The best books give us a glimpse into other people’s lives. Books like these. Richly illustrated and told with simplicity, these picture books will transport readers. When we expose children to a wide variety of experiences in a story they can see themselves in books, travel the world, talk with strangers, and develop deeper empathy. Talk about what you notice. Talk about what might be similar or different to your own life.
Important Slice-of-Life Picture Books
Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
I’m struck by the sweetness of this father-son relationship. You see it in every part of the story. The dad brings his son along to his night job as the custodian of a school. They work their way through the school, listening to a baseball game on the radio, eating dinner outside in the courtyard, then the dad continues working while the boy falls asleep on the library’s green vinyl sofa. When the dad is finished, he wakes up his son and they ride home on the motorcycle. “By the time the sun bursts out of the sea, Dad has nodded off in the big recliner. Come, the chair whispers. // I climb up beside Dad and soon we are drifting away together. . . ”
The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb
It’s a day like any other that starts with breakfast and a morning in school learning about frogs and volcanoes. After lunch, the war came. The writing and artwork allude to the destruction with only a few specific graphic details. “It came across the playground. It came into my teacher’s face. It brought the roof down and turned my town to rubble.” The girl is alone and must leave, walking and riding buses and going on a boat. She feels like the war is within her, in her dreams and in her heart. The story comes full circle when a kind child brings her a chair so she can attend the local school. “A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanoes, and sing, and draw birds. And drive the war out of my heart.” I think this little girl’s journey is all the more valuable as we look at what happens after she arrives at the new country — it is only with help and kindness from others that she begins to heal. (Also on: Children’s Books About Immigration, Migration, and Refugees)
Imagine! by Raúl Colón
A celebration of New York City and the magic of artwork! The illustrations say everything in this wordless picture book…When a skateboarding boy visits the Museum of Modern Art, the paintings come to life. Painted people and animals step out of their frames to exuberantly explore New York City with the boy. They visit a roller coaster, the Statue of Liberty, a hot dog stand, Central Park, and then return to the museum and their canvases. But that’s not the end of the story! The boy finds an empty building wall where he paints a large mural about his joyful day. Colon’s richly textured, earth-colored illustrations sparkle with energy.
The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd
CREATIVITY / POVERTY
I found the paint on cardboard illustrations quite interesting, atmospheric to be sure. A girl gives readers a slice-of-her-life glimpse of her village, particularly focusing on her favorite thing — the bike that she and her brothers have built with found objects from around their village.
The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
POWER OF MUSIC
Illustrated in sepia tones, the story begins with Kathryn and her father looking over the land and remembering. They remember the music and dances and parties. The visit each empty house. Kathryn plays her violin and her dad sings. Together they fill the houses with music for those who were gone and those who are to come. Not long after, the dam is finished and the land becomes a lake. Here, the illustrations shift to add muted colors of green and blue and pinks. “Behind the dam, within the water, the music stays, will never be gone.” The ending surprised me. I expected sadness but found, instead, beauty and happiness filled with music.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
AUTOBIOGRAPHY / MIGRANT / POVERTY / WORDS
Lyrical text matched with beautiful illustrations transport readers into the atmospheric world of a young boy whose life is filled with nature, moving, and hard work, eventually leading him to become the poet Laurette of the United States. What an inspiring accomplishment, especially since English was his second language! As the boy shares about his childhood, each page ends with the repetition of “imagine”. Herrera’s big dreams led to big things. What a great way for children to reflect on their own future possibilities.
“If I walked
through the evening forest
at the top of a mountain
with a silvery bucket
to fetch water
from the next town.
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