Guest Post: Celina Ribeiro ( amp.theguardian.com )
* Max as monarch in Where the Wild Things Are
The whole world in a bedroom: seven of the most imaginative picture books for lockdown life
How do you encourage connection, curiosity and adventure in children when you’re stuck in isolation?
chools are all but closed. Playgrounds are wrapped in hazard tape. Swimming pools, national parks, holidays, birthday parties, cinemas, zoos, grandparents, friends – all the normal places and people of childhood are now off limits to this generation of children. But they still have books.
For children in isolation around the world, books have taken on increased importance. They are a link to the world beyond. So here’s a non-exhaustive list of picture books that emphasize connection, curiosity and adventure within isolation or domesticity. Technically, these are books for young children – but don’t we all need a bit of beauty, play and comfort nowadays?
1. Under the Love Umbrella
by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
When everything is strange and new
On days when you need super glue
There’s so much room here just for you
Under my love umbrella.
At a time when children are discouraged from seeing – let alone touching – loved ones who do not live with them, the language and images of Under the Love Umbrella feel achingly relevant. The book, by an Australian duo, traverses a novel conceit that unseen above the reader is an umbrella protecting and connecting that reader with the love of someone special to them. Here we are, huddled in our own homes, but shielded by a constant umbrella of love. Lovely, really.
2. When I Coloured in the World
by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi
Ahmadi’s tale of a child who is given a box of crayons and an eraser, then decides to erase the world’s ills and replace them with beauty and peace, is a slow-moving, beautifully illustrated, poetic story of child empowerment. “Despair” is rubbed out and replaced in yellow crayon by the word “hope”. “Boredom” needs a blue crayon to replace it with “playing”. It’s a brave children’s book that mentions words including war, illness and hunger, but When I Coloured in the World is a book for children who know more about the world than we usually give them credit for, and gives them a wonderful creative agency to make it better. With crayons.
3. Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
For worlds within bedrooms, there is no better book on the planet than Sendak’s classic among classics. There are few children’s homes without a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, and while more than half a century old, the prose still feels sharp and the recognisable illustrations remain as engaging as ever. Max, banished to his bedroom for poor behaviour, is unfazed as the walls and floor around him turn to forest and seas to be traversed. His journey takes him to a kingdom of wild things of which he becomes monarch. The wild things are, it turns out, rather closer than we think – both a comfort and an opportunity for those now in confinement. There’s something to be said for parents, too, being able to turn to books from their own childhood as if nothing in the world has changed.
4. Amy & Louis
by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Amy & Louis is really a tale of a more ordinary isolation than that with which we have now become familiar – of friends parted by moving house. Gleeson’s softly told story follows best friends and neighbours Louis and Amy, who can no longer play with and call to each other after Amy moves far away. They mourn their friendship and their newfound loneliness but ultimately find that their connection can traverse distance and dreams. Blackwood’s gentle illustrations pair wonderfully with the simplicity of Gleeson’s prose and story. There is no mention of chaotic FaceTime catch-ups but rather a reassurance that friendship remains even when physical closeness does not.
5. It Might Be an Apple
by Shinsuke Yoshitake
When we’re stuck at home, in truth, any book that encourages children to spend a significant amount of time thinking about and engaging anew with a single banal object is a welcome diversion. It Might Be an Apple from the Japanese author-illustrator Yoshitake follows one boy’s encounter with an apple left on a table. But, is it an apple? It may be an elaborate machine, it may be a fish in disguise, it might wish to be an aeroplane, or it may be an all-knowing being that turns hard and pointy when angry. Now is the time for curiosity and wonder in all things, and Yoshitake’s story is an ode to imagination.
6. What’s That Noise? (This Book Is Calling You…)
by Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso
There’s a little subgenre of picture books in which the book speaks to the child reader as a book, and the physical object becomes a source of play. And within that subgenre, What’s That Noise? (This Book Is Calling You … ) is a good ’un. What makes Minhós Martins’ book particularly compelling coronavirus reading is the way in which it becomes a proxy for the natural world. Fingers are instructed to patter on the page, first as droplets and then as a storm. A tap of fingertips into a river – it feels cold, doesn’t it? – before the fingers prance from stone to stone across to the other side. A little worm is shielded in a cupped hand from a predatory black bird. When the outside is off-limits, this offers a quirky way to recall and re-enact the sensory adventure of the outdoors.
7. A Child of Books
by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
The beauty and power of children’s books is the subject of A Child of Books, which reads as much as a poetic manifesto as it does a story. It follows a girl as she asks a boy to come away with her to “mountains of make-believe” and other faraway, fantastical destinations contained within the pages of books. Jeffers and Winston collaborate on this beautiful invocation of the worlds within books. Text from classic stories forms part of the illustrations themselves, the stories building the book’s physical world. And as children speaking to the universe, it ends:
For this is our world we’ve made from stories
Our house is a home of invention
Where anyone at all can come
For imagination is free.
Happy weekend everyone! Hope you join me again next week for more fantastic kids' books to share and more authors and illustrators for you to meet. I love having you visit and spend time here with me every week. Tell your family and friends about Storywaps and let's expand our number even more. It will be book-party time each and every day! There has been a huge uptick in the number of visitors due to the Covid 19 lockdown. Please everyone stay vigilant and safe. Follow the rules and together we shall get through this terrible atrocity.
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