When Sadness Is at Your Door by Eva Eland (9780525707189)
This quiet book looks at how children can handle deep emotions like sadness in a proactive way. It explains how sadness, depicted as a large blue round creature, can arrive without notice and be so close you almost smother. It reveals how sadness can almost become you, but try not to be afraid. Instead listen to the sadness, ask it where it came from, be quiet and sit together for a while. Do things together, even take a walk with one another. Give it room and make it welcome, and then tomorrow is a new day.
Eland takes a rather Buddhist approach to handling negative emotions as she asks the reader to sit with their emotion, welcome it and basically make it feel at home. The book shows that emotions can’t be hidden or pushed away. This approach leads away from anger and misery and into an acceptance that makes this book very gentle. In the art there are clear echoes of Harold and the Purple Crayon in its simplicity. The color scheme is muted and reflects the quiet nature of the text and the content.
A clear and gentle look at difficult emotions. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (9781481476270)
Flamingo is very sad today. He wonders if he will ever feel better. A little girl and a potato, yes a potato, try to explain about emotions and feelings. At times the three of them get a bit down all together, but they quickly turn to a plan to cheer up Flamingo. The girl and potato think of things that they love, but they don’t work for Flamingo. He doesn’t eat ice cream or dirt. In the end, they decide that sometimes it’s OK to just be sad. Flamingo worries that his friends won’t like him if he’s still sad tomorrow, but they assure him that they still will. Then potato makes a joke and the book ends with lots of laughter.
Told entirely in dialogue, this is a frank look at sadness and emotion. It explains a variety of approaches to emotions, ending with the most important one which is to not push the emotions away and that they will naturally change on their own. Black’s use of a potato as a main character seems odd until his personality starts flying and it suddenly steals the show. Ohi’s illustrations are big and bold, filled with flamingo pink (of course) and other bright colors that will make this a great read aloud, particularly when shared with different voices for the three characters.
A quite happy and optimistic book about sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Every morning a young boy plays a game with his father. His father knock knocks at the door and the boy pretends to be asleep until his dad is right next to him and they give each other a huge hug. But then one day, his father isn’t there to play the game any more. His father isn’t there to get him ready for school either. Morning pass with no father. The boy thinks that maybe his father is just there when the boy is at school, so he writes him a letter about how much he misses his dad and how much he expected to learn from him. The boy waits for months and nothing happens, then one day he gets a letter from his father. A letter that speaks to their separation but also one that encourages him to continue to live and knock on new doors.
Beaty’s text is deep hearted and searingly honest. As his author’s note says, he had an incarcerated father who had been his primary caregiver as a young child. So Beaty has revealed much in this picture book about the gaping hole left from a missing parent. Yet the genius of this book is that it will work for any child missing a parent for any reason. And I adore a book with such a strong connection between father and child. Beaty manages to convey that in a few pages, leaving the rest of the book to reveal the mourning and grief of loss but also a hope that shines on each page.
Collier’s illustrations shine as well. Done in a rich mix of paint and collage, they are filled with light as it plays across faces, dances against buildings, and reveals emotions. His illustrations are poetry, filled with elephants, showing the boy growing into a man, and the man turning into a father. They are illustrations that tell so much and are worth exploring again after finishing the book.
This book belongs in my top picks for 2013. It is beautifully done both in writing and illustrations. I’m hoping it is honored by the Coretta Scott King awards and I’d love to see a Caldecott as well. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.