I'm discovering that most picture books I love are funny. These three are not particularly. In fact, I would label them as tear-jerkers. (The fourth is more heartwarming and less sad, but I'm including it anyway). I often avoid reading this kind of book at storytime because there is the distinct possibility that I will start crying right there in the middle of it all and upset the kids - and probably the parents. But these three are good enough that I haven't been able to help myself (and I succeeded at not crying during storytime - barely!).
The kids like
these books, too, but I think they must experience them
differently than we do as adults. As I started pondering this, I felt at first that these bittersweet stories
introduce children to concepts of friendship, loyalty, loss, etc, rather than offering something a child can relate to already. When you are only 5 years old, you don't know what it
is like to have a lifelong friendship, or have your life saved by a
friend. But young children do certainly feel those intense, longing
feelings of love and loss - with parents, siblings, and the rare, super close childhood friend - whether they totally understand them or not.
Amos and Boris by William Steig
Why I love it: It is a great vocabulary builder compared to many contemporary books, with words like phosphorescent, ambitions, mote, and
abounding. It is long and descriptive, so the characters - a whale and a
hardy mouse who meet by chance - are well-developed
by the end of this beautiful story. It is an illustration of
friendship that goes much deeper than your average picture book story,
with bittersweet themes of mortality, and earned trust, admiration, and
respect between friends. It has that feel of a classic book that captures the human spirit in a
timelessly powerful way.
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Why I love it: Not only is it set in a library, but it also stirs the
imagination because the main character is a real, live lion. The characters in this story have some nice depth to
them, which, in part, causes the end to be really satisfying: a tragic misunderstanding of sorts is resolved and important lessons are learned - namely that one can respect the rules without blindly
following them. I like that lesson, and I think it is important for children to understand because it can make them critical thinkers, help keep them safe, and even give them the voice they deserve to gently question.
Lion and Bird by Marianne Dubuc
Why I love it: It makes me cry every time I read it!! It is a simple, slow
story of companionship and change that is sad, bittersweet, heartwarming,
and gentle all at once. This quote captures its essence: "And so it goes. Sometimes
life is like that." Part of what makes this story slow and sad is that the scenes are drawn out in the illustrations. One sentence on a page will describe simply how the seasons turned, or the birds flew overhead, but the illustrations on the next page carry on that sentence without adding to it and cause the reader to feel the passing of time and the sinking in of the emotions Lion and Bird stir in us. What a beautiful book! I can also heartily recommend other creations of Marianne Dubuc.
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
Why I love it: Because preschoolers love to make noises, and this book is full of them. Make that
rhyming noises that create a great plot. This one has a bit of a moral at the end, which, as I have mentioned, I
only like sometimes. Many children's books teach that children must
earn kindness and acceptance by proving themselves
to those who don't at first accept them, or that being on one's best
behavior is the only way to be loved. Little Blue Truck, however,
serves as a great example of being kind to those who have not been kind
to you - a message of unconditional love that can
go both ways - sometimes you are giving to someone who doesn't deserve it, and sometimes you are the
receiver who doesn't deserve it. Basically the message I get from this story is that it's not
becoming to be ill-behaved, but even badly behaved individuals need love -
and often, kindness will turn a person
toward better behavior more effectively than shunning or punishment will.
What do you think about how children experience bittersweet stories and the emotions they evoke? Any favorites that fall into this category? I'd love to know!