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Notes from a Children's Librarian

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Cooperation

These picture books make good springboards for discussion on cooperation and the complexities involved when people work together.

Book Cover In a Cloud Love

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


What is cooperation? In these recommended titles, it's illustrated by a single character igniting a coordinated effort or a symbiotic relationship in nature. And what happens when competition is chosen over collaboration? These picture books make good springboards for discussion on cooperation and the complexities involved when people work together.

Alma Fullerton and Brian Deines’ In a Cloud of Dust is set in Tanzania, where children often walk a long way to school. One day a pickup truck arrives with the sign "Bicycle Library." There are enough bikes for everyone except Anna, who spends the day encouraging friends with their shaky bike skills. Mohammad offers her a ride on the back of his bike and then lets Anna take it the rest of the way home. "Pick you up in the morning!" she yells.


Book Cover Bone Button Borscht

In Bone Button Borscht, by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Dusan Petricic, a beggar awakens a community so poor that folks have closed their doors to neighbours. The beggar asks the shamas in the local synagogue to bring him one more bone button to make borscht with. The promise of a miracle rallies the village until one day they realize they don't need the beggar in order to share with each other.


Book Cover Catmagic

It's a cat who brings everyone together in Catmagic, by Loris Lesynski. Arabella moves into the Witches' Retirement Home with her multi-coloured cat Izzy, but the witches feel crowded and want Izzy relegated to Arabella's room. Izzy insists they're not too old to conjure up a creative solution; "together our magic is better than ever." Rhyming text makes for a lovely read-aloud.

Book Cover Mortimer

 In the following two titles by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko, a tiny child incites a group effort. In Mortimer, a toddler loves to sing his heart out at bedtime in a characteristic Munsch-like chant. Each time he's asked to be quiet, his exasperated parents, his seventeen brothers and sisters, and even the police (who are called by his siblings) come together in a brawl which serendipitously solves the problem.


Book Cover Murmel Murmel Murmel

In Murmel, Murmel, Murmel, cooperation does not come as easily. When Robin unearths a baby in her sandbox, she tries to recruit a variety of characters in the neighbourhood but they all refuse, and finally she meets a passing truck driver willing to help.

Book Cover Eliot Jones Midnight Superhero

What child would say no to saving the world? Midnight is the magic hour in Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, by Anne Cottringer, illustrated by Alex T. Smith. A quiet boy by day, Eliot at night helps mayors and queens find escaped zoo lions and stolen crown jewels. When a giant meteor threatens the earth, Eliot must fly a tiny plane into the mountains of Tibet using his Meteor-Busting Rocket Launcher (illustrated in Eliot's top secret blueprint plans in the endpapers.)

Book Cover Walk on the Wild Side

Competition vs. Cooperation is the theme of Walk on the Wild Side, by Nicholas Oldland. When a leisurely mountain hike for moose, beaver, and bear turns into a race, the moose and bear find themselves hanging from a cliff. Once Beaver assists them using his strong front teeth, they decide exploring is more interesting when they work together.


Book Cover Up the Creek

Also by Oldland, Up the Creek, shows the three friends on a friendly canoe paddle. An argument whilst traversing white water lands them stranded on a rock. They argue over whose plan is best, but it's teamwork that gets them out of a jam.


Book Cover The Wolf Birds

The Wolf Birds, by Willow Dawson, beautifully demonstrates a real-life symbiotic relationship. The ravens' caw signals to the wolves of an injured deer. The wolves come in for the kill. The pack feeds, the ravens pick at the leftovers and the wolves and birds take some back to their young. "One animal's life helps many others live." Willow Dawson's simple text, along with her distinctive pictures, make an impact on young readers, particularly when the deer dies, giving an understanding of inter-dependency in nature.

Book Cover Giraffe and Bird

A more humourous codependency is evident in Rebecca Bender's Giraffe and Bird. The pair's disdain for one another is played out through bright pictures and onomatopoeia—the THPLLLBBBS of giraffe's spitting tongue, bird's berry binge poo-droppings on giraffe's snout, the HHHHWAA of giraffe's bad breath. A thunderstorm makes them realize they can't live without one another, idiosyncrasies and all.


Book Cover Don't Laugh at Giraffe

Similarly, in Don't Laugh at Giraffe, also by Bender, the soundtrack continues with a cacophony of laughter from the animals as giraffe struggles to drink from a watering hole. It's bird who helps giraffe in the end.


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.