Top Ten Bits of Wisdom Gleaned From My Favourite (Recent) Picture Books by Wendy BooydeGraaff
Picture books are a lovely interplay of the language of words and the language of pictures. Once put together, there’s no separating the text and illustrations, for the story comes out of some magical melding of the two. My top ten list distills my favourite picture books into one bit of wisdom I’ve taken away from reading them.
You might have to dive deep to find a quiet spot in a crowded space.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee is a wordless book, except for the title, of course, and that single word evokes a lovely, cool place to refresh oneself. Ironically, Lee’s main character can do nothing of the sort when he arrives to take a dip.
The dark can be kind, helpful even.
The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen, shows us the dark through Lazlo’s eyes, which at first is scary and menacing. But through the shadowy illustrations and the lovely one page monologue in the middle of the book, we realize that we need the dark, and by the end, we fall in love with the dark’s generosity.
Sometimes the path you think you are following isn’t as exciting as what you are actually following.
The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi is an animal-friendly retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which Kikko follows the tracks in the snow, thinking she’s following her father to grandmother’s house. Instead, she ends up following a bear. Far from frightening, this leads Kikko to a delightful tea party with a host of friendly woodland animals. She still ends up at her grandma’s place, but she gets there by a much more exciting route.
Just because a group accepts you, it doesn’t mean the group will accept your friends.
In my first read-through of Nerdy Birdy, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Matt Davies, I thought the story would be over when Nerdy Birdy befriends Vulture. Surprise! Nerdy Birdy accepts Vulture, but all of the seemingly inclusive nerd-birds won’t allow a non-conformer. Nerdy Birdy realizes has to leave his newly found tribe in order to keep his new friend.
Sometimes you need to start your own club.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo is delightfully straightforward: if all the clubs in town are too exclusive, form a new one. This would make a great read-aloud pairing with Nerdy Birdy.
Keep going, even if it seems like everyone is saying no.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, is a powerful and visually stunning biography-in-verse of a woman who didn’t stop fighting for what was right, even when the mountain of injustice seemed way too big to overcome.
A sporting event can symbolize a society’s struggle.
A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is that rare biography centred on action. The boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938, was “bigger than any two men” and for one night, black and white Americans seemed to be on the same side.
Grief is always surprising.
Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt shows the five stages of grief through the antics of a bug who gets sucked up in a vacuum along with a dog’s favourite toy. Both the bug and the dog experience denial, bargaining, anger, despair and acceptance, and the clever ending does not disappoint.
Both waiting and generosity can be incredibly rewarding.
Kadir Nelson gives us a colourful garden fight over fresh produce in If You Plant a Seed. The mouse and bunny plant the seeds and tend the seedlings until they grow and bear fruit; instead of eating their bounty, the birds swoop in and try to steal it. In direct opposition to The Little Red Hen who eats the bread all by herself, the mouse and the bunny end up sharing the fruits of their hard work.
The kindness of one friend can make every day better.
I Am a Bear by Jean-François Dumont is not a happily-ever-after sort of book, for the bear who lives on the streets still lives in his cardboard box at the end. But the greetings and attention of one friendly child make his days brighter.
Now it’s your turn. What bits of wisdom have you gleaned from your favourite picture books?
Wendy BooydeGraaff knows picture books are for everyone and thinks people shouldn’t stare at her when she walks out of the library with armloads of them. She is the author of SALAD PIE (illustrated by Bryan Langdo, published by Ripple Grove Press, 2016) and now lives in Michigan, though she honourably imports every u she can find from her Canadian childhood. You can find out more at her website, and you can read about many other new picture books at On the Scene in 2016, a picture book debut blog. She’d also love to connect with you on Pinterest or Goodreads.