If you're not familiar with My Happy Life, I recommend reading it first. The characters are introduced so well in the first book that the second one makes more sense if you already know and love them, but I'm sure it's not strictly necessary. Both stories follow a little girl named Daniella--Dani for short--who describes herself as being "always happy" despite the fact that she actually has quite a lot of unhappiness to deal with. She prefers to focus on her happiest memories though, which she tries to think of often.
In My Heart is Laughing, Dani is still trying to deal with the fact that her best friend, Ella, has moved to another town. She has other friends, but it's not the same. She tries to think back to her last visit with Ella to get her through the tough times.
My favourite thing about these illustrated picture books for young readers (perfect for reading aloud) is that the character of Dani is complex and realistic, despite the fact the books are quite simple. At first glance, I thought that the stories would be saccharine and shallow, that the little girl would be happy all the time and everything would be perfect. While that may or may not have made a good book, it's not very true to life. I couldn't have been more wrong in my assumption, however. Dani's life is anything but perfect. Her mother died when she was young and her father is trying his best to give her a good childhood. She frequently has conflicts at school that she finds difficult to handle. She sometimes behaves in ways that she regrets. She is sad sometimes. But the book's delicate optimism hits just the right balance between sweetness and poignancy. Dani is a child to root for and relate to.
My four-year-old, herself a happy child who has her fair share of anxiety, conflict and regrettable behaviour at times, adores these books. I asked her to tell me what she thought of My Heart is Laughing and she talked for about fifteen minutes! Here are just a few of the things she had to say:
"I love this book. I think this book and My Happy Life are my new favourite chapter books. I can't decide which one I like better, but I guess it depends on my behaviour at the time. I know that sounds odd, but it's because in My Heart is Laughing, Dani has all kinds of behaviour that isn't very good--like when she squirts the sauce and runs away from school and kicks her shoes and breaks the vase--and she has to deal with all of that. Dani's the star of the books, but then when she hides under the table and runs away from school it's like she doesn't want to be the star anymore.
"My favourite scene is when Vicky and Mickey are pinching Dani. I like that scene because I like news. I mean, that scene was sort of like the news, because I learned a lot about the characters when they were pinching. For instance, I thought that Vicky and Mickey were sort of like stars of the book too, but then when they were pinching Dani so hard it was actually hurting, I thought that they're not stars at all. They were like her worst friends, the bottom two. But I liked that scene a lot because I learned about them by what they did. Even though it wasn't a non-fiction book, I felt like I learned a lot from this book. I think you can learn even from fiction books."
My Heart is Laughing
by Rose Lagercrantz
Illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Published by Gecko Press
Publication Date: September 8, 2014
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