Being at home during the pandemic is difficult for adults, and for many children, it’s a confusing time. They aren’t going to preschool or school, they aren’t seeing their friends, they aren’t getting to go to the playground to expend energy. And some may not understand why. These picture books will address a range of needs from acting out, feeling inadequate, and making a mistake, to enjoying this new slowed-down life. Some will teach important lessons and others will just be enjoyed as lovely, clever reads.
“Sorry (Really Sorry)” is by Joanna Cotler and illustrated by Harry Bliss. It’s a lesson that many of us know too well. Having a bad day? Blame someone else or make sure that they are suffering, too. It’s human nature all too often, and in “Sorry (Really Sorry),” kids see that human foible taken to the farm. When Cow is in a bad mood, she lashes out at Duck. Poor Duck takes it out on Frog, whose angry response to Bird is nasty. Bird’s feeling get hurt, and when Frog says, “sorry,” we know he really isn’t. Goat and Pig are next to feel the rebound effect of Cow’s anger. Dog, wonderful Dog, finds Pig sobbing and asks what’s wrong. When Pig tries to rebuff his efforts to help, Dog refuses to get mad. And it’s Dog’s insistence that he and Pig are friends that changes things. Back up the chain the apologies go as the animals realize that their actions have unhappy results — with a twist at the end which will be perfect to start a discussion about what will happen next. (Philomel Books)
“A Whale of a Mistake” by Ioana Hobai is an important book about how it feels to make a big mistake. And sometimes, even little mistakes can feel huge. Sometimes we feel like crying, and the watercolor softness in the illustrations perfectly reflects the watery, tear-filled feelings people can get after a mistake. The feelings are expressed thoughtfully as the author says, in second person narrative, “You worry. The more you worry, the more it grows, until it weighs you down.” And the inevitable growth of those sad feelings follows — until the person who made the mistake says (and feels), “I can never escape. This is my life now.” But slowly and in careful, simple text, the author shows readers that we are just small cogs in the universe, and that there are many others out there making mistakes, too. And that things will be all right. It’s an uplifting book that is a perfect choice for kids who worry about making mistakes. Social workers and psychologists and even parents will love how this book can open the door to frank discussions about worry and fear of making mistakes. (Page Street Kids)
“Hurry Up: A Book About Slowing Down” by Kate Dopirak and illustrated by Chirstopher Silas Neal is a book about what to do when it feels like the world is whirling and scurrying around you with not a moment to breathe or relax. This androgynous child rushes off to school and from class to class only to rush home and take his dog out. Then there’s a huge STOP across the page, and the narration changes to words of slowing down. The child and the dog stop and look at a snail, the dog fetches a stick, and they look around at the fields and grass; they breathe in the fresh air, blow bubbles, and lie in the grass to look at the sky. “Make a wish. Take a walk. Listen to the forest talk.” The rhyming text is simple and lovely. The illustrations, also, are simple and bright. And even though it might be tougher to go outside during this time, parents can think of alternate ways to slow down, breathe, be mindful, and think about life even inside. Open the windows. Plant some seeds and bring the outside in. Adopt a dog. Slow down. Enjoy this new life in a mindful manner no matter where you are or what you are doing. (Beach Lane Books)
“A Friend for Mole” by Nancy Armo is a story of being frightened and how sharing a scary situation with a friend can make things better. Mole leaves his underground burrow and gets lost. Hiding under a bush, he meets a wolf cub who is also lost and frightened. But Mole isn’t afraid of the dark like Wolf is; he’s afraid of the light. But what could they do when one was afraid of the light and the other the dark? Finally, they agreed that Mole would stay with Wolf during the dark night and then Wolf would help Mole find his way home in the morning. Then they had such a good time playing with each other, they forgot to be frightened! And the moral is that sharing something with a friend — even a friend who is your complete opposite — can make things all right. (Peachtree Press)
“Lost for Words” by Natalie Russell is a book that perfectly expresses what I often try to tell students. Don’t worry if you aren’t as good as others at something. There will be something that you are really good at. And the endpapers beautifully foreshadow the outcome of the story with colored pencils and shavings from them sprinkled across the page. In this story, Tapir has new pencils and a new notebook, but he can’t think of a thing to write! His friends write easily. Giraffe writes poems, beautiful poems abut the tree he loves to eat. Hippo writes exciting anecdotes with beginnings and endings. Flamingo composes songs about things, including the sun — and her song is so beautiful that “it brought a tear to Tapir’s eye.” What Tapir finally does and how he finds his “thing” might help readers realize that their “thing” might just be waiting for them to find over the next hill. (Peachtree Press)
“This Way, Charlie” by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso is about a rescue ranch, and it’s based on a real-life friendship, although the actual story is fiction. At the ranch resides a grumpy goat named Jack. He’s leery of making friends because he’s had an unhappy past to which the author alludes. But when a partially blind horse named Charlie arrives at the ranch, they become friends. On cold and wet mornings, Charlie goes into the barn. Jack won’t go in the barn. The author writes, “He wanted to go where it looked peaceful and dry, but his body remembered a different barn from long ago that wasn’t calm or kind.” (Ask children what that means and why Jack is so reluctant to go into the barn.) Over the course of the story, Jack and Charlie argue, and that leads to Charlie being in a predicament from which Jack needs to save him. The story is told in poetic, calm language that matches perfectly with the lovely, muted, almost Impressionistic illustrations. It’s a story that children will want to read many times because each time they read it, they will notice new points of interest. It’s about making friends and helping others, but it’s also about making mistakes and regretting them and getting beyond them. Not one of us is perfect, and Jack realizes that. (Abrams)
Be sure to read all the “Pandemic-perfect picture book” round ups for more spot-on suggestions. “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part One: Books to make you laugh,” “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Two: We’ve Gone to the Dogs,” and “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Three: Four “beary” adorable books,” and “Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Five: Nonfiction picture books.”
Please note: This review is based on picture books provided by publishers for review purposes.