Charley’s First Night: Another Picture Book to the Rescue

FullSizeRender (1)Last summer we lost a huge branch from our favorite tree. I was distraught thinking that we may have to cut it down. We have not. But I was able to smile through my sadness because of a book I found at the library that very week during my regular picture book research hunts. You can read about that special tree book here: https://lisaconnors.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/for-the-love-of-trees/

Once again my sadness has been lifted by a picture book. For a month now I’ve been taking a watercolor painting class. While I’ve a lot to learn, I am thoroughly enjoying the process, practicing techniques, seeing the world around me more clearly and even wondering if I might illustrate my own picture books someday. I did an online search for picture books done in watercolor and one of the selections I was able to find in the library was Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick Press, 2012). It’s a sweet story of a boy and his new puppy’s first night together. Oxenbury’s illustrations have a perfect softness and color combination to calm the reader who may feel anxious for Charley, the new puppy. I found myself smiling and recalling the first days with our dog Pirate. We lost our Pirate last month. You can read his obituary here: http://www.halcyonnature.com/2016/01/09/the-best-pirate-ive-ever-known-12403-1816/

After the initial sadness about Pirate, we fell into concern for our other dog, Toc, who was attacked by a neighbor dog just three days after Pirate died. She’s not quite the same now, afraid to go outside and favoring a hip that was bitten. Now as the days bring us closer to spring, we feel the hole in our lives where Pirate was. He loved the outdoors and our property, Halcyon, was his piece of paradise. Charley’s First Night lifted my spirits better than my rational brain, which knows we gave Pirate a great life. That’s the power of a picture book. I am pretty sure Charley’s First Night was written to help the young child see how to comfort a small puppy (or anyone feeling anxious) and yet, it was able to help a grownup feel better about the loss of an old dog.

I highly recommend Charley’s First Night to any parent seeking a book about a first pet, to anyone wanting a book about love and compassion or to anyone needing a feel-good kind of break to their day. It’s also pretty sweet for any child who needs to convince their parents that their new puppy should sleep in their bed! Yep, picture books are that powerful.


What Will You Read?

Read Across America Day, March 2, 2016, is fast approaching. You may be wondering what to read to your class, your child or grandchild, or to a group for which you are volunteering. Maybe you know exactly what you will read – you’re someone who reads often to young children and this day is no more special than any other day where you’ve sat, hip to hip or face to face with words and pictures cementing a life-long bond. That’s wonderful! But if it’s newer to you, what to do?

The 2016 National Ambassador for Young Literature, Gene Luen Yang, wants kids to ‘read without walls’, to explore the world through literature by reading outside their comfort zone. I couldn’t agree more. The best way to erode prejudices is through connection, and literature provides a way to foster those connections. It is a start toward understanding that can have profound and positive implications for society.

Perhaps the group you are volunteering to read to is a majority of one ethnicity. Choose a book that portrays a different ethnicity. Perhaps the group is a rural demography. Read a book about the city, and vice-versa. You get the idea. I might add, though, that for a minority population it can be empowering to read a book where the characters reflect them and their life experiences. Such empowering is important – a reader needs to develop a comfort zone before he or she can leave it.

If you’re still not sure what to read and you’d like some examples, I list some below. They are just a few of my favorites, a list too long to include in one essay. The key to this day, and any time you are fortunate to share a book with a child, is to show your enthusiasm for the written word, your awe at the illustrations, your enjoyment of the process of reading and your emotions surrounding your connections with the characters. Such enthusiasm will compel children to become readers who will climb over or tunnel through walls to read outside their comfort zone.

Some of my favorites:

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1971)—A classic, yet still relevant (unfortunately) way to show children that greed has consequences. This is a great book for grades 3-6, especially in a science class.

The Story of Ferdinand by Monro Leaf and drawings by Robert Lawson (Viking, 1936)—A wonderful book about the importance of being true to yourself, that it’s ok to be different. This book is also good for grades 3-6.

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein (Evil Eye, LLC, 2005)—This book of poems is perfect for the younger grades and to entice a reluctant listener/reader. A book for plain old fun, but I do advise practicing the poems you want to read first!

Maple by Lori Nichols (Nancy Paulson Books, 2014)—This is a charming and sweet story of becoming a big sister with parallels to caring for a special tree. I love the illustrations and story and perhaps many young children can make a connection with themselves and their own siblings. If you’re a teacher, you may be interested in the lesson I wrote to go with this book: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Guided-Reading-Lesson-using-book-Maple-by-Lori-Nichols-1146913

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 2007)—This is a beautiful book for grades K-4 about seeds. It is perfect for science class or curious minds in general.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Nancy Paulson Books, 2012)—This book has the power to take readers out of their comfort zone in two ways. First as seeing what it is like to be a child of poverty and made fun of, and second, what it is like to be the child/student who is unfriendly to another child. There may be many young children who squirm inside if they can connect with the latter. But that is what makes this book so powerful and necessary.

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