June 12, 2011

Serious Themes in Picture Books

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I recently showed a friend a book called, 'My Gran is Different,' about a Grandmother who has Alzheimers. My friend asked me, 'Who would buy their child a depressing book like that?'
My reply was, 'People that have a family member or friend going through this experience.' I understand that this book doesn't leave a warm and fuzzy feeling and is incredibly sad, but life isn't always warm and fuzzy.

I've been thinking about picture books with serious themes and why they're important for children. I admit that I'm one of those parents that will often try and avoid my children feeling discomfort and try and smooth things over but I've learnt over time, that I could be making things worse. As parents we aren't always going to be there with band aids, to prevent falls, to stop injustice, to prevent death, to cure illness, and to stop marriages falling apart.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the warm and fuzzy stories that are fun and for pure entertainment, but I don't think it does children any favours by eliminating stories that show characters in trouble. If anything, this is what makes a great story. A character with conflict who solves their problems and comes out the other end feeling strong and resilient.

Already this year, people worldwide have experienced the unthinkable. From natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear catastrophes, flash flooding, and death amongst our soldiers and police force and not forgetting the personal tragedies amongst people that you'll never know. Within those stories are happy stories, miracles, compassion, and examples of the fighting human spirit.

So, is it realistic to shelter children from these important subjects?

I believe that by sharing books with a range of themes, that you allow children to develop not only a love of reading books, but an insight into real life experiences.

Here is a list of some picture books that touch on serious themes:


Fred Stays With Me Nancy Coffelt

The Sound of The Sea Jacqueline Harvey/Warren Crossetts

The Heart And The Bottle Oliver Jeffers

I Miss You Pat Thomas

Always and Forever Alan Durant

Molly's Memory Jar Norma Spaulding

The Sky Dreamer Anne Morgan

I'll Always Love You Hans Wilhelm

Saying Goodbye to Lulu Corinne Demas

Gentle Willow Joyce.C.Mills

Where Are You? Laura Olivieri

The Next Place Warren Hanson


Two of Everything Babette Cole
Mum and Dad Glue Les Gray

Was It the Chocolate Pudding? Sandra Levine

Two Homes Clare Masurel

It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear Vicki Lansky

Rainy Day Emma Haughton

My Family's Changing Pat Thomas

Yin's Magic Dragon Lau Siew Mei

Dinosaurs Divorce Laurie Krasny Brown


Safina and the Hat Tree Cynthia Hartman

Singing with Momma Lou Elizabeth Kennedy

Mummy's Lump Gillian Forest

No Matter What Debi Gliori

Why Are You So Sad? A Child's Book About Parental Depression Beth Andrews

Get Well Soon Charlotte Hudson

My Blood Brother: A Story About Childhood Leukemia Elizabeth Murphy-Melas

Moving House

Half Way Around the World Libby Gleeson

Augustine Melanie Watt

I Like Where I am Jessica Harper

Moving House with Teddy Bear Jacqueline McQuade

Moving Molly Shirley Hughes


Anonymous said...

Two more for your list, Renee.

A very clever book for a child with two homes is 'Fred Stays with Me' by Nancy Coffelt. Though I have to admit, I remember it being a totally unexpected fun read. (I must revisit it to refresh it in my mind.)

Jacqueline Harvey/Warren Crossett's 'The Sound of the Sea' is the most exquisitely beautiful/sad story dealing with death of a parent The text and illustrations were incredibly powerful.

Thanks for sharing. :)


Renee Taprell said...

Thanks Kat for recommending those picture books. I'll be sure to add them on. I remember now reading,'The Sound of the Sea.' The most striking scene for me was when the boy learns that his mother has died and the grandparents are trying to console him. Powerful stuff!

Grillyfish said...

Another one is The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers, a beautifully illustrated book about a little girl who loses her Grandpa and so locks her heart in a bottle - will she ever get it out?

I think it is important not to shelter kids from the possibility of sadness - as you say we can never fully protect them from it. The trick is to let them know but in a positive way.

Thanks for the post :)

Unknown said...

Hey Grillyfish,
Thanks for your comment. Oliver Jeffers is one of my favourite author/illustrators. He really knows how to pull on the old heart strings! I'll add, The Heart and The Bottle, thanks.

Most of the picture books that I've read with serious subjects have managed to balance the negative and positive issues. I give credit to the authors in the above list. It's a huge challenge to write an interesting picture book that has the perfect balance of sensitivity and understanding, be spot on with the target age, and provide children with a satisfying ending.

Dimity Powell said...

On Dimity's Behalf:

I’m very much an advocaat of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger thinking. I believe that you can’t shield young and old a like from the occasional bad bits of life, but it’s how we show children how to interpret and deal with them in open, honest and sincere ways that ultimately determines how they will cope with them. Reality is after all not always sunshine and happiness. The titles you listed highlights this for me. Often it is me who has difficulty with the text and topic...I’ve wept my way through a few of those pbks!

Thanks for the post

Unknown said...

Hey Dimity,
I too have been very touched by the list of picture books. Some I'm yet to read. I'm looking forward to reading, 'Was It the Chocolate Pudding?' by Sandra Levine. Just the title is so clever! I also think it's incredibly important to share these books with children that aren't necessarily going through divorce or death, so that they can also be touched and learn that life is sometimes not so rosey.