Kindness, Comfort, Quiet Smiles, and Hopeful Dreams in Children’s Picture Books

Jan_Feb2013

Cybils2012

One of the first things I did when I borrowed more than 30 fiction picture books nominated for 2012 Cybils was to group them into little categories. It was not that difficult as there were recurrent themes that can be discerned from the titles. Here are four picture books that celebrate kindness, comfort, quiet smiles and hopeful dreams.

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IMG_5339Mooshka: A Quilt Story

Written and Illustrated ByJulie Paschkis
Publisher: Peachtree, 2012
Book borrowed from the public library.

I am a fan of Julie Paschkis’ work (see here for my review of Poet of the People) and this one did not fail to deliver. Brimming with colors, bold and bright with glorious patterns, this is sure to be a hit visually to many young children.

Mooshka is the name of the quilt given to Karla by her grandmother. The book tells the story of how each fabric (called “schnitz”) has its own story – from being a tablecloth, to being Grandpa Will’s kerchief which he wore round his neck when he proposed to grandma, to Karla’s mother’s make-believe cape as she flew out of the cherry tree – confident of her ability to fly. I also enjoyed how each old fabric had its own character and distinct voice.

Karla became heartbroken, however, when Mooshka suddenly became quiet once her sister Hannah was born and shared Karla’s room. Instead of beautiful stories, all Karla could hear now is the sound of Baby crying. This book is a lovely celebration of sibling love and how memories can be preserved and passed on from one generation to the next.

In the Land of Milk and HoneyIMG_5329

Story By: Joyce Carol Thomas
Illustrations ByFloyd Cooper
PublisherAmistad, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2012
Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

This picture book is written in verse – Joyce Carol Thomas’ lyrical text a perfect match to Floyd Cooper’s breathtaking artwork, inviting the reader to run their hands through the pages, as the book begs to be read aloud in honeyed tongue laced with cinnamon.

At the core of the book is a huge dream waiting to be realized, the promise of a bountiful life as the train wheels “hiss, hiss, hiss” and a child leaves an old life behind, her heart filled with excitement, with beckoning possibilities, the world a thousand times bigger and brighter “in the land of milk and honey.”

Daddy says,

“If the lemons are big as oranges

if the oranges are big as grapefruits

if you bite into a strawberry and taste heaven in your mouth

why, you’re in California

the Land of Milk and Honey.”

Mama says,

“If the redwoods are tall as giants

if golden bears fish like men

and quail fly higher than eagles

you know you’re in 

the Land of Milk and Honey.”

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When I read the Author’s Note found at the end of the book, I learned that the story is culled from Joyce Carol Thomas’ own journey as she moved to California from Oklahoma in 1948 as a young child – and her reminiscences of what life was like during this period – the smell, the sights, the feel of the city recounted so beautifully and with such loving warmth. Rather than highlight the difficulties of adjusting to a new life, the struggles their family must have undoubtedly faced at such a time, this book is about hope that is as juicy as peaches, about bright clouds as tasty as chiffon cakes, and the comfort of hot milk poured “into mugs of shaved chocolate then swizzles in cinnamon sticks” in the land of milk and honey.

IMG_5332Each Kindness

Story ByJacqueline Woodson
Illustrations By: 
E. B. Lewis
Publisher: 
Nancy Paulsen Books: An Imprint of Penguin Group, 2012
Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Maya is the new girl in school. She is not like everyone else as evidenced in her old and ragged clothes and the spring shoes that she wears during winter time – with one strap broken. Chloe, the storyteller in this book, refused to give Maya what she wanted the most: an encouraging smile, the littlest gesture that suggests warmth, a gaze that promises friendship. Chloe does not even know what it is about Maya that made her stay away. She just did not feel like being a friend to her.

The weeks passed. Every day we whispered about Maya, laughing at her clothes, her shoes, the strange food she brought for lunch.

Some days, Maya held out her hand to show us what she had brought to school – a deck of cards, pick up sticks, a small tattered doll.

Whenever she asked us to play, we said no.

While we would like to think of children as innocent creatures – they could also be very cruel without intending to be – which makes it even worse in some respects. One day, Chloe’s teacher told them about kindness and the ripples it makes into the world:

Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We all gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.

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I can sense a great deal of potential for class discussion in this beautiful book. Similar to Eleanor Estes’ and Louis Slobodkin’s The Hundred Dresses, there is no neat resolution in the narrative – its power lying in the imaginings of what-might-have-been or things we could have done differently, or kindnesses we could have done in the world.

Because Amelia SmiledIMG_5335

Story and Pictures By: David Ezra Stein
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Now this book is a true example of the ripples that a small act of kindness can create in the world – in the literal sense, our world becoming infinitely smaller and more compact with new technology, the internet, Youtube, social networking websites and such – things which are seamlessly interwoven into the story.

Reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood stories, Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo, this book shows how Amelia’s generous smile as she came down the street with her mother and father on a rainy day has made their neighbor Mrs. Higgins smile too, making her think about baking cookies and sending it to her grandson, Lionel, a teacher in Mexico. And because Lionel enjoyed the cookies so much, this made him teach his class in Mexico an English song about cookies, which inspired one of his students, Sensacia Golpes to become a teacher too. She asked her cousin to video record her teaching kickboxing in the plaza which they put online – inspiring a ballet club in England who decided to use these moves for their goodwill recital in Israel. And so on it goes.

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I love how a child’s gleeful smile can be magnified a thousand fold in this narrative – its power so striking, its message so achingly simple. And how very little we do this everyday. Oftentimes we focus on the things that worry us, those which make us anxious, an aura of negativity surrounding us. This beautiful book shows how a smile can change everything – can change the world, even.

Smile, everyone. It makes you beautiful.

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2 Comments on Kindness, Comfort, Quiet Smiles, and Hopeful Dreams in Children’s Picture Books

  1. All beautiful books Myra. I can’t imagine how you all chose from all these wonderful books! I’ve given Each Kindness several times-a wonderful story! And I bought the Qullt book for a quilting friend-just darling. I haven’t read the other two-thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to see your next theme!

    Like

  2. What lovely suggestions! Can’t wait to check these out at my library. Enjoyed your theme-so important in today’s homes and schools to include wonderful books about character and kindness.

    Like

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