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[DiverseKidLit] The Mysterious, Puzzling Nature of Negative Emotions in Children’s Picturebooks: From Hate to Grief to Heavy Things

"A Stone For Sascha" by Aaron Becker | "I Hate Everyone" by Naomi Danis and Illustrated by Cinta Arribas | "Whimsy's Heavy Things" by Julie Kraulis.

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All children experience negative emotions. Yet, much too often, they are expected to be sweet, bubbly, positive creatures with a perpetual smile on their faces. Most parents also abhor the word “hate” particularly in picturebooks, it’s almost ‘criminal’ to say it – which makes this post even more important. These three picturebooks show the range of puzzlingly-negative emotions that a child will most likely experience at one point in their lives: from hate to grief to heavy things in one’s heart.

A Stone For Sascha

Written and Illustrated by: Aaron Becker
Published by: Candlewick Press (2018)
ISBN: 0763665967 (ISBN13: 9780763665968)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Becker is rapidly becoming the virtuoso at wordless narratives. While very different from his otherworldly Journey Trilogy, this one explores the parameters and boundaries of grief and loss, as a young girl mourns the death of her beloved canine companion named Sascha.

Staring at Becker’s illustrations, I realize how futile words can be in the face of such overwhelming loss. His colours, his lines, this child’s downcast look – the tentativeness of the parents’ gestures, all reflect mourning that can not be put into words.

The family’s usual time at the beach seems forever changed in the absence of a loyal friend – exacerbated even further by a sight that must have ripped the child’s heart from out of her chest.

As this girl walks by the beach, lost in her grief, Becker takes the reader on a journey of several lifetimes – where even a golden stone washed ashore has a story as old as time, perfect for Sascha. There are layers to this story that can be examined again and again; it is the kind of narrative that grows in each reading, enough to comfort a broken heart, even for just awhile.

I Hate Everyone

Written by: Naomi Danis Illustrated by: Cinta Arribas
Published by: POW! (2018)
ISBN: 1576878740 (ISBN13: 9781576878743)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

It’s been awhile since I’ve laughed uproariously aloud while reading a picturebook. While the title may raise red flags among ultra-conservative parents and teachers, this is a fearless picturebook that features a little girl who is, very clearly, in a bad, bad, bad mood. I call them my “Nega-Stars” oozing with negative vibes – the entire world an irritant.

What’s even more interesting is that this girl is celebrating her birthday. Hence, it can be argued by some that she is perfectly ‘entitled’ to be in one of her moods. What I especially liked about the narrative is that there were no attempts by the adults around her to ‘cheer’ her up, talk sense into her, or scold her outright for being a moody brat.

While she was not ignored, her emotions were not blown out of proportion either or “managed” expertly by the adults around her. This image is what made me laugh out loud:

What I always value as an adult in reading picturebooks, is whether the story touches something within me – if I can discern a vulnerability, a truth that was difficult in its extraction from the depths of one’s being, but was still placed there nonetheless for the reader to identify with. It is not whether it moralizes or informs or educates – but whether it has moved me into seeing things just a shade differently – and this book does it so effectively.

It also raises the important message of unconditionally accepting our children – in whatever mood they are in. The book beautifully highlights the tumultuous nature of a child’s emotions – which is what makes me find the overly-simplistic narratives with clear emoticons of happy, sad, angry with thick disdain. Because, like it or not, we do get these moods every once in awhile when we hate the world, yet love it ferociously at the same time, as this young girl does. Now the question is: “Can you stay even if I hate you?” – a thought worth pondering on among parents, teachers, educators, caregivers.

Whimsy’s Heavy Things

Written and Illustrated by: Julie Kraulis
Published by: Tundra Books (2013)
ISBN: 1770494030 (ISBN13: 9781770494039)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I saved this book for last to demonstrate the continuum of emotions – from bereavement-related depression, to being in a bad mood where every little thing annoys you, to this kind of heaviness that constantly plagues one’s person, the way that this young girl, Whimsy, is experiencing it.

Whimsy has tried most everything to deal with her “heavy things” – from hanging them in a tree to hiding them under the rug or floating them out to sea – but nothing seems to work.

What I found to be truly fascinating about this story is how Whimsy’s helplessness and despair are captured ever so tangibly through these heavy things. It is difficult to discuss such all-encompassing heaviness among young children who may not have the vocabulary to fully express that thing in their chest weighing them down. Whimsy’s Heavy Things provides them with an avenue to articulate the inexpressible.

In Whimsy’s attempts to deal with her heavy things, she stumbles upon its ‘usefulness.’ Rather than getting rid of them, which clearly she is unable to do, she transforms them instead. That is what makes this book a five-star for me.

It does not minimize in the least Whimsy’s ‘heavy things’ but it empowers the young reader into having faith that ultimately, they are bigger than their ‘heavy things’ – which can be ‘reframed’ into something else, besides just that irksome thing that gets you down. A beautiful picturebook that speaks of the transformative power of healing and embracing one’s pain and grief.

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2 comments on “[DiverseKidLit] The Mysterious, Puzzling Nature of Negative Emotions in Children’s Picturebooks: From Hate to Grief to Heavy Things

  1. What wonderful books. I’ll look for them. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whimsy’s Heavy Things looks unlike any picture book I’ve seen before! (My kids’ schools all treated “hate” like a word you don’t direct at other people, so I imagine they will give that book a hard pass.)

    Liked by 1 person

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