I read 1,000 picture books. Here’s what I learned.
Some people assume that children’s books are not for an intelligent audience because they are written for the young. Though kids books can be funny, silly or simple, they contain truths. The more profoundly simple that truth is, the more people of all ages can learn from it.
This year, I read 1,000 different picture books while researching the children’s literary market. I was astounded at how many books contained messages that applied to my life, especially at this moment in time. Here are some of the truths I picked up.
n “Not Quite Narwhal” by Jessie Sima is about the unicorn named Kelp who is raised by a family of narwhals. Kelp gets lost in a current (he’s not a very good swimmer) and discovers unicorns on land, and he is one of them! When he returns to the sea and tells his family he isn’t a narwhal, they aren’t surprised at all. They’ve loved him all along. While deciding whether to be a land narwhal or a sea unicorn, he learns that he doesn’t have to choose. He can accept both parts of himself.
From this story, I learned that different parts of our identity shape us and we should not have to hide any piece of what we truly are. I hope I can accept myself entirely and accept others as the whole people they are. Forget about Democrat or Republican and ask, what would a narwhal do?
n “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist” is by Cynthia Levinson. Audrey Faye Hendricks lived in the divided South during the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other activists encouraged people to “fill the jails” with peaceful protestors who stood up for racial justice. In May of 1963, Audrey participated in what became known as the Children’s March and was arrested. She was 10 years old. After her release and throughout her life, she continued to peacefully fight for civil rights.
From her story, I learned that nonviolent, persistent action can make a lasting difference and lead to real change. I hope I can be brave in standing for what is right and doing it in the right way. And I hope to contribute to lasting freedom and fairness for all.
n “The Scarecrow” by Beth Ferry tells about an old scarecrow who finds an injured baby bird. It reads, “These two make the oddest friends, but friends they are, right from the start. The crow will grow in Scarecrow’s heart.” Once it is healed, the crow flies away and Scarecrow watches, proud but sad.
After a lonely winter, the Scarecrow is surprised when its crow friend returns with a mate to make a nest.
From this book, I learned that love and kindness should be given regardless of differences. When we give kindness, love returns to us in its own way and in its own time.
During quarantines and shut downs, many people have felt isolated and alone. Remembering to give and receive loving actions can make a real difference on whether we grow apart or whether we grow together.
n “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” by William Steig is the tale of a donkey who makes a careless choice while holding a magic wishing pebble. It turns him into a stone! After a year of searching, his parents find the stone Sylvester and make a wish for his return while holding the magic wishing pebble. He reappears and they are joyfully reunited! Then instead of wishing for money or power, they lock the magic pebble away. “What more could they wish for? They all had all that they wanted.”
The simple message of being happy with the people who love us resonated deeply with me. Months of mandatory togetherness can be sweet if we remember what we really want and who is really important.
n “What We’ll Build” by Oliver Jeffers contains the line, “You don’t always lose, and you don’t always win. So we’ll build a gate to let them (our enemies) in. We’ll build a table to drink our tea and say… I’m sorry.” And the enemies pictured reply, “Me, two,” and “Me, three.”
This taught me the importance of taking time to understand our “enemies,” to make peace, to forgive them and ask their forgiveness. As an adult, this continues to be a lesson which is hard for me to apply. I hope to do it better every time I try.
n I also appreciated Jeffer’s book “Here We Are: Notes for living on planet Earth.” One line brought sudden, unexpected tears to my eyes. It read, “People come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. We may all look different and sound different….but don’t be fooled. We are all people.”
“It looks big, Earth. But there are lots of us on here, so be kind. There is enough for everyone.”
Inspiring and timely words.
I’ll end with a quote from one of my favorite author/illustrators. This comes from her poetry collection titled, “Just Like Me.” Vanessa Brantley-Newton wrote, “I’m a warrior, willing to fight the good fight; respectfully, with humanity, and lovingly with all the kindness inside of me, in my own unique way. I am a warrior; willing to fight the good fight of love.”
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at email@example.com