Ellen Raskin is best known for her 1978 Newbery Award winning novel The Westing Game, but I’ve always loved her more for some of her other work. Don’t get me wrong, The Westing Game is fantastic, I just wish some of her other books were better known as well! One of my favorites is a picture book she created in 1968 called Spectacles.
This is one of those books about a kid who doesn’t want glasses, but who needs them and is forced to get them anyway, only to discover that it’s not so bad. Now normally I hate these books. I have glasses and have had them since I was a little kid. I’m blind as a bat and it’s just always been that way. My parents both have glasses, my brother wears glasses, they were just a part of the fabric of life and never a big deal.
Spectacles is a little different, though. It manages to both celebrate the value of having glasses and being able to see as well as the interesting outlook on the world that less than perfect vision affords you. The book uses page turns ingeniously to show us both what Iris is seeing and what is actually there.
Throughout the book, Iris has a series of equally crazy mistakes because what she sees isn’t always what’s there, but when a blue elephant (eye doctor) determines that she needs glasses, she really doesn’t want them (until they ask what she wants to look like). After she gets her glasses, she seems fine with them and nobody comments on them.
But at the end, Iris shows that she enjoys the imaginative world she lived in without her glasses as well by taking them off to see the rhinoceros with a tulip in it’s ear that is in her living room. Glasses aren’t permanent and what you can see without them is still there. But it’s awfully nice not to mistake your best friend for stork or scare your teacher with reports of large bugs that aren’t there, too!
I love this book because even though I can’t really remember not having glasses or any odd mistakes I made before I had them, I definitely appreciate both having them and what I see without them. The world looks and feels differently with and without them and I’m lucky enough to get to experience that. Iris is too, and she appreciates that. Glasses may make the world clearer, but they also change the picture. And both versions are great to have!
This book is difficult to find now, but so worth finding. It’s artistic and clever while having something fun and important to show. I absolutely recommend this one, whether you have glasses or just want to know what else the world can look like!