins to notice the beauty and brightness of the seagulls. The lapping of the waves “reminds me to breathe deeply. In and Out.” In short order, the character is shouting for joy, recognizing that, “Even in the ugliest conditions, we can make Something Beautiful Together.” Soon, there is no more ugliness, only smiles and optimism.
Emma Pedersen has drawn a representative northern community with raised wooden houses. The homes and the natural world reflect the character’s bad mood at the beginning of the story - all of them with turned-down mouths. The rocks, the wind, even the fish are as frowny and grumpy as the character. But when the sun begins to warm the rock and the child, the world breaks out in smiles. Happy krill “flick their tails with excitement” in the water. Pedersen’s drawing of the character, from a sagging, rounded child to stand-up-straight and singing, is an accurate representation of the human figure with all its emotions. It’s a good day.
Children and adults alike can learn from The Ugly Place. Teachers and caregivers can keep this story on hand to read when any little ones need to be brought out of a funk, to remind them that the ugly moment will pass, and to remind them that engaging with the outdoors is a positive way to find the beauty and opportunities in life.
Harriet Zaidman is a children’s and freelance writer in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her latest novel, Second Chances (www.cmreviews.ca/node/2767) is set in the polio epidemics of the 1950s.