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When picture books bring on tears

At some point, it probably has happened to any teacher, parent, or caregiver of young children. You are reading a story to a child or group of children and something about the story hits you and makes you misty eyed. Other times you might read a story that causes a child to cry. Books that hit an emotional nerve in adults might not always do the same for young children and vice versa. Often, there are picture books with subtexts that make adults emotional, but young children may not pick up on them. In these cases, I would argue that asking the child/children open ended questions about the book can help us understand their perspective better than trying to explicitly tell the children your interpretation of the subtext.

heart bottleAn example of a book that has made me shed a tear is The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. This book deals with loss and grief in symbolic ways that young children may not fully comprehend. However, the lack of a clear direct theme or lesson can spark deeper thinking in individual children and interesting discussions when read in a larger group. The Heart and The Bottle is often surreal in its style which makes it easier to share in a group setting compared to books that deal with loss and other emotional topics in a more direct way.

knock knockUnlike Jeffers’ story, Knock Knock authored by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier is grounded in realism. Knock Knock is based on a moving poem about Beaty’s absent father which he has often performed live. (Watch it here). It is hard for me to read this book without getting tears in my eyes. Parts of the story hit close to home for me and very close to home for children I have taught. I have recommended it to families of children dealing with absent fathers and read it to individual children — but not in a group setting. In an ideal world, group story times would be a place for healing where no topics would be taboo. However, it is important to respect individual families in the class and over the years many families dealing with issues like absent parents, divorce, or family problems in general have told me that they prefer we don’t read books that encourage their child to talk about these issues in a group setting. As a teacher, I believe that these types of discussions can be healthy, but I fully understand parents who don’t want their personal business potentially discussed in a classroom where other parents might find out and engage in gossip and shaming.

bad case stripesFinally, I would like to note that it is impossible to predict how children will react to stories. For instance, I never thought A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon would stir strong emotions in a child, but I once had a child burst into tears while reading it because their mom had food poisoning and they associated the book’s story about not eating Lima beans with their mom’s illness. On the other side, I know of many teachers and parents who tear up while reading The Giving Tree but the children hearing it have not had any emotional reaction to the book.

So now I will leave the readers of Lolly’s Classroom with some questions:

  1. What children’s books cause strong emotions in you? What books have caused your students to feel strong emotions?
  2. Do you read books relating to potentially emotional topics in the classroom? At what age do you think hard topics like death, loss, and divorce should be introduced in books you read? Should parents be consulted before reading emotional books? Should parents be given any sort of veto power or opt out mechanism for their child regarding certain books?

 

Teddy Kokoros About Teddy Kokoros

Teddy Kokoros works as a Pre-K teacher and adjunct early childhood education professor in Boston, MA.

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Comments

  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Thanks for this, Teddy. I also like Robin Smith’s 2003 article “Teaching Readers to Love New Books” where she sings the praises of tear-jerkers. http://www.hbook.com/2003/09/using-books/school/teaching-new-readers-to-love-books/

    For more on Knock Knock, see Bryan Collier’s CSK acceptance speech: http://www.hbook.com/2014/06/choosing-books/horn-book-magazine/csk-illustrator-award-acceptance-2/

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