Conversations to go with three great picture books

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I am loving that my youngest is excited about picture books. There was just a little while where she didn’t care much for us reading to her, and her brothers were into chapter books, but now she’s right back into picture books. Three of the books we read recently struck me as being really interesting. They all had some aspect in which the limits of what the characters know becomes apparent. It led to some interesting conversations. There were other things I liked about the books too, so I’m dusting off the old blog and writing about them.

(There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through to Amazon and then buy something, there’s a slight chance that someday I might make a tiny, tiny bit of money on it.)

Three great books: The Snow Princess, The Mermaid and the Shoe, and The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Do your kids know the excuse “the dog ate my homework?”  What kind of excuses can a dog make when he or she has done something wrong? This book seems like a story about a bear. The bear wakes up, takes a trip into the city, interprets the city in light of the forest, and then eats someone’s sandwich. Then the story flips around a bit and we realize that the story that we are reading is the story a dog is telling. We see things just briefly from the dog’s perspective, and then switch to seeing that from the child’s perspective the dog is just barking random noises. The book is a really good excuse for some conversations about how people see things in different ways, and how people do not all have the same information about anything.

It is worth stopping on the page with a picture of the city, bridge, river and highway and asking a child what it means when the book says “he was being swept quickly along like a leaf in a great river.” Where is the bear? You can point out the author’s use of a simile.

The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson.

The Snow Princess is the daughter of Mother Spring and Father Frost, and she’s been cautioned that she is only safe from death so long as love for a man does not enter her heart. As she starts to fall in love we have to wonder, will she die? Is it worth it? What message could this story possibly be sending kids? In the end she doesn’t die, but becomes a real person. Life is not safe from death, and being safe from death means not living. Of course I would argue one can live without love, but that’s another story.

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K. G. Campbell

King Neptune’s daughters all have remarkable abilities. All that is, except Minnow. She doesn’t know what she is good at, and her obsessive questions annoy her sisters. To my delight the purpose she finds doesn’t come from another person. This isn’t about anyone falling in love, but discovering what she is good at.

A shoe that sinks down into the ocean becomes symbolic of the mermaid, both thought of as useless by a sister. Minnow insists that “this thing was made with care. It has a purpose, and I will discover it.” Those who are religious can drawn connections with the idea of God giving each person a purpose, and those who are not can ponder the existentialist questions of how we make our own purpose.

The book has a great section where we see the world through the mermaid’s thoughts. She knows about legs from the octopus, but feet are leg-hands to her. Children can think about and guess what she means when she says that above the sea “the coral is dull like seaweed, and the seaweed was brilliant like coral.” (The pictures will help.)

The book lends itself to inventing games trying to describe things in the context of other things. How might a mermaid interpret a cat? When the whale is asked what the shoe is, the whale answers by describing his experience with a shoe. Is that a complete explanation of what a shoe is? How much – or what type of –  information about something do we have to give for someone to know what it is?

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