Friday, May 26, 2017

Children’s Picture Books about Change

By Susan Stephenson,

Change is a theme that comes up time and again at school, and in real life. Change can be global or it can be personal. It can be environmental or focus on a family. Teachers and librarians value books about change because those books can be a beacon of hope to children, and help them to feel less alone or depressed and powerless. Accordingly, I am compiling a list of children’s picture books about some kind of change which I will be adding to over time. It is embedded far below. Today I also have reviewed three new books to add to my list: The Fix-It Man, By the Light of the Moon, and Florette.

The Fix-It Man was written by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston, and published by E.K.Books (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99.

From the publisher:

It’s handy having a dad who can fix just about anything. A young girl believes her father is the king of fixing things. But following the death of her mother, she discovers that broken hearts are not as easy to repair as damaged toys and cracked teapots.

Together, she and her father find a way to glue back the pieces of her lives. The Fix-It Man is a poignant picture book that explores how a child can cope with the loss of a parent (in this case, the young girl’s mother). Repairing damaged emotions is not as straightforward as gluing a broken kite back together or sewing up a torn toy.

And grief affects all members of a family, with each responding in their own way to the loss. By sticking with her father, the young girl is able to strengthen her resilience and ability to cope with one of life’s harshest experiences.

Children’s literature is wonderful for so very many reasons. One of them is that it offers a way to help kids cope with changes in their lives. In The Fix-It Man, we meet a little girl who proclaims her dad as being able to fix anything - “It’s what dads do.” While the child acts as Dad’s gofer, Mum watches from her rug - “…too sore on the inside to help us…” Despite everyone’s best efforts, Mama dies. We see the little family’s grief, and wonder if they can ever mend. But somehow, not with glue or nails, needles or even cups of tea, we see Dad and Daughter sharing a loving moment and know there is healing ahead. “We can fix things together, just Dad and me. It’s what dads and daughters do.”

Powell tells this gentle story in a way kids will understand. Even quite young children know that not everything can be fixed with glue or sticky tape, and they will gradually gain an understanding that some things can’t be fixed at all. For kids who have lost a loved one, it may bring comfort to read of someone else’s loss. Like the Fix-It Man’s little girl, they will grieve, but also perhaps cling to the knowledge they are not alone - that others love them and are there for them. Johnston’s illustrations are perfect for the story. One very sombre page with little colour reinforces the mood after Mama’s death, but most pages are gently coloured and rather lovely. The whole message of the book is pragmatic but positive, poignant and powerful.

Get more of an idea in the trailer below.

By the Light of the Moon is a children’s picture book by Tom Percival, published by Bloomsbury (Allen and Unwin) (2016.) RRP: $Au22.99.

From the publisher:

Ivan's old house had always been so warm and friendly. This new one was NOT.

Ivan finds his new house strange and can't sleep. He lies awake and then sees a shimmering light come down. The light turns into a creature called a Moji, and it takes him on a fabulous night-time adventure, up high into space, bounding through starlit forests and down deep into the oceans. Ivan has never had so much fun! And the magical Moji shows him that soon the new house will feel like home.

Change can be difficult to cope with. Moving house is stressful for everyone, including kids. That’s why it’s great to find books that help kids process what’s going on for them, by sharing in someone else’s story.

I think kids will love the magical little Mobi who conducts Ivan on the adventure of his life. Mobi emerges from a ball of light Ivan has followed at night outside his new house, and paints his name in the air. The cute rabbit-like creature then paints moonlight everywhere including on Ivan and suddenly, magically, Ivan can fly. They fly high up almost to the moon, and down deep underwater. But at last Mobi paints “home” outside Ivan’s new house. Seeing Ivan’s deep unhappiness, Mobi paints pictures of Ivan’s happy future in this new house and Ivan comes to understand that this strange place will feel like home one day soon.

Percival as illustrator shows us the new house from Ivan’s perspective - it seems cold and strange and most of his toys are packed up. The limited palette he uses for the night time scenes helps us see just enough colour when the magical light brings everything to life.

Florette is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Anna Walker, and published by Penguin Random House Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99.

From the publisher:

When Mae has to move house from the country to the city, she feels lonely and sad - until she discovers a beautiful place full of green in the centre of Paris. What she finds there sparks something special and beautiful that will make her feel much more at home.

I do love to find gentle, thoughtful children’s picture books. Yes, kids often look for hilarity or challenge in literature, but there are also children who at certain times in their lives need a softer, more reassuring approach from a book. In Florette, while kids will understand the angst Mae feels about leaving her old home and especially her garden, there is an emphasis on the positive. Mae copes. She tries to enjoy the same activities she loved in her old life, and doesn’t let subsequent set-backs daunt her. She finds a park and leads Mum to it. Like gardeners young and old, Mae nurtures a tiny cutting and creates a new garden.

As we have come to expect from Walker, the art work in Florette is superb. Her illustrations are so evocative of context and place, and the “forest” that Florette eventually finds is a riot of greenery and vibrant growth. My favourite pages are the last three, with indications of new friends, and even a positive change for the neighbourhood. All because of a little girl named Florette.

Check out the beautiful trailer, below:

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Read on to find more children's picture books about change.

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