Learning to get along with others. For very young readers
GETTING along with others can be a difficult lesson to learn at any age. A handful of winning new picture books helps to show young readers that the rewards of learning to love a sister or brother, a new playmate or an unfamiliar relative can be pretty special. Charlotte Zolotow has won her way into the hearts of generations of children and parents with more than 60 published books, many of which have become picture-book classics. A Rose, a Bridge, and a Wild Black Horse, (Harper & Row, New York, $11.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 6) originally published in 1964, and newly illustrated by Robin Spowart, is one of her finest.
The simple narration is about a brother five or six years old who imagines the wondrous ways in which he can show his love for his younger sister as they explore the world together. He promises to ``capture a wild black horse and tame him for you to ride, bring you a coral from the bottom of the sea, and fight anyone you don't like and win.'' While these poetic imaginings are simple and may appear unrealistic to adults, they're not weak, and children will gladly enter into the engaging illustrations. In fact, it's rare that an illustrator so intimately and so beautifully expresses the author's vision of a story. Soft, colored-pencil drawings, almost impressionistic in their renderings, draw both reader and listener into a light-filled imaginary world.
We all know the disappointment of not being invited to a party. And we often think that if we could just be funnier, more beautiful, or more winning, we might well earn a longed-for invitation, and then our lives would hum along more contentedly.
This is Lizzie's predicament in Lizzie's Invitation, by Holly Keller (Greenwillow Books, New York, $11.75, 32 pp., ages 3 to 7). As she squats down in a state of melancholy to watch a leaf float in a puddle, Lizzie sees not only her own face, but that of Amanda, another girl in her class who wasn't invited to a party. What follows is one of the happiest days Lizzie can remember as she develops a solid new friendship. Children will smile as they recognize the simple activities the girls share that make them so happy.
This book addresses an important issue for children that goes beyond invitations and parties. At stake are feelings that can either turn inward or respond to unplanned newness, and the author helps to show how the very young can be more sensitive to each other.
In Oh, Brother!, illustrated by Patience Brewster (Little, Brown & Co., Boston, $12.95, 32 pp., ages 3 to 8), Patricia Lakin expands on the theme of the interrelationships that can develop between brothers - a theme that shone in her previous book, ``Don't Touch My Room.''
In the first of three mini-chapters, ``I'm Going to Be Three,'' we learn how frustrating it is for Aaron to be the ``big'' brother with all the responsibilities of setting the table, eating with a fork, using a napkin, having good manners, knowing right from wrong, making his bed, and even cleaning out his lizard's cage. Little Benji, on the other hand, gets all the breaks: At bedtime he's given warm milk in a bottle, a back rub, two good-night stories, and a kiss.
Regardless of their gender, siblings need to be encouraged and taught how to get along. Thankfully, adults in this book are cast in a believable and positive light: They're intelligent nurturers who stand by on the sidelines ready to interject a gentle perspective.
Grandaddy's Place, by Helen V. Griffith, illustrated by James Stevenson (Greenwillow Books, New York, $11.75, 40 pp., ages 5 to 8), is a superbly crafted book about the relationships that develop between little Janetta, her mother, and her grandfather. The story takes place on a farm, in surroundings totally unfamiliar to Janetta, but which, by book's end, have become her favorite place to visit.
Grandaddy, who at first strikes Janetta as a strange bird, eventually wins her over with a story about a star that fell into his yard one night - and wanted to go right back home. This made-up story reminds Janetta of her own arrival at the farm and how - at first - she didn't want to stay. It also makes her realize that as she has begun to be more open to new opportunities, she's discovered that her experience often is what she brings to it.
Anna's Secret Friend, by Yoriko Tsutsui, illustrated by Akiko Hayashi (Viking Kestrel, New York, 32 pp., $10.95, ages 4 to 7) is an excellent book to read to a child who has just moved or who is apprehensive about moving. It tenderly portrays the importance of and need for friends. With the Golden Rule woven like an invisible silk thread throughout, the reader is reminded how precious friendships are born - by first being a friend.
Anna has just moved to a new home near the mountains. She's happy to be there, but she misses her friends. One by one, little treasures begin to appear on her doorstep - a small bunch of violets, three dandelions, a letter that says, ``Friends are nice/ I'm very happy you have come/ I'll be waiting,'' and a beautiful paper doll. Finally Anna finds a small blushing girl on her doorstep, asking, ``Will you play with me?'' Anna nods and both of them go off to play together.
The illustrations by Akiko Hayashi are simple, tastefully done, and do not upstage the story. The setting is Japan, and one feels the author's own peaceful, deliberate embracing of the story's sweet message, much as one might enjoy the quiet grace of a Japanese tea ceremony. Because the story isingeniously crafted to reflect the way a child thinks - step by step - young children can see that friendships begin in much the same way.
In The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother, by Lizi Boyd (Viking Kestrel, $10.95, 32 pp., ages 4 to 8), young Hessie is anxious about meeting her Daddy's new wife and about the prospect of spending the summer with the two of them - in part because she has read so many fairy tales about wicked and ugly stepmothers, like the one in ``Hansel and Gretel.'' But what does Hessie find at the lake? Instead of an ominous-looking, candy-coated house, there's a bright and pretty one. And her stepmother isn't wearing an ugly black dress, either.
Hessie is surprised and relieved, but not quite ready to trust her feelings. As a result, she won't eat her first meal, and, as planned, makes ugly faces at her new stepmother. Showing a savvy and committed patience, neither adult reacts and another stage is set.
Hessie, of course, eventually comes to love her stepmother, but this isn't her only quantum leap. She also learns to love nature by camping out and by feeding a family of ducks. Most important, she experiences the very sweetness and intelligent compassion she imagined would be missing in her new relationship. The moral is thus shown, not dictated, and young readers are given a helpful and palpable precedent.
Darian Scott teaches elementary school and reviews children's books regularly for the Monitor.