A good book has to trigger a spark of recognition in the reader. The reader must feel that he or she has some emotional investment in the characters so that their lives, despite any obvious differences, actually parallel each other. This is especially important in children’s literature because children do not have the breadth of experience granted to grownups.
The Treasure of Health and Happiness presents a little girl named Hannah. Author Carol Goodrow’s hero is like a depressingly large number of children. She lacks confidence and vitality, having been on the receiving end of too many barbs about her lack of swimming ability.
Further, she can’t ride a bike, and though she harbors a secret wish to enter Chipmunk Chase Fun Run, she doesn’t enjoy running. This vague discontent manifests itself in sloth and junk food. Hannah needs help, and help arrives in a most intriguing and unexpected form – a dream and a dog.
Goodrow uses a framing technique to portray Hannah’s quest, and indeed it is a quest: a quest for fitness, confidence, and self discovery. Her energetic and occasionally impish dog Toby is caught chewing a book called Footprints to the Treasure of Health and Happiness, out of which falls a mystical footprint map that contains messages of health and fitness. Hannah falls asleep that night with the book on her mind and has a most fascinating dream.
The dream constitutes the bulk of the story, and Goodrow manages an intertwined array of motifs that lead Hannah through her quest. Colors abound (Goodrow presents a startling and appealing pallet of colors throughout), seasons change, characters enter and leave, things appear and disappear, and a sense of magical realism pervades the dream. The constants are Hannah and Toby, who hand in paw forge through a series of landscapes.The other constant is treasure, often portrayed as jewels of all colors and values, but actually a shorthand for the real treasures won by Hannah. As each ordeal or task is mastered, Hannah grows in confidence and happiness. The footprints on her magic map are filled in as Hannah learns that health and happiness are available to everyone, even a little girl who had given up on herself. As expected, Hannah returns from the dream transformed. Literally and figuratively, she wakes up.
Children will certainly identify
with Hannah and her poor habits. Younger children will want to take bite sized
segments of the book. Its chapters, though manageably small, are dense with
action and movement. Those children with an especially logical cast of mind may
ask “Why did that happen?” or “Where did that come from?” but most will
identify with the beauty and mystery of dreams. And of course, that’s what
Goodrow really gives them through her story – a chance to dream.
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Monte Wells has been a runner and English teacher for over twenty years. He has run seven marathons including Boston. He is married with two girls and lives in Texas.