Picture Books as Chicken Soup

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A colleague of mine stopped in the library the other day and while we were talking, she mentioned how wonderful it is to see her two daughters (now in 6th and 8th grade) still enjoying their picture book collections.  On some days, she told me, when one of her daughters is tired or feels a bit overwhelmed by the daily routine and expectations, they will return to one of their childhood favorites.  I was not surprised to hear this story at all.  In fact, I’ve done the same thing myself.  Picture books are the true “chicken soup for the soul.”

What does surprise me is the number of children over six-years-old who come into the library and tell me that they are now reading chapter books, and their parents have asked them not to bring any more picture books home.   Quite frankly, I’m tempted to jump right on the phone.  Elementary age children are observant and receptive, and picture books offer them the perfect introduction to how stories work. Not to mention the fact that an increasing number of  picture books are written for older readers.  Graphic novels are picture books. Shaun Tan’s complex and beautiful picture books are perfect for adolescents.

I sometimes see an older child looking at a book they enjoyed as a toddler, but they are now more able to see things they may have missed.  I often use picture books with middle school students to introduce a new concept or to show how a specific literary device works.  We use picture books to talk about beginning, middle and end.  We use picture books to introduce symbolism.  When we begin The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, I begin by reading The Hockey Sweater, the classic Canadian picture book by Roch Carrier.  It sparks a wonderful discussion about identity and the need to belong – two of the themes in Hinton’s touchstone novel.

Next week is Inly’s book fair, and I’m looking forward to sharing some new picture books with our students.  One of them may find a story which will delight them now and comfort them the evening before their first standardized test.  It may even inspire them to write some stories of their own!


Olympic Reading: Beyond Anne of Green Gables

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Inspired by last night’s Olympic Opening Ceremony, I pulled out the syllabus from the Canadian children’s literature course I took as a student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature.  Before taking the course, my knowledge of Canadian children’s authors was not extensive.  Of course, I had read L.M. Montgomery’s series about Anne Shirley’s adventures on Prince Edward Island and a few books by Tim Wynne-Jones, but that was about it.  Reading the syllabus brought back memories of wonderful books by Canadians.  Here are a few titles that really stood out for me.

Mary of Mile 18 by Ann Blades (an evocative picture book about life in a remote part of northern British Columbia; the term “Mile 18” is a designation of location – the place where Mary lives with her family.)

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier (a classic book about the importance of hockey and the divide between French and English speaking Canadians.  I’ve used this book with kids between the ages of 7 and 14.  It’s a terrific book to initiate a conversation about identity.)

A Prairie Boy’s Winter by William Kurelek  (a portrait of daily in life in Depression-era Canada)

The Stella books by Marie Gay (the delightful adventures of Stella and her little brother, Sam, have a wide following in the U.S. as well.)

The Sky is Falling by Kit Pearson (a novel about two Canadian children during WWII)

Angel Square by Brian Doyle (I kept this novel out to read again because I remember really enjoying it.  Doyle is a three-time winner of the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award.  This book, part detective story and part comment on racial hatred, takes place in 1940s Ontario.)