Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.
Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.
Narrated in playful, almost sing-along, first person tense, the story begins at the gate of number 38. Behind the gate, number 38 looks anything but new with drooping roof and peeling paint, but for one little girl, it is her new home. This home shares nothing in common with her ‘old’ life, her old school, or old friends. She is forlorn and as broken in spirit as the crumbly old front step she slumps upon.
Each day, she mooches to school, drowning in the minute negatives that seem to follow her about, an untied shoelace for instance. Her world is joyless and colourless. Until one afternoon, on her return to the house, she notices something different. As the days pass, her awareness of her surroundings intensifies and so too does her eventual appreciation of the change she, and the house, is undergoing.
There is a lovely synchronicity drifting throughout this story that subtly combines various states of change: deepening seasons, the restoration of the house, the girls’ emotional perception of her situation, acceptance of time passing. The reader is hardly aware of them in seclusion, yet the encompassing atmosphere lifts the reader until at last, like the girl, they feel at home.
Fawcett’s balance of monochromatic illustrations with the gradual introduction of colour provides visual clues, drama and real emotional anchors for young and old readers to cling onto as does the repeated phraseology, which under six year olds will respond well to.
I adore the clever allegorical use of a new house, with almost human face-like features, to portray the transmission of time. I love the choice of palette and effective use of tones to depict mood and atmosphere and I admire the surreptitious incorporation of ‘spot the difference’ aspects to each illustration.
Through The Gate holds great appeal for pre-schoolers and even deeper meaning for slightly older readers struggling to cope with change. Profoundly gentle and highly recommended, this one’s a keeper.
EK Books, Exisle Publishing May 2017
The Brown Dog is another superlative example of an allegorically relatable picture book that deals with hefty subject matter in a superbly subtle way. Ostensibly about recognising and facing ones emotions especially in times of change, The Brown Dog is a muted acknowledgement of the black dog syndrome of depression and its ability to ensnarl even the very young.
The brown dog often visits Henry, coincidentally on those melancholy days when it is rainy and grey. Usually Henry allows him to stay a while; they slip into a grave pensiveness together which Henry doesn’t mind. One day however, the brown dog decides to stay and thus initiates a week of cement legs, confusion, lethargy and a glumness Henry is unable to shrug away. The arrival of Grandpa on the weekend changes everything. Together he, Henry, and the brown dog venture outdoors on a bird watching expedition through the bush. It’s a day filled with shared discoveries and quiet rapture.
The next day, Henry watches the brown dog take his leave. As he does, he notices the dog’s joyful exuberance, watches him barking at cats and chasing his own tail as happy dogs are wont to do. It marks the end of brown dog’s extended visits to Henry and the start of Henry’s emotional growth.
The Brown Dog is powerful yet tender. Inverarity’s subtle strong narrative is on point and more than ably describes the bleak blanket of melancholy and despair even children can experience in times of change. Henry’s tale provides a mirror from which youngsters beset with depression or emotional slumps can see themselves in whilst at the same time leaves them with a strong sense of how to gain control over their own brown dogs and recognise the steps to take when they threaten to stay too long.
Greg Holfeld’s pencil and ink wash illustrations are exceptional, depicting the extremes of emotion within a restricted palette of sepias and greys. His images perfectly capture every mood of the brown dog, which of course reflect Henry’s own.
Whether realised literally or in a metaphorical sense, reading The Brown Dog takes the reader on an evocative, thought provoking journey, which provides many opportunities for further conversations about one’s own empathetic abilities and emotional self-awareness. Highly recommended for upper primary aged readers and anyone who finds it difficult letting their own brown dog go.
Working Title Press May 2017
The subject of self is finding greater voice in the world of kids’ lit. Feeling comfortable in your own skin, or in the case of Archie, his own bear suit is a state of being that is presented brilliantly in this fresh and funny look at identity.
Archie is suffering something of an identity crisis or rather everyone else thinks he is, for he ardently believes he is a bear and cannot bear to hear otherwise. He makes a stormy departure from his bleak boy world, heading into a dark ominous forest where he encounters a gigantic bear…in a boy suit. Affronted the bear roars that he is in fact a boy. Archie diplomatically decides to let this obvious disillusionment go and befriends the boy bear. Together, they tuck into honey sandwiches, skim stones across the river, which Archie in spite of being a bear is very good at, and catch fish, which the bear despite being a boy is very good at.
By nightfall, they both begin to feel the chill of the forest and return to Archie’s home to hunker down under a warm quilt by a cosy fire, conceding that both bears and boys like warm quilts and fires.
Louise’s almost impudent narrative is bold, crying loudly with kid appeal. The dialogue between Archie and the Bear bears (sorry, can’t help it) a naïve frankness that makes your heart sing with the silly veracity of it all.
Again it’s the economic use of colour and varied art media (by Mackintosh) that pull a sophisticated story line into scenes crammed with playfulness and meaning that children will understand.
Archie and the Bear withstands repeated readings well, and is a glowing example of how ‘we are more alike than how we are not alike’, a notion definitely worth bearing in mind.
Read it to four to eight year olds in your best grizzly bear voice, soon!
Little Hare Books, HGE May 2017