Making a Mark...without the breakdown

By: David Hosea
By: David Hosea

My four year old, Isaac, is a perfectionist.  This causes him to be easily frustrated if he has trouble with a puzzle or throwing a ball.  I’m afraid he gets this from his father.  You can ask the people I work with and my wife, it drives them crazy.


 Isaac is given “school work” by Christy, his babysitter, to prepare him for kindergarten next year.  He is learning numbers and letters and writing.  Isaac was doing some homework the other night.  Mommy and I were trying to work with Isaac on his drawing the number two.  He knew his two didn’t look right and quickly changed from a pleasant, excited little boy, to a Tasmanian devil having a breakdown. 


 I quickly wanted to inject some fun, so I suggested we draw.  You can’t go wrong with drawing, right?  Isaac seemed fine for a minute, then started crying and said he couldn’t draw “very good.” 


 I told him he was four years old and he will learn to write the number two, just like Mommy and Daddy did.  It takes time and patience.  Drawing is supposed to be fun.  And the cool thing about drawing is that you can do whatever you want, using whatever colors you want.  There is no wrong way.  I happen to think Isaac is a very good artist.


 I put the paper and crayons away knowing it was time for books and bed.  I knew exactly what books I would be reading to Isaac that night, The Dot and Ish, written and illustrated beautifully by Peter H. Reynolds. 


 The Dot is a story about a little girl that is artistically frustrated.  The little girl, Vashti, sits in art class looking at her blank piece of paper and yells, “I just CAN’T draw!”  I asked Isaac if this reminded him of someone?  Vashti slammed her pen down on the piece of blank white paper making a single dot.  Vashti’s supportive teacher then had her sign the paper.


 The next week, Vashti came into art class and saw that her teacher had hung her dot on the wall in a gold frame.  Vashti felt challenged, knowing she could do a better dot than that.  She then went on an artistic journey, experimenting with colors and different ways to create dots. 


 Vashti realizes she can leave a mark on the world with her art.  A little boy tells her he wished he could draw.  Vashti encourages him, the same way her teacher did her, and starts the boy on his own artistic self discovery, through his squiggly lines.


 Isaac was snuggled up to me as we started the next book, Ish.


 Much like Isaac, the main character of Ish, Ramon, loves to draw.  That is until Ramon’s older brother makes fun of his picture of a vase and flowers, saying it looks nothing like it.  Ramon gets angry, crumpling up the drawing and threw it.  For the next few months Ramon tries to get his drawings to “look right,” never being satisfied.  One day he’s had enough and proclaims, “I’m done.”


 “Does this sound familiar, Isaac?”


 Ramon’s little sister, Marisol, keeps every crumpled piece of artwork he throws away.

When Ramon discovers what his sister had done, she pointed out her favorite picture he had done.  He mentions it was supposed to be a vase, but it doesn’t look like one.  Marisol tells him, “Well, it looks vase-ISH!”


 Just as one disparaging comment destroyed his creative spirit, this one positive comment caused Ramon to see his artwork in a new light.  Ramon realized he didn’t have to draw precise, technical masterpieces.  Art is about the feelings it conjures in others.


 Drawing made Ramon feel happy again.  He had FUN creating his ish drawings.  Ramon did a tree-ish, house-ish, and even a fish-ish drawing.  Ramon’s ish drawings brought a smile to Isaac’s face as we reviewed what they were and what Isaac saw in them.


 After putting the books away, we talked about how drawing is about having fun.  I went over to his bulletin board and took down a piece of tissue paper with one of his drawings he had done when he was three years old.  “This is one of my favorite pictures.”  Not remembering, Isaac asked, “What is it?”  I told him it was Darth Vader.  “That doesn’t look like Darth Vader.  “Well,” I said, “it’s Darth Vader-ish.  This circle is his helmet.  And this scribble line is his light saber.”  Isaac smiled with confidence.


 “You know, Isaac, you are only four years old.  I didn’t know how to draw a two either.  Mommy didn’t either.  We had to learn.  It takes a long time, sometimes.”  Picking up his attempts at the number that caused all this frustration, I said, “This is a very good beginning.  This is two-ISH.  Just think how good you will be when you are ready to start school next year.”


 When it was finally time for prayers and goodnights, Isaac hugged me and said, “I love you, Daddy.”


 Isaac is a great artist.  He has an imagination and can communicate himself through songs he makes up or stories and characters he comes up with.  He makes great robots and spaceships with Legos.  For little hands, he is a good puppeteer.  Polly and I will cherish some of his drawings forever.


 I don’t know if I would have been as successful if it hadn’t have been for Peter H. Reynold’s books, The Dot and Ish.  Besides having beautiful simple artwork, the messages are important for any child that dreams of making a mark on their world.  It is so important for children to create.  It’s important for them not to fear failure, but give it their all, then keep pushing themselves to do more than they thought they could.


 For more information on Peter H. Reynolds’ art, books, and other projects, visit


 Check out for not only his books, but the Scholastic animated version of Peter’s The Dot.


 Let me know how you like it and share some of your favorite books with my family by leaving a comment.

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