Peter’s Big Heart
by Peter McLaughlin
Back Cover: Peter’s Big Heart is the touching story of a young boy named Peter who must endure heart surgery when he just just ten years old. (sic) With endearing and personal artwork, Peter McLaughlin recalls a story from his childhood with warmth and tenderness, detailing his interaction with nurses, doctors, and surgeons that helped him along the way. This triumphant story appeals to children of all ages, and serves as an inspiration to those facing heart disease or serious medical conditions. With a strong foundation from his family, as well as some humor and love from his best friend Rufus, Peter discovers that his heart is truly strong because it is full of love.
First Sentence: A Young boy, about ten years old, (sic) is sitting on a bench in the park on a lovely day in the spring.
What it’s About: Ten-year-old Peter has a bad heart caused by a hole in the septum—the cartilage the separates the right and left chambers of the heart. The actual type of hole is not mentioned or any symptoms, though often there are no symptoms. The story picks up two days prior to Peter’s surgery. Watching his friends play outside, Peter longs to join in. Of all his friends, Peter most longs to play with Rufus, his best friend. The next morning, the family heads off to Boston Children’s Hospital. Rufus joins the family on this trip to support Peter.
The next day, nurses implant an intravenous line in Peter’s arm that will allow quick administration of medication. Orderlies wheel Peter in his bed down to the operating room, where an anesthesiologist will help Peter sleep through the surgery. When he awakes in recovery, Peter’s heart will have a patch over the hole. Soon, recovery nurses okay Peter’s return to his room. Dad reads him a Dragon story, while Rufus hides hoping to surprise his friend. A few days later, Peter returns home, spends a few weeks lying low, and then rides his new bike with Rufus. The strength of a normal boy his age soon returns and Peter enjoys a normal life.
What I Thought: First, Peter’s Big Heart is based on a true story. The author went through the same surgery when he was ten-years-old. Autobiographical stories are difficult to review. When that story is about a childhood illness, we all ache for that child and the adult that actually experienced the pain, heartache, and loss of a relatively normal childhood. I do not want to diminish this in any way. I understand more than most what life is like when fate tosses you a bad deal. In fact, the author, Peter McLaughlin, suffered a stroke at age 27, most likely from a small leak in the patch. He lost the use of his dominant right hand. Like many thrown an early loop, Peter adjusted to the situation, learned how to paint with his left hand, taking second place in his first art contest.
Here is the difficult part of the review. Peter’s Big Heart needs much editing. A narrator, rather than Peter mostly tells the story, and dialogue is all but absent. Peter’s story is a complete rundown of those three days before and of surgery. Kids will get a good idea of what happens when a child—or adult—enters a hospital for surgery. The actual story is not engaging. I know I am to root for Peter, I know why, but I do not feel anything. The scenes are stoic. We’re told Peter has a “knot in his stomach” the day he enters the hospital, but then nothing? Peter is ten; he must be feeling scared, anxious, and maybe even mad that he has to endure surgery just to play like his friends.
Rufus is a conundrum. I understand why he is Peter’s best friend. I do not understand why he has human traits and wears glasses. Rufus held Peter’s hand, went to lunch at a sit-down restaurant while waiting out the surgery. He even shopped for a present. Oh, and he spoke, Not “woof, woof” but English words. This story of one boy’s congenital defect—a hole in his heart—sudden becomes part fantasy. I do love him riding a unicycle.
The art is awkward for a professional, yet beautiful for Peter. I cannot image drawing with my non-dominant hand. Young Peter’s nervousness is palpable on page six, the day he enters the hospital. The illustration of an operating room from young Peter’s perspective is wonderfully detailed. Rufus is quite the character. He wears a beret atop his long face, with floppy ears adding to his charm. Rufus is the perfect character for a fantasy story. An anthropomorphic Rufus does not belong in Peter’s Big Heart.
IN the About the Author section, I must make one factual correction.
He was diagnosed with a hole in his heart, called a heart murmur, and a very slow heartbeat.
A hole in the heart is in the septum, which divides the heart into right and left halves, each half having an upper chamber and a lower chamber. A hole that forms in the septum, allowing blood to flow between the upper heart chambers or the lower, is a hole in the heart*, not a heart murmur (which is an increased flow of blood that causes a swooshing or whooshing sound during a heartbeat.) Not all kids with holes in their heart have murmurs and not all murmurs are problematic. Fact checking is important.
There are many problems in Peter’s Big Heart, mainly writing. Dialogue is not correct on page 23, and again on page 25. Some sentences need better construction.
The boys love it here, he loves being with his friend Rufus, and dreaming about rocket ships.
This is two sentences. The boys love it here (park). He (Peter) loves being with his friend Rufus and dreaming about rocket ships.
I think Peter McLaughlin has a great story to tell. I think his story can ease the minds of kids facing surgery of any kind. I would love to read this again after an in depth rewrite with a strong editor. I honestly hope to read this again. The story can be profound. It can push emotions to the edge. To do this, Peter’s Big Heart must show much more than tell, and get the basics of writing down pat. Please try to do this Mr. Laughlin. You have a wonderfully heartfelt story than needs told.
Peter’s Big Heart
by Peter McLaughlin website blog facebook twitter
Released 2013 (TBA)
Ages: 8 and up
© 2013 by SDP Publishing, used with permission
Text & Illustrations: Copyright © 2013 by Peter McLaughlin
*The medical term for a hole in the heart is either an Atrial Septal Defect (between top chambers), or Ventricular Septal Defect (between the lower chambers).
1. What is a Murmur? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartmurmur/
2. What are Holes in the Heart? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/holes/