Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] First Person Narrative Picturebooks Portraying Kindness, Compassion, and Empathy

"Storm Whale" by Sarah Brennan and Illustrated by Jane Tanner | "Be Kind" by Pat Zietlow Miller and Illustrated by Jen Hill.


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. 

While technically neither biographies nor memoirs, these two recently published picturebooks are both written in the first person, and their themes conveying kindness and compassion are sorely needed, especially since the message, while explicit, is not hammered over the heads of young readers, but subtly developed and depicted.

Storm Whale

Written by: Sarah Brennan Illustrated by: Jane Tanner
Published by: Allen & Unwin (2017)
ISBN13: 9781760293642. Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Quite a number of books have been written about stranded whales. In fact, we have featured a few of them over the years as you can see below:

A Symphony Of Wales by Steve Schuch and Illustrated by Peter Sylvada (see my review here).

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (see my review here).

The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen and Illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (see my review here).

This one, in contrast to the picturebooks above, has a vintage, summery feel to it, despite the bleakness of the weather with the heavy rains, as the three sisters walk by the beach on their way to town.

While the rhyming text did not appeal to me all that much, I was awed by the art, such stunning glorious images conveying the girls’ sadness over the stranded whale’s plight:

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell

I especially liked the image above as it showed just how tiny the three sisters are in comparison to the giant whale. Despite the utter hopelessness of the situation, the sisters did their best to revive the whale with buckets of water, providing him a taste of home.

What especially moved me was how the young girls took it upon themselves to provide whatever help and comfort they can, notwithstanding the simple fact that it might actually make very little difference in the large scheme of things.

Casting prayers to the wild wet air,

Which wouldn’t listen and couldn’t care.

Whether or not the whale makes it, I shall leave for you to discover. This story, I believe, is a quiet reminder to keep the faith even when overwhelming odds seem stacked against us, and that our genuine efforts to help, no matter how seemingly-small, do matter.

Be Kind

Written by: Pat Zietlow Miller Illustrated by: Jen Hill
Published by: Roaring Brook Press (2018)
ISBN: 1626723214 (ISBN13: 9781626723214). Book was borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Iinitially had my reservations about this picture book. Typically, I try to avoid narratives that have a clear and explicit moral that leave very little to the reader’s imagination. With a title like this, the message, nay, the injunction is clear as day. How much else could the actual story deviate from the moral lesson that the child is supposed to ‘take away’ from this story?

Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself drawn into the narrative. Tanisha has spilled grape juice over her new dress and practically everyone in the class laughed, except for the narrator, who was struggling to “be kind.” Another thing I realized as I was writing this review is that it was never really shown whether the narrator is a boy or a girl; even the jacket flap has cleverly avoided the use of pronouns.

Hence, this child begins to wonder, in his/her attempts to comfort Tanisha and make her feel better:

What does it mean to be kind anyway?

A question, that I believe, would also serve a lot of adults well. As the child thinks closely about this question, a number of situations present themselves that indicate quite clearly how kindness can be extended to a friend, a neighbour, a relative, a stranger:

Most importantly, it also shows this child’s vulnerability, as he/she shows that being kind is not always so straightforward, neither is it always easy:

It does not simplify acts of kindnesses, nor does it even attempt to moralize, despite the clear edict as found in the title. Rather, it is an exposition on one’s inner struggles within one’s self, as the child thinks of ways to show an act of kindness that is both true and heartfelt.

The image above is also one that moved me tremendously. While as an adult, we are keenly aware that things do not always happen the way we want them to, we still wish that the ripples of kindness would extend far and wide, and find their way home to us.

The ending of the story also shifts the perspective, indicating how an act of kindness received can mean the world to someone who has experienced hurt, loss, and shame. This is a deceptively-straightforward book that can have multi-layered meanings when the adult reader can help to demonstrate the subtlety and complexity of what it means, truly, to show kindness.

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12 comments on “[Monday Reading] First Person Narrative Picturebooks Portraying Kindness, Compassion, and Empathy

  1. I’ve read The Stranded Whale, but not the other books about stranded whales. I didn’t realize there were that many. Be Kind is a favorite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just requested Be Kind from the library. I’d been avoiding it for the same reason–assumed it would be a list of reasons to Be Kind without a story. Glad to see I was wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My library has Be Kind on order so I have put a hold on it. I’m looking forward to it!
    I finished a book about a whale trapped in fishing nets this week. It was just gorgeous and thankfully, not poetry! I’ll be on the lookout for this one but so far, it isn’t in our library system.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have Be Kind on my TBR list (and am looking forward to reading it), but Storm Whale is completely new to me. And I’m in love with that art work. I’m so sad to see only a handful of reviews written on Goodreads. I MUST SEE THIS!! Thanks for sharing, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Be Kind looks so, so good, and Storm Whale’s illustrations – WOW! Beautiful, and now I have to find out what happens to the whale!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jana Eschner

    The Stranded Whale is a gorgeous picture book. I loved it. Be Kind is one that has been on my list for a while, but I still haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I’ll have to look for it. Have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I also don’t like books where the moral is the main focus of the story. It ruins the fun when a book feels educational. These books look beautiful, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah Sammis

    Be Kind looks interesting. My weekly updates

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Be Kind is a book that has such a powerful message for both students and adults. It is a book that I will recommend to all classes next year as a read aloud.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. srebeccan

    These both look fantastic. I will definitely check them out!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: More Inspirational and Empowering 2018/2019 Picturebooks by Female Creators – Gathering Books

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