Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 6): Real Life Scary

I'm finally ready with my last post on subversive books: Real Life Scary.

The other topics I covered so far are:
Part 2: Nakeyness
Part 3: The Dark
Part 5: Mortal Danger

I didn't plan to write about real life scariness. It took brainstorming what made books scary to identify this area. I've also been procrastinating this one, because perhaps it scares me the most.

There's something refreshing about being able to close a book on gooey green monsters, which you know probably aren't real. And even though I'm scared of the dark, I know there's probably really not anything lurking in it. But real life. Now, that's scary.

It's probably not fair to call these subversive, but here's a selection of books that make me pause before reading to my kids. And my breath hitches when I consider there are little children who are living in similar situations to these today.

"Bullies might try to look big...but don't let them make you feel small."

(Bully: A Lift the Flap Book, illustrated by Naomi Tipping)

I really dislike having to talk about bullies and to think about my kids being bullied. Or my kids being bullies. This book gives children the tools they need to confront bullying and seek help. It also shines a light on behaviors they need to avoid. 

"Someday we'll be able to choose our own candidates...Someday we may even be able to choose a woman as a candidate."

(Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Malene Laugesen)

I enjoy a good woman's suffrage story. What makes this one feel risqué is how it gets real on the fight. The years of daily parades and pickets, the personal danger, and the risk of being hauled off in handcuffs. While this mama went to jail for six months, her daughter carried on the fight to gain the right to vote.

"We are quiet. The fear. We run. We crawl."

(Underground, by Shane Evans)

Short sentences and dark pictures show the journey of slaves toward the light of a free day. The background page succinctly sums up the setting: "until the abolition of slavery in 1865, people could lawfully own a fellow human being." But in our real world, young girls were stolen from school and sold off as soldier wives.

"Brundibar is big...and you are small...What to do when you are few? Ask for help, get more of you!"

(Brundibar, by Tony Kushner, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.)

Scary things: A dead daddy they don't remember at all. A very sick mother. A life or death mission to get milk. No money? No milk! Threats of being stuffed in a burlap sack. Children alone in an alley.

Beautiful things: 302 children singing a lullaby to defeat the bully Brundibar, earning milk money, and saving mommy.  

The story is based on an opera performed by the children of the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. The final pages offer a threat from the tyrant Brundibar which says: "Bullies don't give up completely. One departs, the next appears, and we shall meet again my dears!" And I think thank goodness my children don't have to face this. Then I remember children in the world are facing this right now.

"...but there are some things doctors cannot fix either. Ben was too sick for his body to live any longer."

(Ben's Flying Flowers, by Inger Maier, Illustrated by Maria Bogade)

In real-life sometimes little brothers get cancer and die. And big sisters need to mourn and learn how to smile again. This is a difficult topic to share with kids. But for the child going through this situation, it's critical that resources like this book exist.

"People called Ruby names; some wanted to hurt her."

(The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford.)

In 1960 New Orleans a judge ordered a 6-year-old black girl Ruby Bridges to go to a white school. For months she faced pickets and insults and walking to school surrounded by federal marshals. The other children stopped coming to school, so she learned to read and write in a classroom alone. Each day she prayed for the people those people. Wouldn't it be neat to say, "Oh thank goodness this doesn't happen today"?

Did I just write a post with no humor and no farting? Yep. Real life is the scariest thing of all. I am very thankful to have humor to soften the edges of what can be a very frightening world. And I'm grateful writing allows me the time to fully investigate the beauty and wonder of this world, too. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Subversive Picture Books (Part 5) - Mortal Danger

My posts on scary books have covered my biggest fear: The Dark and the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. But why do these scare me so? Danger. Maybe even Mortal Peril. Clearly, this is too scary for picture books, right? Wrong. Let's enter the world of extreme danger in picture books. 

"I would not eat a rabbit."

(I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen) 

Do you ever wonder, "What would my critique group say if my picture book murdered the antagonist in cold blood?"

"Murder in picture books is off limits."
"I think kids should learn to work it out."
"Maybe they could just hug instead?"

It didn't seem to concern Jon Klassen when he wrote his books This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back.

"Nobody will ever find me."
(This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen) 

In both of these books we get a pretty good idea on Klassen's feelings on theft and the repercussions of one's naughty actions. Though we are left with great concern when we ask ourselves, "Why is my child giggling at this ghastly event?" Then, "Why am I giggling too?"

""What is the monster like? Is it the most terrible thing anyone has ever seen?""
(The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

Brave little mice think they are ready to see the dark at the top of the stairs even though they've heard the stories about the monster who lives up there. But when they come face to face with the ferocious cat, they quickly go bumpety-bump back down the steps to their safe home. The fear of a monster builds with each page turn, but the young reader gets some relief when they see it's just a cat. Of course, for the mice it's not just a cat- it's a deadly enemy.

"They buried Niki. (...) Then they sang sad songs."
(Maggie and the Pirate, by Ezra Jack Keats)

I confiscated this book from my parents house last time I visited because I adored it so. Maggie lives a dangerous life by my suburban standards - living in an old bus and rafting the river to the grocery store alone. Then she must face a mysterious pirate which results in the tragic drowning death of her pet cricket. The pirate redeems himself by explaining his motivations and giving her a new cricket.

"I want something to eat and I want it NOW!"
(One Dark Night, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

This one started in my dark list, but the true worry here is the juxtaposition of  friends mouse and mole venturing out in the dark while a bear is growling and stomping in his cave. You know the two will meet, and it will probably turn oh-no! 

""I think we should all sit on my branch," said Sarah."

(Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson)

Three owl babies venture out of their home after realizing mommy is gone, facing nighttime, moving creatures, and the fear a fox got mommy. Of course she comes home, but the tension of danger is woven through every page.

"Pardon me, but you're sitting on a..."

(Pardon Me, by Daniel Miyares)

A little bird is getting frustrated with all the animals landing on his island. The last one tries to warn him, but he just wants everyone to leave. Then he gets eaten by the alligator he is sitting on. I guess this is a "sharing is caring" message book? Great illustrations, btw.

What picture books scare you with the fear of mortal danger, or gulp, murder?!

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