Reading to our kids before bed has been nearly a 16 year tradition in our home. While our oldest two are getting beyond the reach of our bedtime tradition we thankfully have a 5 year old who still loves when we read to him. To introduce a new book into our routine (because he’s 5 and sometimes he just doesn’t want a new story), we leave it on a coffee table for him to open and explore. So when we left “The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm” (written by Levar Burton), he immediately made comments and observations — “Why is he (Rhino) crying?”, “Why are there all these clouds?” — and we knew he’d be ready and excited to read the book.
The story begins with a father and daughter mouse, hiding indoors from a storm. The little mouse, Mica, is afraid of the storm because a hurricane had recently destroyed their home. So the father mouse tells a story to Mica, to help calm her down. The story of a rhino who also see’s his home get destroyed by a storm, and in his sadness he swallows the storm. But the storm causes the rhino problems — and must embark on a journey to get the storm out from inside him. Along his journey the rhino gets help from strangers and friends and eventually gets the storm out from inside of him and finds his way back home.
LeVar does a wonderful job of giving kids permission to confront and accept difficult situations and emotions through a compelling and thoughtful story, very much in the manner of the late Fred Rogers. Our son was engaged and active in asking about what he saw, which allowed us as parents, to talk with him about feelings and concepts he might usually be unable to express or articulate. Whether it’s a literal storm that destroys a home, or a metaphorical storm that destroys a home (through relocating, or divorce, or death), the experiences of the little blue rhino aid children in identifying very complex feelings, such as sadness, or loneliness, or fear, or angry. And in the end reassures children (and quite frankly, us as parents too) that their is always kindness and love from family, friends, neighbors and strangers, even if you feel like you are alone in darkness.