John Steptoe's - Stevie

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Hold on to your chair, my dear reader, today you are travelling back to 1969.

Why, you ask?

Simply to read a picture book that brought tears to my eyes last night.

My twins didn't notice the full effect it had on me, but they both asked for a repeat performance - it moved them as well.

This is a "simple" 32-page picture book - illustrated in bold line and color. 

A poignant book that was started in 1967, two years before it was published - by its then 16-year old author.

This is a story about Stevie, a young African-American boy.

Stevie's mother leaves her son in the care of her friend, who herself has a son - Robert, the main protagonist and narrator of the story.

The thing is - Robert is somewhat older than Stevie and ... well, young Stevie cramps Robert's style.

In the words of Robert: "The little boy's name was Steven but his mother kept calling him Stevie. My name is Robert but my momma don't call me Robertie".

From the outset, Robert has it in for Stevie, who moved in with his "old crybaby self".

Stevie seemingly cannot do anything right. He plays with (and breaks) Robert's toys, while the older kid is at school. Stevie walks all over Robert's bed and gets it dirty.

Worse of all, Robert is often entrusted with "baby-sitting" Stevie, which involves tagging him along whenever Robert goes out to play. Even Robert's friends start teasing their friend "Bobby the babysitter".

The buildup is surprisingly unsurprising.

We all remember those feelings of being "forced" to spend time with someone younger in order to keep them company.

As Robert puts it, the last time Stevie went to the park alone he fell and hurt his knee "with his old stupid self".

During the entire book - somewhere in the middle - Stevie only says one sentence: "I'm sorry, Robert. You don't like me Robert? I'm sorry".

I didn't see where this was going.

In fact, I am an adult for so long that I easily forget how a rich mine of goodness can be hidden under a thin skin of negativity in children.

Stevie practically does not exist in this book, except through Robert's deprecating remarks.

By the time I reached the half-way point, the continous belittling of Stevie seemed to leave no room for Stevie's redemption.

Indeed, Stevie, the little boy who seemingly does everything wrong (according to Robert), does not redeem himself.

One day Stevie's mother and father come and announce they are going away and that Stevie is going with them and never coming back.
image source: Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves

Stevie leaves.

Richard wakes up next day to watch TV and makes two bowls of corn flakes and remembers that Stevie is not coming back.

Richard starts remembering the things he never noticed.

The fun that he and Stevie had running in and out of the house .... or playing cowboys and Indians ... or hiding under bed covers...

Robert remembers how he taught Stevie to write his name.... now he remembers all the good little details and the big stuff.

Even Stevie's major sins, such as getting Robert's bed dirty, were no longer so criminal - "He couldn't help it because he was stupid".

After seeing that his corn flakes got all mushy during his flashbacks, Robert explains to us wistfully:

"He was a nice little guy.
He was kinda like a little brother.
Little Stevie."

It is the narrator - Richard - who redeems himself in our eyes.

The last sentence - is the first time that Robert calls him "Little Stevie".

Stevie is a beautiful book to share with your young ones and to open a discussion on how we treat those who are weaker or younger than us.

It is humbling to know that this deeply moving picture book was penned and illustrated by a young John Steptoe, who started work on it when he was sixteen.

His work first came to national attention in 1969 when Stevie appeared in its entirety in Life magazine. ''Stevie'' was named by the American Library Association as a notable children's book.

Sadly, John Steptoe died on August 28, 1989 at the young age of 38.

Finally,  @BeccaWriter recently sent out a tweet (quoting Robert Sutton) that reminded me of Steptoe's book Stevie:

"The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power."

What a valuable lesson to share with our kids!

Stevie is available from the following online bookstores in the US:


The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

and from other countries:

Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon DE

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