Thinking about Neal Hagberg‘s commitment to addressing social issues in his songs, it got me to thinking about what I could do to incorporate important themes into my own children’s books. Since I don’t have a second senior project lined up yet (think… think…), this could be a perfect opportunity to create something that is meaningful to me, and could speak to others as well.
I’ve mentioned before that I remain VERY skeptical of the use of biblio-therapy. I fear that basing a children’s book around a “moral” or lesson could lead to a preachy tale that hits the reader over the head – I’d rather see books as a form of escapism or entertainment.
However, when I thought about it, some of the best books speak to greater issues, teaching children (and adults!) while still being beautiful and expressive in themselves. Here’s my top five:
1. Religious Tolerance: The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster, 1996). When scarlet fever falls on Trisha’s Christian neighbors, her Russian Jewish family prepares a celebration for them, complete with latke dinners and Christmas trees.
Roy and Silo (photo credit and full article)
2. Homosexuality: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005). This is a story about a REAL gay penguin family in the Central Park Zoo! I still can’t believe that this adorable story of nurturing is on banned books lists all over.
“We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.” – Justin Richardson, to the New York Times
3. Death of a Child: The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade, 2007). This is the most beautiful book on death I’ve ever seen, using the imagery that terminally ill children express in art therapy of a floating purple or blue balloon.
4. Bullying: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 1991). Unusual children (ahem… like myself) need to grow up with this book of standing out and being “absolutely perfect” even if you’re different.
5. Charity: The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Herbert (North-South Books, 1995). Today’s society needs this book to learn how to share a bit. (Note: when I was looking it up on Amazon, there was a comment about this book being “socialist propaganda”. Case in point).
Can a children’s book make a difference (or make a point) in the world? These five did it. But can – or should – I? I’m going to find out.