Carle Honorees Celebrate Picture Books as Safe Havens in Difficult Times
Every year I’ve had the pleasure of asking the Carle Honor recipients a salient question about picture books, the medium in which they have made a profound impact.
That tradition continues, although the annual ceremony commemorating the Honorees will be reimagined as a virtual benefit on Thursday, September 24. As usual, picture book art by some of publishing’s most esteemed artists will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the museum. Bidding begins in mid-September and will culminate in a live two-piece auction during the virtual benefit.
In 2020, given our extraordinary circumstances, I’ve asked this year’s distinguished honorees a question we all may need answering:
How do picture books provide a safe space for children and their families navigating through difficult times?
Every Child a Reader
Represented by Carl Lennertz, Executive Director
The biggest benefit of picture books comes if parent and child read together. During these times, being together versus alone in one’s room is a huge plus and discussing a book’s themes brings the additional benefit of conversation and soothing voices. And even if one reads quietly in one’s room, pictures and stories take us away to another time and place. Books are love.
Picture books take the readers to another world. Or at least through some sort of journey. Especially wordless picture books, which make the mind enjoy the trip a little more. Now the observers have to decipher what they see in front of them. Bring some sort of coherence to all the visuals that remain in a certain order in their eyes. Once they’re lost in that visual adventure, they leave the physical space they find themselves in, and fly away to another place—the difficult times left behind, if only for a moment. However, the lingering effects of a good story may last for hours—or even a lifetime.
Publisher, Aldana Libros
My father was born in Guatemala in 1907 into a professional, military family of some means. In 1910 they lost their mother. And in 1917 the year he turned ten Guatemala City was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, leaving my father and his siblings with nowhere to live. They were sent to stay with their grandmother, herself dependent on her son in law, in a small city in the east of Guatemala. Suddenly they had no money. My father, at twelve, had to go and work as a timekeeper on the railroad—a company then owned by the United Fruit Company which used the trains to bring their bananas to the port on the Gulf of Mexico. My father was very bright, but he had to leave school. By some miracle there was an outstanding library nearby. It had the great books of the Western Canon from Shakespeare, to Cervantes, to Racine, to Tolstoy to Dickens. By going and reading in this library every day after work my father succeeded in passing his bachillerato, his secondary degree. He then went to medical school, became a doctor, and a surgeon. He was one of the best-read people I have ever known. Eventually he became the Surgeon General of Guatemala and founder and first rector of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. I think it is correct to say that reading saved my father’s life.
Sad to say, there were no picture books in those days. Today’s children have a treasure trove of such books.
Around the world IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) has developed the practice of bringing wonderful books to children in crisis, reading aloud to them, and giving them books to read to themselves. Following earthquakes in Japan, Chile and Indonesia; with refugee children in countries ranging from Afghanistan to San Salvador to the US border, to Syrians in Lebanon, to refugee kids in Toronto, our experience has been that this practice of bibliotherapy has a hugely beneficial effect on children who may have faced death, displacement and loss. Many are able to talk for the first time about the trauma they have experienced. They sleep better. They play better. They can laugh again.
How could this not work with children stuck at home by Covid-19? After all this is a traumatic time, too. Setting aside a special reading time, separate from all other activities for an hour a day; reading aloud from really good picture books; talking about the books; drawing pictures, singing—letting the child lead the way. This should be time away from media, schoolwork, and should be completely free from any kind of didacticism.
There are several essential things to keep in mind. The first and most important: Let the child choose the books. Have a pile of great books, vary them, but let them choose. In our experience children in dire circumstances may want books that are funny, or about love, or that are sad. Let them talk, let them interrupt, but make it the most fun moment of the day. And even with older kids starting the special books time by reading aloud—as long as it’s a book the child has chosen, can help to engage them. And let them talk about the books. Reading saves lives.
Congratulations to the Honorees and thank you for sharing your wisdom!
The Carle Honors Honorees are selected each year by a committee chaired by children’s literature historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus, who was central to the founding of the Honors. The committee recognizes four distinct awards: Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field; Angel, whose generous resources are crucial to making illustrated children’s book art exhibitions, education programs, and related projects a reality; Mentor, editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form; and Bridge, individuals or organizations who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields. This year’s Bridge Honorees are Dennis M. V. David and Justin G. Schiller, founders of Battledore Ltd.
Visit The Carle Museum online at carlemuseum.org.
Source: Writing Competition