Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes and sharing 7 of my favorite picture books for teaching about the virtues.
If you know me, you know I love books, all books, and especially beautiful picture books. The years I spent teaching elementary school allowed me to amass a pretty good collection, and allowed me to read enough picture books to know what’s out there, what’s good, and what’s worth your time and money.
I love picture books for many reasons- they’re a double treasure of words and images, they appeal to wide audiences and not just little kids, and they lend themselves to the traditional hard-copy, physical book medium and resist the everything-on-a-device trend. I particularly love the fact that picture books are limited in length; they’re typically 32 pages. Hard and fast limits force writers to write well, to eliminate the excess that takes away from the essence of the story and to use only the best and most effective words to tell it.
A good story always has a lesson for the reader, even- maybe especially -when that lesson isn’t explicit. The stories in these picture books are just plain good stories. They draw the reader in, make him care about the characters and what happens to them, and transplant the listener to another place. Without any condescension or didacticism, they show the reader the beauty of virtue and draw him towards it. Each of these stories would make a great read-aloud even for older kids, and some I think are actually better suited towards bigs. I hope you’ll love them as much as I do!
1. More than Anything Else by Marie Bradby
Based on the childhood of Booker T. Washington and told in the voice of a 9 year-old boy, this book describes long days of shoveling in the salt works, while Booker longs to learn to read. Booker never abandons his dream, and studies his letters by the light of a lantern at night, imagining the power and freedom literacy will bring.
2. The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
This story is a study in true compassion; not feeling sorry for those less fortunate, but suffering with another. Jumping Mouse gives away what is his to other creatures, entering into their misfortune and traveling alongside them. At the conclusion, his self-gift results in a stunning transformation.
3. The Yellow Star by Carmen Agra Deedy
King Christian X of Denmark is horrified by the Nazi occupation and their demand that all Danish Jews wear a yellow star sown on their coats. The King, and all his subjects, sew a yellow star onto their own coats in a show of solidarity with and protection of their Jewish neighbors.
4. Papa Gatto by Ruth Sanderson
This Italian fairy tale includes many Cinderella elements. Unique to it is the way it shows Papa Gatto’s own growth in wisdom as he learns a hard lesson about the character of others. His ability to judge rightly grows from beginning to end of this tale, motivated by his love for his kittens.
5. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Love & Mercy
Another John Steptoe book, I know. I just love his work! Like Papa Gatto, this book shares much in common with the Cinderella story so many of us are familiar with. Steptoe’s story is drawn from Zimbabwean tradition and the illustrations are stunning. Two sisters, Manyara and Nyasha, travel to visit the king in hopes he will marry one of them. Their response to the people and creatures they meet along the way is an incarnation of their interior disposition.
6. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
This is an oldie but goodie. A young girl, her mother, and grandmother lose all their possessions in a house fire and scrimp and save to buy a new chair. It is a story of resilience and cheerfully walking through adversity, both a catastrophic loss like a fire and the small, daily sufferings we all endure.
7. The Gold Coin by Alma Flor Ada
Generosity & Honesty
Juan is a thief who is after an old woman’s gold. The hospitality of those he meets along the way in his quest to track down the old woman transform Juan. This fable is not just a lesson in integrity, but also a meditation on the power of grace to transform even the most hardhearted.