“Captain Perfection & the Secret of Self-Compassion”
by Julian Reeve (Illustrated by Carol Green)
Reviewer: Anthony Pomes
Perfection remains a kind of Holy Grail for those who hope to do something so well that its execution can stand sturdily unto itself — utterly unblemished by the rest of the universe, and held infinitely beyond all manner of reproach. Yet, there’s the rub when it comes to perfection — there is no such thing, a point made well and repeatedly throughout Julian Reeve’s new self-help book for kids, Captain Perfection & the Secret of Self-Compassion ($9.99 USD, Buddha Perfect, LLC).
Though designed for readers between the ages of 6–10, this is the kind of book that can be of use to adults as well. In fact, the story of how it came to be written by Reeve — a top-tier musical director, whose “adaptive” perfectionism led him to become the Music Director for the world-famous Broadway musical Hamilton — is something that adults should know about before looking to share the book with youngsters. By his own admission, Reeve’s years of self-doubt and low self-esteem — an especially virulent form of what he calls his “maladaptive” perfectionism — took its toll in 2017 when, at the age of 43, he suffered a life-changing heart attack. Shook by his brush with mortality while at the height of what he perceived as his career’s personal best, Reeve took some time to rethink the considerable price that his stressful quest for perfectionism had placed on his head. In a time when more than thirty percent of our world’s population struggles to be “perfect,” Reeve feels we all are in need of a wake-up call. And if there were ever a time when so many were impelled by the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic to get some fresh perspective on what it is to try to be “perfect,” this is it.
Guided along the way by the charming illustrations of Carol Green, Captain Perfection is a playful yet serious-minded exploration of that thin line for kids between striving through hard work to achieve — and chasing wildly, unhealthily, towards the mass-worshipped pseudo-idolatry of Perfectionism. “Self-compassion” is a key concept relayed to young readers early in the book by “CP” — these, of course, being the special letters that Reeve has emblazoned upon his superhero’s chest, similar to that big red “S” across the chest of another superhero associated with another Reeve — that being Superman, remembered best by me and many of my generation as portrayed by the late great Christopher Reeve). Presented to readers through the persona of Captain Perfection, Reeve has done the heavy lifting so that notions of self-help and self-actualization — more normally the province of those readers who are trying in their adult years to fix themselves — are presented to the young reader as something safe, fun, and enjoyable. By breaking self-compassion into three parts — # 1 is Self-Kindness, #2 is Mindfulness, and #3 is Common Humanity — Reeve hopes to familiarize young readers with the encouraging notion that to err is indeed human, while providing them with the kind of interpersonal tools that will allow them to remain humane throughout their perfectly imperfect lives.
An added virtue of the book is its inclusion of a recurring “Storytime!” section, in which the lessons of bad perfectionism made good through self-compassion are told in stories that feature Jack, Alexis, and Noah. Carol Green’s illustrations of each child, together with the world as lived in and experienced by each, are presented with the simple trust and joy that all of our children deserve to have in their lives. The sweet image of Noah being hugged by his Mom — who has assured him that she is proud of his efforts, regardless of whether or not he plays the piano perfectly at the school concert — was enough to bring a tear to this reviewer’s eye. And it serves as a poignant reminder of what Reeve himself had to find within himself when picking up the pieces of his own life’s story after his stress-induced heart attack. With his creation of Captain Perfection, Reeve has found for himself another shot at getting things right — and, to paraphrase the lyrics from Hamilton, it’s a shot that he — and all his readers, young and old — won’t have to feel has ever been thrown away.
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