Along with all their other powers, stories can have considerable influence on our moods. Whether you’re looking for something that reflects your current mood, or something that will change it, sometimes a good story is just the thing. The challenge is in knowing what book to pull off the shelf. You probably have a few reliable favourites for such purposes — I know I do! This week’s Ten focuses on picture books for their simplicity of focus, but I think most will appeal to readers of any age.
When you’re feeling disgusted by injustice The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
When a dragon burns down Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps the prince she was supposed to marry, she picks herself up, puts on the only thing left to wear (a paper bag), and sets off to correct the dragon and retrieve her prince. Whether Prince Ronald is worth keeping around post-rescue does nothing to diminish the value of Princess Elizabeth’s take-charge heroism. Continue reading →
When we make things, we participate in shaping our own environments, as well as the world in which others will live. We take ownership of our places in our communities in a creative and unique way — what we create reflects who we are and how we see ourselves contributing to the people around us. This week’s Ten is full of characters whose diverse creative gifts impact their worlds in big and small ways.
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Kira’s twisted leg makes her an outcast in a community that values usefulness above all else. However, a special gift for creating pictures with coloured threads makes her invaluable in preserving the past and shaping the future of her village. This is the second book in Lowry’s Giver quartet.
A journey requires something special of the participant. Separated from the familiarity and habits of home life, a person on a journey generally finds that the things that can’t be left behind — all the fears and doubts and weaknesses and, yes, strengths and joys and passions — come into sharper focus. The characters in this week’s Ten set out for various reasons, but each is faced with him or herself. What they learn about themselves, and what they do with that information, is a big part of what makes each story worth reading.
The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
Before they move to the city for a year for their father’s research, the Austin family spends the summer camping their way across the United States, offering both a bonding time for the family, and something of a journey of self discovery for the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Vicky.
One day, a little boy discovers an aeroplane in his cupboard that he hadn’t realised he owned. Like any sensible child, he takes immediate advantage of the opportunity and hops on board. Unfortunately, just as the boy reaches the moon, his plane breaks down, and he finds himself stranded, with no hope of rescue and strange noises coming over the next ridge. What appears, of course, is not the monster he imagines, but an alien who has crashed on the other side of the moon. The two devise a plan, fix their respective vehicles, and return home. The final page suggests that the friendship begun with their shared adventure will continue.
Despite the presence of space travel and a friendly little Martian, Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home feels more like a fantasy, somewhat reminiscent of Crockett Johnson’s Harold stories. The story and illustrations display familiarity with a sweet child-logic, from the crescent moon geography to the little boy’s simple solution of running home for a wrench to fix the alien’s spaceship. The illustrations are evocative and humorous, full of–as I’ve been telling people since I first fell in love with Jeffers’ work through this story–the most remarkably expressive stick people you’ve ever seen. This one is sure to be a favourite for both children and their parents, who will also have fun looking for hints of Jeffers’ earlier “Once there was a boy” books, How to Catch a Star and Lost and Found, in the illustrations!
Read a review from Speechlanguage-resources, which has suggestions for how the story might be used for teaching, or one from Inis, a children’s book magazine.
Watch Oliver Jeffers takes us through a day in his life:
The world always seems so full of mystery and excitement as a child and after growing up, we realize that childhood is fleeting and wish to instill in our children the same excitement we experienced as young children. This charming yet intense picture book details the story of a girl who discovered the mystery and excitement in the world around her until one day something happens that makes the girl take her heart, her desires, and her excitement and hide them away where no one can ever find them and growing up won’t change them.
In his book, Oliver Jeffers tackles the heavy themes of life, love, and loss and shows us that there is always hope if we can just find the simple joys in life and share them with the people around us. Jeffers encourages the reader to come up with their own story. Is there anything in life that is preventing us from fully experiencing the wonder around us? I believe this book can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike. While some concepts may seem too difficult for a child to understand, don’t discourage them from reading the book. They may discover something from the story that adults sometimes fail to do because they can’t remember how to look at the world through the eyes of a child.