I must have read “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse” upwards of 50 times as a kid. I loved it. I still do.
I think I gravitated to the book because I myself was a little like Lilly. I too was a precocious, strong-willed, teacher’s pet with a burning love for red cowboy boots. I was so taken by the spunky character and her eponymous story that I managed to get my little hands on a purple plastic purse of my very own. Like Lilly, I adored that purse tremendously.
For those of you who have never read the picture book, or have forgotten its contents, the story is, at its heart, a simple redemption tale. We learn early on that Lilly is completely smitten with her teacher, Mr. Slinger. She loved that he wore his glasses on a chain around his neck, greeted his students by saying “howdy” and baked them curly, crunchy, cheesy snacks for before recess. She’s so taken by him that she proclaims that she too wants to be a teacher, and even pretends to be him at home, while giving her baby brother Julien a “lesson.”
However, things go awry when Lily comes to school one Monday with the spoils of a shopping trip with grandma. She brings in her new “movie star sunglasses complete with glittery diamonds, and a chain like Mr. Slinger,” as well as “three shiny quarters” and, best of all, a “purple plastic purse that played a jaunty tune when opened.”
Like most little kids with a new toy, she just can’t wait to show it off. Only, Mr. Slinger has kindly asked her on multiple occasions to hold off and wait till recess or sharing time. But Lily just can’t help it, and in an outburst invites all her classmates to take a look. An unamused Mr. Slinger confiscates the purse.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, Lily scrawls a hateful drawing of her teacher where she haughtily writes “P.S. I do not want to be a teacher when I grow up.” She tucks this note into his bag.
On her walk home from school, she discovers special snacks and a kind note from Mr. Slinger in her newly returned purse. She, of course, feels awful and banishes herself to the time-out chair when she gets home.
The very next morning she arrives extra early with an apology, baked-goods, a kind drawing and story of Mr. Slinger. Naturally, he forgives her and they proceed to have an amazing day. All is well.
My rehashing of the book does little to convey its magic. A lot of what makes “Lily’s Plastic Purse”— and all of Kevin Henkes books for that matter — so special lives in the illustrations. They’re skilled, playful and spirited. They add immense heart to the story.
But ultimately, the reason this book has stayed with me has little to do with its overall endearing message of forgiveness, but rather the specific content of Mr. Slinger’s note to Lily.
In it he writes: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.”
As far as writing goes, the phrase is hardly groundbreaking. And yet the phrase reverberates through my head when I’m feeling down on my luck.
I keep these words tucked in my pocket. Over the years they’ve become a personal mantra. When all has gone wrong and I catch myself crying at the end of a bad day I’ll whisper to myself Mr. Slingers’s words: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Invariably, those nine simple words provide me some relief. Even the toughest days come to an end, and tomorrow provides the opportunity of a fresh start.