Books International It's Monday What Are You Reading Literatura Europa Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Exploring the Nuances of Emotions in European Picturebooks


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

I have been sharing these international picturebooks whenever I conduct my professional development workshops as recommended titles to introduce the nuances of emotions to young readers. I am pleased to be sharing it now here for our Literatura Europa reading theme. Marta Sanmamed and Mar Azabal are from Spain while Juliette Saumande and Eric Puybaret are from France. In The Tear Thief, Carol Ann Duffy, the author, is from the UK while the artist, Nicoletta Ceccoli is from Italy.

Ten Tears And One Embrace

Written by: Marta Sanmamed Illustrated by: Mar Azabal  English Translation by: Jon Brokenbrow
Published by: Cuento de Luz, 2016
ISBN-10: 8416147906
ISBN-13: 9788416147908
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

It is always a challenge to find a picturebook that talks about emotions without the narrative becoming didactic or instructional in nature; sort of like an array of emoticons and a brief description of what each facial expression means. This book shows that the many shades of emotions can be explored by young readers in a magical, surreal, and lyrical manner.

A young boy named Peter shares his secret in the beginning of the story: he knows the magical properties of tears and has collected them in special bottles over the years.

While most picturebooks for children tend to present emotions in a singular, boxed category – as if there were no permeable boundaries or gray areas across each shade of feeling – this book celebrates its complexity by demonstrating that there are different kinds of tears for different types of emotions:

The above image is an example of “first time tears” which usually appear the first time you see the sea, touch the snow, taste chocolate, hear a song, read a poem, or see an exciting movie.” Then there are also “laughing tears” – the best kind, in my view – the tears you shed in total mirth.

But there are also tears that you shed in anger, “prickly tears” – they need to be gingerly collected, one needs to wear gloves for them, and “just one drop could pop the biggest balloon in the world.”

Another one of my favourites, is what Peter, the tear-gatherer, calls “sparkly tears” which you usually get “when you’re peeling onions, or when you eat something spicy.” They are extra special because sparkly teardrops make deep-bone exhaustion go away.

I like how this book captures the complexity of what makes people cry – that it isn’t always just caused by sadness or grief. There are also tears of joy, frustration, pain, among others.

The Tear Thief

Written by: Carol Ann Duffy Illustrated by: Nicoletta Ceccoli CD Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Published by: Barefoot Books, 2007
ISBN-10: 1846860458
ISBN-13: 9781846860454
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Let me start the sharing of my thoughts with an unabashed confession. I like most everything that Carol Ann Duffy writes. She is my poet-hero. After hearing her speak at the Singapore Writers Festival a few years back, I made sure that I bought most of her books. It is with such great pleasure that I discovered she has a picturebook for young readers.

While most children know the tooth fairy, very few are aware that there is a Tear Thief who steals children’s tears as they cry. The Tear Thief is “as old as joy and sorry” and live “in every place where children cry.”

Nimble and quick on her feet, the Tear Thief collects tears shed when a child does not like to shampoo his hair, or when a baby is having her nappy changed, or when a young one is throwing a tantrum, demanding chocolates:

The gathered tears vary and have different hues depending on the emotions the child feels as they shed those tears:

Tears of rage were red and glowed like rubies. Tears of envy or jealousy were as green as emeralds. Tears of self-pity were turquoise. Scared tears were white like moonstones and guilty tears were amber.

This is another exquisitely-written story that provides the young reader with a glimpse of the swirling sea of emotions that any one person can feel at a given moment beyond just happy, sad, angry. What the Tear Thief does with the collected tears, I shall leave for you to discover. Ceccoli’s art matches the luminosity of Carol Ann Duffy’s lyrical text. I have not had a chance to listen to the audio cd version that accompanies this book, but I have a feeling it would be beautifully narrated.

In Search Of Happiness

Written by: Juliette Saumande Illustrated by: Eric Puybaret Translation from French: Susan Allen Maurin
Published by: Auzou Publishing, 2014
ISBN-10: 0841671419
ISBN-13: 9780841671416
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Since the first two books deal with tears, I thought I might as well interject a book in search of happiness in this text-set. Imagine a place where people are never unhappy. However, it is also a place where nothing much happens.

They never made cakes (for fear of making a mess). They never played with their toys (for fear of breaking them). And they never went on trips (for fear of getting lost). So, as they never risked the unknown, they were never disappointed.

It is clear why the town is called the way it is. Kalim, a young boy, felt that he wanted something more. So one evening, he went to his grandfather to ask for a story, but his grandfather refused as he might have nightmares. And so, Kalim continued dreaming of adventures in faraway places where things happen to people.

As he was thinking this, a songbird landed near him and claimed that he was going to the Land of Happiness, and if Kalim wanted to join him. Kalim did not hesitate and followed the bird until he was hopelessly lost, his boat adrift in the sea:

Yet despite this, he continued along until he found a village where candies grow on trees, a place where a witch grants him whatever his heart desires, a snowy mountainous area where kids play all day.

In each place the young boy visits, he was convinced that it was already the Land of Happiness, only to be told by the songbird (which appears at the least expected moment) that it is merely the “Glacier of Games” or the “Valley of Spoiled Children.” He would also write postcards to his grandfather describing his many adventures.

Whether or not Kalim found “The Land of Happiness,” I shall leave for you to discover. This book prompts the reader to reflect on the things that make them “happy” and for them to define what “happiness” means for them and how to find it. The quote at the very beginning of the book was particularly thought-provoking:

The Secret of Happiness is in seeking it.” – Jules Renard

Where is your “Land of Happiness?” Is it a place where no tears flow? Or a place where you can fall peacefully asleep as seen in the image above? Whatever it is, this picturebook provides the perfect avenue for those types of discussions.

9 comments on “[Monday Reading] Exploring the Nuances of Emotions in European Picturebooks

  1. The idea of a Tear Thief is an interesting one. That is a thought-provoking quote. There are so many kinds of happiness and I can imagine quite a few “Lands of Happiness.”


  2. Oh what lovely picture books! So beautiful. Lovely quotes as well…

    Happy reading this week and here’s my latest reads:


  3. lindabaie

    Beautiful group of books, Myra. My library has The Tear Thief, but not the others. Hope to find them, too. Each one sounds lovely.


  4. I am always awed by the picture books you present Myra and today is no different. I adore the illustrations in Ten Tears And One Embrace. Unfortunately, none of these are available at my library!


  5. The first book seems great. It’s difficult to find books about emotions for kids that can help them understand the whole array of them.


  6. Pussreboots

    Interesting looking books. Come see what I’m reading.


  7. All of these books look so interesting! I’m really interested in the Tear Thief and I hope you enjoy all of these books!


  8. I am completely intrigued by all of these titles! Many thanks for sharing!


  9. I’m so, so appreciative of books that don’t talk down to children, that recognize that children are capable of complex thoughts and emotions and conversations.


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