Saturday, June 1, 2013

Books That Foster Feelings of Safety and Hope

It’s a huge challenge for parents to help their young children feel safe in a world that seems so dangerous. Books can contribute to creating that feeling of safety, or least offer hope that caring people will be there when they are needed and that bad situations can improve. Editor Paula Morrow’s excellent article in the May issue of Children’s Writer newsletter highlighted two award-winning picture books that help allay fear and uncertainty in young children’s minds: Smoky Night by Eve Bunting and The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley.

Smoky Night  by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by David Diaz

Caldecott Medal, Parents’ Choice Award Winner, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

The setting of Smoky Night is the Los Angeles race riots. Chaos and confusion reign as rioters break windows and steal merchandise. Daniel, his mother and a cat named Jasmine watch from their apartment. Mama quietly explains about rioting.

“It can happen when people get angry. They want to smash and destroy. They don’t care anymore what’s right and what’s wrong.

Their neighbor’s store is looted while the owner yells in the same language she uses when her orange cat fights with Jasmine. Fire forces everyone to a shelter, but both cats have hidden. Daniel and the neighbor worry until both cats are found together and seem to have made peace.

Smoky Night is a story about parents, helpers and firefighters who care for and protect children. It’s also about getting to know those who seem different from us, accepting the differences and finding common ground.

Bunting’s text and Diaz’s partnership of collage and acrylic paintings work together to show both the terror of a fire and the mother’s calm as she protects her son.

The Moon Came Down on Milk Street, text and illustrations by Jean Gralley

While Smoky Night is realistic, The Moon Came Down on Milk Street is highly imaginative. It’s rhythmical and rhyming text make it a perfect toddler lap book.

The moon came down on Milk Street,
came down with a very soft sound.

And the moon really does descend, while the children watch it fall into glowing pieces on Milk Street. Immediately, the first responders set about putting it right again. First, the fire chief, then the medics and electrical workers with their feet covered in moon dust. And they are all children! After they glue together and hoist the moon, people everywhere prop it up until it’s shining down like it’s supposed to, and all the helpers sleep peacefully, even the helper dogs.

Just before the title page is Fred Rogers’ report of his mother telling him to “Look for the Helpers,” if they encountered an accident or terrifying scene. Sometimes this is the best thing we can say to the very young. Written after September 11th, The Moon Came Down On Milk Street says it simply and beautifully.

Jean Gralley studied books and illustration with Maurice Sendak. Read Cynthia Leitich Smith's informative author interview with Gralley at Cynsations.

There must be other picture book titles that help very young readers deal with tragedy and help children heal after witnessing frightening communal events. Please share other titles, and I'll compile a list.

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