Guest Blogger, Anne Logan
There’s no question that kids benefit from being read to. From birth to adulthood, being read aloud to is a wonderful experience that everyone should enjoy on a regular basis, why do you think audiobooks are so popular? But picture books, in particular, mean different things to different age groups. Kids look to picture books as a way of learning about the world, reading and listening to things that may be brand new to them. But adults can learn an enormous amount too. Picture books are a cheerful and easy-to-swallow reminder of how we SHOULD be acting on a daily basis, even if we’ve forgotten the golden rules our own parents taught us years ago. With that in mind, I’ve chosen to highlight a handful of new books that remind us of the importance of kindness.
Since I became I parent, I’ve noticed the trend of picture-only books without any accompanying text. At first, I avoided these when my daughter was young, but as she got older and began telling stories of her own, I realized the benefits of allowing children to interpret the pictures in their own way. I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by KERASCOËT is a perfect example of this. In 31 pages we meet a young girl (Vanessa) who is being bullied by a young boy while their classmates watch. As Vanessa flees back home, the bystanders are clearly upset by what they’ve witnessed, and one girl, in particular, is so upset by watching this encounter she can’t sleep that night. The next morning, she has an epiphany and invites Vanessa to walk to school with her while the other classmates join the ‘march’, lending strength and moral support. The bully witnesses this, clearly embarrassed but not spoken to or called out directly by the other kids.
Their peaceful way of helping their classmate is a simple way of teaching kids to face ignorance and hate with kindness, one message that seems particularly relevant in today’s social and political climate. And because there is no actual text, children are prompted to read the faces and expressions of each character, building their emotional literacy while inviting a conversation between parent and child about what’s on the page.
The Outlaw by Nancy Vo (born in Calgary!) is a simple stark reminder of the importance of forgiveness, yet again, a message we clearly need now more than ever. A small town lives in fear of a man dubbed ‘the outlaw’ who is known for his misdeeds. Luckily he disappears, but then a stranger reappears in his place years later. This stranger does nothing but help people in town, until one day he is recognized as the outlaw from seasons past. Many people are disgusted at this revelation and treat him badly until a young boy comes to his aid, pointing out that the outlaw is clearly trying to make amends.
What makes this book so powerful is again, the lack of text. The summary I’ve given above is almost longer than all the book’s text combined, but Vo’s words are melodic in their simplicity. The illustrations also reflect this modesty; using a subtle palette of black and white the images seem to give the text even more importance by isolating it on the page. The figures in each picture are small, drawing the eye to the words first and foremost, but there’s still enough going on that kids won’t get bored by what’s in front of them.
Lastly Making a Friend by Author Tammi Sauer and Illustrator Alison Friend is a wonderful example of one of the many benefits of being kind; making new friends! This simple and boldly-coloured book features ‘Beaver’ who has trouble making friends, even though he tries very hard at it. One day, he attempts to make a friend by building a snowman, and ‘Raccoon’ offers his help because he needs a friend too. Once they’ve produced what they thought was the perfect friend, they realized that being friends with each other is much better than attempting to befriend an inanimate object.
When I think back to my own childhood, I can’t recall many books that taught me how to make a friend. But now technology plays a larger role in our lives, and the ability to socialize and make friends seems to be a skill we are quickly losing so it’s likely kids are also struggling with this essential life lesson. Although the message in this book seems obvious, treating someone with kindness in hopes they may become a friend isn’t always obvious to children, so for that reason alone I highly recommend this one.
We all have our favourite books from childhood, but I’m hoping these new titles will become a cherished part of your family’s current collection as well; kindness is a theme that never goes out of style.
Anne Logan worked in the Canadian publishing industry for 7 years and loved every minute of it. Now she reviews books online at ivereadthis.com, and on-air for CBC Calgary.