Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
Mental health is a top priority in education these days. Beautiful picture books might help start some brave conversations.
The Pink Umbrella, by Amélie Callot; illustrated by Geneviève Godbout, is about depression and sadness, and how it comes in waves. Adele runs a cafe —a refuge in the heart of the village. This beloved spot attracts everyone, where it’s okay to laugh and cry, yell and argue. The cafe is open 7 days a week, except when it rains and Adele doesn’t get out of bed until it passes. One day, she sees a pair of pink boots left behind in her cafe, and they fit her! Then a pink coat, and a polka dot umbrella! One of Amelie’s customers is providing her with a way outside, a way to face the bad weather. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)
I Am One: A Book of Action, by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, encourages movement in those that feel emotionally stuck. “I can speak one gentle word to start a conversation… I can perform one act of kindness to start a connection." These inspiring words remind kids to put one foot in front of the other in order to step out of sadness or depression. Eventually “ripples become waves." (Kindergarten to Grade 6)
Bug in a Vacuum, by Melanie Watt, is a lovely way to present the Kugler-Ross stages of grief. When a fly gets sucked into a vacuum, the phases of Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Despair, and Acceptance are playfully presented. We see, for example, a spray can of Denial (“Wipes out the Ugly Truth”) as the fly struggles to downplay his new life inside a dust-filled vacuum. There’s the “Bargaining” brand soap box, which will “Wash away your troubles.”
During this stage, the bug writes: “Dear Vacuum, if you set me free I promise to avoid my favourite hangouts…(such as) porta-potties.” Acceptance is presented as a box of Kleenex. Humour is found every detail of the illustrations, including picture puns (e.g., “The odds are against me” the text says, as the fly leans against a dice.)
The ending involves a garbage truck transporting him to a whole new neighbourhood. “And the bug started here,” the final page reads, the same way the book begins, reminding us of the cyclical nature of grief. (Kindergarten to Grade 6)
What's Up, Maloo? by Geneviève Godbout, features a kangaroo who has lost his hop. His animal friends—a wombat, a crocodile and a koala—notice Maloo seems down, and offer solutions. They try putting a ball underneath his belly to make him more "buoyant" in the pond. They try blowing electric fans to give him some "lift" and after 1000 steps alongside Maloo, they try tossing him into the air using a blanket, which kickstarts his hop.
This book is not only about the power of friends, but also how to "behave as if" until you’re back on your (hoppy) feet. (Kindergarten to Grade 1)
Sweetest Kulu, by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis, is quietly empowering. This simple contemplation of the moment we are born shows the gifts Kulu receives from nature on the day of her birth. “All of the Arctic air was there to greet you.” The illustrations look like a dance, as northern creatures—Arctic hare, seal, and muskox—gift the newborn with creativity, kindness, spontaneity, and modesty, along with protection and wisdom. The second person narrative directs the reader to feel those gifts, and to feel whole. (Kindergarten to Grade 1)
Also set in the Arctic, What’s My Super Power? by Aviaq Johnston, illustrated by Tim Mack, follows Nalvana as she struggles to find her special talent. Donning her superhero (blanket) cape and snowmobile goggles everywhere, she laments the fact all her friends have found their place in life. There’s her friend who can run faster than a Ski-Doo, and her friend who can swing high on the swing set before jumping off. And her friend who can make inukshuks.
It’s Nelvana's mother who calls attention to the fact Nalvana’s already found her purpose, which is making other people feel good about themselves. There’s bit of an Inuktitut glossary at the back. (Kindergarten to Grade 1)
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.