August 02, 2022

The Ugly Place

Written by Laura Deal
Illustrated by Emma Pedersen
Inhabit Media
28 pp.
Ages 4-7
July 2022

When our negative moods take over, everything becomes ugly: places, people, ourselves.  
There is only one way to get to the ugly place, and you have to feel absolutely miserable.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
With the wet and gloomy weather, this child recognizes that everything is pointing them to a visit to the ugly place. They see ugliness in the exposed shore at low tide, in the fish, in their own mucky footprints on the wet tundra, and the smells of the salt water and the stale seaweed. And this child wallows in that which they see as ugly and matches their ugly mood.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen

But seeing, really seeing, brings clarity. By focusing on that which is in front of them, perception is changed. heart settles when I see the seagull circle around again in effortless flight, joined by another. Their crisp white feathers are exceptionally bright against the sunless sky. They play while gliding and swooping through the air.
They close their eyes and open their senses to the sounds, the smells and the feel of the emerging sun.

Then, and only then, is when IT HAPPENS.
Small things emerge to announce their joyful presence: a stir of the water, the flip and flop of sculpins, and life in the sea, on the land, and in the air. And in the child's heart, through the art of breath.

From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen
Everything becomes part of an orchestral piece of music with the child conducting. It's up to them to see the virtues of every piece of their place and harmonize them for the big finish. And that grand performance is what finally takes the child from the ugly place to one where smiling is possible and the despair of the person and place disappears.
Getting to the ugly place is not hard when negative emotions overwhelm. Whether it is anger or fear, anxiety or disappointment, misery makes for an efficient vector to joylessness and the blindness to that which would normally inspire gratitude and bring comfort. While Iqaluit's Laura Deal may envision a literal ugly place to which this child visits, with scowling rocks and clouds, the ugliness is actually within and carried by the child, creating the foulness they experience within their landscape. But children, not unlike many adults, don't realize that they carry that ugliness with them to place and people. Fortunately, they also carry the possibility of finding joy both within and without, as this child discovers with some mindfulness in an natural environment. Laura Deal, whose earlier picture books In the Sky at Nighttime and How Nivi Got Her Names share a northern perspective of culture and place, again takes us to a community of the tundra, of rocky terrains, gulls and Arctic sealife. It's a place where a child can walk for great distances from town, ponder their moods and take the time for mindful appreciation beyond themselves. It's a place for insight and reflection, thoughtfulness and solitude, all of which reverberate in Laura Deal's text.

Likewise, Toronto illustrator Emma Pedersen mirrors the moods of the child as they experience the ugly place and shift to acknowledgement of the beauty evident. The furrowed brows and hunched shoulders of a child among the harshness of a landscape teeming with grimacing components reflects the bitterness of their feelings and the gloom of the weather. But all is transformed with light and softness as joy returns. 
Misery and despair will happen in our lives. But, it can and will give way to calm and joy given the opportunity for mindfulness of self and nature, a lesson for all who feel.
From The Ugly Place by Laura Deal, illus. by Emma Pedersen

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