How Picture Books Can Help Us Make Sense of the World

Boy and teddy in the tree from Introducing Teddy
Category: Bookbug

In one of his blogs, Books, book, books, Michael Rosen talks about how literature and reading helps us to engage with both ideas and feelings, and how we can use what happens in the text to relate to real life situations: 'This movement between the concrete and the abstract is what literature nearly always offers. It is also a key component of what education tries to do: teach abstract ideas in relation to concrete phenomena.' Books help us make sense of who we are and how we relate to the world. They are necessary for our emotional development, which is particularly important for very young children.

 Books help us make sense of who we are and how we relate to the world

When I was growing up one of my favourite books was a picture book called Christopher's Story about a boy who had leukaemia. I was fascinated with this book. He had bruises on his body and no one was really sure what was wrong with him. When he was finally diagnosed, a lot of parents kept their children away from him in case they caught it. I wasn't ill when I was younger but I related to him because he was different, and I looked up to him because he was brave. He was a good friend to a lonely child.

I have come across some picture books recently that have made me feel a similar way. They are subtle but complex in their messages, and even as an adult I can relate to the situations the characters find themselves in. One that has struck me in particular is Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson (see main picture, above). This is like no other picture book I have ever read, and that is because there isn't one – it is unique, original, and stands alone in dealing with the issue of being transgender. The author wrote it when her dad transitioned into a woman and she wanted a way to explain it to her little boy. This is a story for anyone who has struggled with a secret they are scared to tell someone, and who feels they might be a little bit different.

Boys playing in boxes
Another couple of books that have caught my attention are Colin and Lee Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood and On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies (pictured, left). Colin and Lee is delightful in its simplicity, with bright, bold illustrations that were created using a collage of supermarket plastic bags (if you look closely you can still see the wrinkles). Colin is a carrot and Lee is a pea, and while they couldn't be more different, they are the best of friends. This book is lots of fun and celebrates their friendship in all its orange and green glory. On Sudden Hill looks at the emotional issues facing Birt, the main character of the story. His world is turned upside down when two friends become three, and he is not sure how to deal with the situation. This book is one for slightly older readers as it explores many themes around growing up.

Reading and a love of books is one of the most important skills we can give to young children. We all have books that have stayed with us from childhood, and perhaps without realising at the time, they have helped us to make sense of the world. Picture books provide opportunities for us to talk about emotional issues or situations, helping us to bring up happier, more confident, and insightful children.

These are only a few examples of the fantastic books around at minute. For more ideas about what to read next, check out our book lists.

Emma Dunn

Emma Dunn is Early Years Operations Administrator (Maternity Cover) for Scottish Book Trust.