Sometimes our world is a scary place. We all have different ways of responding to fear and stress—and those ways aren’t always helpful. These past couple of weeks I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of social media way too often, which can feel a bit like wallowing in that fear and stress. So, today’s Stack Overflow is about picture books that may bring you a bit of cheer and hope in the midst of these dark and scary times.
We often tell our kids about things they should be scared of: don’t get too close to the stove, look out for cars, beware of strangers. That last one is something that, repeated often enough, can make them assume that the world is filled with bad people. Most People is a counterpoint to that: most people are good people. They love the earth, they want to help when they see somebody in need, they would rather be happy than sad. I think it’s a message that kids need to hear: that, yes, there are people who do bad things, who steal or bully or hurt—but most people don’t do those things. The book echoes Mister Rogers’ words, encouraging kids to “look for the helpers.”
I think it’s easy for us to get caught up feeling like people who disagree with us aren’t just wrong—they’re bad. And when we feel that way, it’s also easy to feel that the world is full of bad people who mean us harm. Most People is a great reminder that there is good in the world, too—more good than bad.
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, edited by Sara Jane Boyers
This book pairs a poem by Maya Angelou with paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young artist who rose to fame in the 1980s and died young. It’s 25 years old (I received an anniversary edition) but the words and the art still resonate today: it’s a chant against fear, a shield against ghosts and barking dogs and strangers and dragons. I think it’s okay to be afraid sometimes, but it’s also great to be able to tell your fear to shut up and go away. That’s what this book is for.
We all know about Humpty Dumpty—he sat on a wall, had a great fall. But then what? In Dan Santat’s imagination, Humpty gets put back together, but he’s lost something. He’s afraid of heights, which prevents him from enjoying many of the things he used to love. But eventually, little by little, he starts to find his way back.
Although from the title you might expect the book to be a somewhat predictable tale for toddlers, it’s also a picture of overcoming anxiety that can speak to adults. Santat wrote the book for his wife, who suffers from anxiety, and it’s a hopeful picture that celebrates the joy of getting past fear to find the things you love in life.
It can be hard to imagine the world at peace, but that’s what John Lennon’s classic song calls us to do. This book takes the lyrics of the song and pairs them with illustrations of a pigeon spreading its message of hope around the world, meeting various birds of all types. “You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
This wordless book pictures a new girl at school who gets yelled at and intimidated by another kid as she walks home. A girl from her class sees this interaction and spends the rest of the day thinking about it uncomfortably—and the next day, she has the idea to walk with her to school. Pretty soon other kids join in, and by the time they reach the school, the bully sees that he is entirely outnumbered.
It’s a book with a very straightforward message about bullying and one of the ways to fight it. There’s a small message at the end of the book for kids about how to help with bullying, and a section for adults that introduces some glossary terms that may be useful when talking to kids about bullying.
(I Walk With Vanessa isn’t out yet—it’ll be published in April—but is available for preorder now.)
If you enjoyed the movie Coco, you’ll love this picture book, too. It’s not just a picture book of the movie, though: if anything, it’s a bit like a prequel that overlaps with the movie’s plotline a little. The book is actually narrated by La Música, music itself, as it makes its way through the town. In this book, it’s not just that Miguel discovers music, but that music discovers him. It’s a lovely, lyrical book, and Ramírez’s illustrations are a great match for de la Peña’s words.
In May 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for people to march in a peaceful protest for civil rights, but many of the adults were fearful of losing their jobs. Thousands of children and teenagers volunteered to march in the place of their parents, facing arrest and firehoses and dogs. The images of those children on television were instrumental in changing the heart of the nation and paving the way for the Civil Rights Act. This book tells that story, showing how “children led the way.” It’s a powerful reminder that we should never discount the power of young people to effect change.
This week I’ve been reading the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer since the movie’s out now and I never got around to reading the books. I just finished Annihilation and have started Authority. I also finished reading The Broken Lands by Kate Milford (after my Q&A with her last week). It was a great book, and felt strangely prescient, too—a story about kids standing up in the face of danger, and a story with more stories wrapped up in it. I’ve started making my way through some comics on my “should have gotten to these sooner” shelf, too.
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.