It’s a testament to how important children’s illustrated books are that I can still remember the name of a bear from one of my favourite stories. His name was Jason Everett Bear and the book was “I’m Terrific”. Jason Everett Bear thought he was pretty special and he was always awarding himself gold stars and singing his own praises. His friends didn’t appreciate him being so boastful, so he changed his tack and became wilfully bad. Eventually he managed to find his equilibrium and just be himself. I have happy memories of enjoying the story and illustrations with my Mum.
The purpose of the story was to teach children good character. On one of the book sites online, the themes were tagged as “Pride and Vanity”. Jason Everett Bear was a little shit. His character flaws weren’t subtle so that even a child could see he wasn’t someone you’d like to be.
I understood the message loud and clear, but the thing I remember most was the gold stars. In one illustration, Jason Everett Bear has covered himself head to to in gold stars. I could relate to the idea of rewards. I was a sucker for stickers.
When I was in Primary School, teachers marked their students work and warded them with stickers and stamps. These were graded and they meant something. There was the ubiquitous and over-used smiley face and buzzy bee of infants school (it didn’t take much to get one of those. Showing up was generally enough), but as you moved up through the years there were words added that let you know what the teacher really thought.
“Very Good” or “Excellent”. I know which one I preferred. But the thing that really set my heart aflutter was the stickers. Compared to those rudimentary self-inking stamps in the limited colour palette of crude tattoos, stickers were big and colourful and sometimes (the best ones) – shiny. There was nothing like getting your book back and finding one of those babies on the page.
Eventually I realised that stickers were just one of the many tricks in a teacher’s arsenal (trick arsenal?). They were bought in boxes from Teacher Supply Stores. But I’ve never lost that need for approval. I need stickers, I need gold stars, I need to feel good.
These days the gold stars are internalised. I am the giver and receiver of my own gold stars. I’ve sort of become Jason Everett Bear. And the gold stars aren’t there just to give me a buzz, they keep the whole machine running. Otherwise I’d be happy to just watch TV for the rest of my life.
I give myself a gold star for writing a blog post, but unfortunately it works in the opposite way too. Like demerit points. When I don’t write a post, I take a star away.