Picture Books About Kindness, Compassion and Peace in a Turbulent World

Picture Books About Kindness, Compassion and Peace in a Turbulent World

Loren Long’s illustrations for “Love,” collaged and painted monoprints, corroborate a child’s paradoxical, simultaneous confusion and clarity. A large family stands in the glow of the TV. Something horrific has happened, again. The adults are processing the bad event through the media and do not see that a child in pink pajamas has sneaked downstairs. “But when you ask what has happened, they answer with silence and shift between you and the screen.” Here is fear, but here is also love. Elsewhere an older brother makes burned toast for his sibling while their father rides the early bus to work. In the toast’s char, in the father’s absence, we find love even in places that hurt. I am even more moved by these unseen acts of care — char, breadwinning — than all the flowers, laughing uncles and buskers de la Peña and Long (the Otis series, “Little Tree”) also provide. Love that comes untested is perhaps not love strong enough for troubled times. This book looks into the darkness and still find stars twinkling overhead.


From “Love.”

“I Am Loved,” a collection for children from the distinguished poet Nikki Giovanni, tackles, among other things, the idea of self-love and social justice. One poem asks us to look in the provided mirror and see all the bravery that came before, the hope, the sweat, the suffering that made us. “And for that alone I am loved.” This ancestral pride is perfectly met in the book’s illustrations, by the renowned Ashley Bryan, now 94 and still making indelible art. They are a world of exuberance and color, swirling portraits that show off a fluency with art drawn from multiple eras: 1960s psychedelia, Tibetan mandalas, American quilts, Madhubani paintings. Gorgeous.

A clear favorite from Giovanni‘s collection is “Do the Rosa Parks,” a rhythm song both joyful and catchy. I heard my 7-year-olds singing it to one another days after we had read “I Am Loved.” “Do the Rosa Parks / throw your hands in the air … Do the Rosa Parks / tell them that’s not fair.” Playground empowerment gives me a lot of hope.

“Dear Girl” is an epistolary picture book written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the author of many books including “Friendshape” and “Uni the Unicorn,” who died last year, and her daughter, Paris Rosenthal. Their book is a series of reminders I sorely wish we didn’t still need. And yet. “Dear Girl, Keep that arm raised! You have smart things to say!” They also use the device of a mirror to discuss self-love. “Thank you, birthmark! Thank you, red hair!” “Dear Girl” mixes the joy of childhood — “Sometimes you just gotta stop and DANCE!” — with threads more troubling. “Dear Girl, If your instinct is telling you to say no, say no, you know?” Some may find a picture book that touches on consent disheartening, yet it seems abundantly necessary.

Holly Hatam’s simple, stark style and limited palette reflect the essential and basic nature of equality, conveying that “Dear Girl” can be any girl. She is drawn in black and white, perhaps in the hope that what is fuzzy — the gray area of sexism — will disappear if enough girls love themselves. And “Dear Girl” ends with love. You’re starting to see a theme here, right? Scary times call for extra love.

J. M. Barrie’s epigraph to Oliver Jeffers’s “Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth” says it best. “Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” Jeffers wrote this book as an address to his son. It’s an explanation of our planet and a catalyst for curiosity to power responsibility. “Make sure you look after it, as it’s all we’ve got,” Jeffers writes.

“Here We Are” plumbs the depths of wonder. A glorious illustration of the magnitude of the Milky Way does not escape Jeffers’s tongue-in-cheek humor: He adds, “*Probably not to scale.” It is a tour through the land, the sea, the sky, our bodies: dioramas of our wild diversity. As fans of his book “Stuck” already know, he is the master of capturing the joy in our differences. Readers might lose themselves in these pages, cataloging the magnificence of the blue man in the red fez, the tiny beekeeper, the green haired punk, the whirling dervish, the baboon’s bare butt, the quiet queen, the hammerhead, the unquiet chorister, the earthworm.

How on Earth do purple trees exist? Jeffers paints an abundance of rich, dynamic purples: skies, bodies, cities and sundresses. With purple he adds unity to our diversity as if to say, Lorde wasn’t quite right. We are all royals. We get to live here on Earth. We get to share purple.

In what language is there a word that means, “a picture book that makes adults cry while children’s eyes remains dry”? You might cry as you read these books, raw with love and fear. Your children might look at you and think, hmm, weirdo. But, remember, to feel is courage.

By Matt de la Peña.
Illustrated by Loren Long.
40pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $17.99.
(Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

By Nikki Giovanni.
Illustrated by Ashley Bryan.
32pp. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. $17.99.
(Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal.
Illustrated by Holly Hatam.
40pp. Harper Collins. $17.99.
(Picture book; ages 4 to 8)

Notes for Living on Planet Earth

Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.
48pp. Philomel Books. $19.9

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