Celebrating the lovies we grew up with

Opinion: Columns

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JOHN RICE

Do you miss your "blankie" or the stuffed animal you loved? Local author Katie McElligott celebrates the relationship children have with their "lovies" in her book, Nothing is Scary with Harry. Katie grew up in Forest Park, the daughter of James and Ann Murray. Harry is her beloved blanket. Katie is 41, but Harry is still part of her life. He now comforts her 5-year-old daughter, Maggie.

Harry was a hand-me-down from Katie's older sister, Mary Ann. Katie christened him Harold, after Mayor Harold Washington, whose name she often heard as a toddler. Nothing is Scary with Harry is Katie's first book. It retails for $15 and is geared toward the 6-and-under crowd. The book chronicles how Katie's "blankie" helped her through tough times. 

No time was tougher than the one Katie faced as a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Illinois. She was suddenly struck by Guillain-Barre' Syndrome. This disease causes muscle weakness and damage to the nervous system. It is potentially life-threatening. Katie was paralyzed from the neck down for a month. Harry gave her "amazing comfort" until she made a complete recovery.

She realized that Harry has given her strength and courage her entire life. She decided to write a book about their relationship. As full-time creative director for an advertising agency, Katie already had an outlet for her active imagination. She also has a friend at Cottage Door Press, who encouraged her to write about Harry. 

It took her a month to write the book. When she read it to the publisher's top creative person, the woman started crying. She quickly negotiated a publishing contract and chose Jennifer A. Bell to illustrate the book. Katie spent 2018 working with the publisher and her book was launched last February. At her launch party, she sold 200 books in two hours!

Her book has been picked up by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target. She has done many book signings with more to come. On Feb. 9, she gave a spirited reading of her book at the Oak Park Public Library to a gathering of parents and kids. 

Katie shared the stage with Lisa Lowry, a local children's therapist. Lowry defined comfort objects and introduced "Puppy" who had given her son peace of mind when he was growing up. She said these "lovies" help children cope with transitions and learn to self-soothe.

As Katie's book demonstrates, there can be a downside to clinging to blankets for too long. Though Harry helps her cope with thunderstorms, visits to the doctor and monsters in the closet, Katie is scolded by a woman who declares, "Blankets are for babies." Even worse, a boy in her grade school class mocks her: "You're way too big for a blanket."

This is why some parents are apprehensive about comfort objects. They don't want their child to be teased or humiliated. They don't want their kid to become too attached to their "lovies" lest they get lost. Love-objects also fall apart. Harry lost his satin trim and developed huge ragged holes. In the book, Katie's mom threatens to throw Harry away. Katie's cry of "No!" takes up two entire pages.  

I have my own traumatic story. I had a teddy bear named "Mr. Soaker" who surely lived up to his name. When I was six, I moved to Oak Park and introduced "Mr. Soaker" to my new acquaintances. They promptly threw him up in a tree, where he got stuck. It was heartbreaking watching "Mr. Soaker" deteriorate for months. 

Katie was sympathetic and inscribed my copy of her book with, "To Mr. Soaker, Rest in Peace."

John Rice writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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