#SurvivalStories2021 Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Joy and Peace in Literature Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Welcoming Messages Of Joy And Hope from Planet Earth in 2020 Picturebooks

... or This Small Blue Dot.


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. 

This Small Blue Dot [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Zeno Sworder
Published by Thames & Hudson (2020)
ISBN: 1760761117 (ISBN13: 9781760761110) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Spoken with a young girl’s playful voice, this book is an older sister’s message to a younger sibling about the beautiful planet that they both inhabit.

It serves as a crayon-filled guidebook to the many things the young girl has “worked out so far” about living here on Earth – including strawberries and broccoli, and our shared ancestors who came before us – explorers and dreamers who “walked across great big lands” and sailed oceans and traveled through space. There is also a tongue-in-cheek element to the narrative that appealed to me, especially as the young girl describes her grandfather: “He knows a lot of stuff. You can tell because his face looks like scrunched-up paper.”

This young girl also knows her priorities. Even as she provided advice to her younger baby sibling about not judging people by their appearances, knowing what to do when there are dark days ahead, and the benefits of using one’s imagination – she also knows her desserts – definitely my kind of girl:

In this interview with debut picturebook author/artist Zeno Sworder, he mentioned that he was initially inspired to create this story when his own daughter could not seem to find a story with characters who looked like her – in particular, bespectacled Disney princesses. Hence, with a crayon in hand, Sworder created this book. As he noted:

Both my daughters and I come from multicultural backgrounds. They attend public schools full of kids from different backgrounds. For purely selfish reasons, I love the idea that some of that diversity is reflected on bookshelves and that my children will be able to see faces in books that represent the multicultural world they inhabit.

I definitely look forward to reading more of Zeno Sworder’s books in the near future. This debut is glorious.

If You Come To Earth [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published by Chronicle Books (2020)
ISBN: 145213779X (ISBN13: 9781452137797) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike the first picturebook that serves as a loveletter to one’s younger sibling about the tiny details of what it means to live on this planet – Sophie Blackall takes the reader into the wide expanse of space…

… to the diverse nature of its nearly 8 billion human inhabitants. As I move from one page to the next, I see the painstaking work that has come into the artistic layout, the plays in perspective, and the spirit brimming with so many possibilities. Even the endpapers are works of art in and of themselves (see below):

I especially loved reading what inspired her to create this book:

The idea for this book arrived on top of a Himalayan mountain in Bhutan. I was working with Save the Children and had climbed a zigzagging path to reach a tiny two-room school with ten students. We couldn’t understand a word each other said, but the children drew pictures for me and shared their lunch, and I showed them some books. I have made books about boars and babies and bears and lighthouses, but what I wanted in that moment was a book that would bring us together. A book about their home and mine.

One of my favourite images in the book is the one below that made me think: oh, she’s really just showing off here now – the artistry is astounding.

During the recent 21st Century Learning Conference, one of the librarian presenters did point out some of the issues about this recent Blackall picturebook, as evident in the image below:

The argument is that there are certain images in this spread that perpetuate the stereotype of single Black women with plenty of children, or the stereotype of Jewish young boys doing more active play stuff as compared to young girls – and other problematic representations. In my own presentation, I acknowledged that any astounding piece of art would always evoke multiple interpretations from different types of readers, depending on where they are at in their lives.

Rather than ‘canceling’ any book outright, I would rather have ongoing, multiple conversations about the many ways through which this book can be perceived. It is important to openly examine unspoken or implicit biases and our views on whether picturebooks should only present idealized forms of reality or depict things as they actually are, while also recognizing the fact that for young Black children with plenty of siblings and a pregnant single mother, this picturebook can also evoke a sense of belonging and affinity. Would love to hear your thoughts about this picturebook if you have already read it with your students or young kids.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 23 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[Monday Reading] Welcoming Messages Of Joy And Hope from Planet Earth in 2020 Picturebooks

  1. lindabaie

    I’ve not read either book, Myra but have heard about the Blackall one. It’s interesting to think about how anyone can create a picture and perhaps not even realize that they are perpetuating a stereotype. Thanks for sharing about both books!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful books! I love the illustrations. Thanks for sharing, and here are my WEEKLY UPDATES

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone asked me about this book this morning. I hadn’t read it, so I went to my library and put it on hold. I guess I didn’t think about any stereotypes when looking at this illustrations. (Maybe I’m just unaware of them?) I saw a diverse group of people enjoying the day. I would never have assumed that the pregnant black woman was a single parent. I just thought maybe her partner was working and she took the kids out for the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Completely Full Bookshelf

    You always find such gorgeous picture books to review! Regarding This Small Blue Dot, how—HOW—is the art that realistic? The black-and-white parts look like actual photographs. I love the premise of that book as well! Regarding When You Come to Earth, it looks wonderful as well—particularly the spread of the birds! (She is definitely showing off there. 😉 ) I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis of the stereotypes present. Thanks so much for the insightful post—I always enjoy reading them!

    Liked by 1 person

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