Values in Picture Books

by Kathie Johnson

In looking through emails I have received from readers I noticed that several people have asked for suggestions about books that have good values. That's a pretty general topic, and it is not easy to locate appropriate books, as I don't have them shelved that way. Still, in my computer catalog, I do have subject listings that include values, so with some work, I knew I could pull together some suggested books. I decided for this column to concentrate on one value: sharing. If people want to ask about other values, they can email me and I will consider looking for books on them.

It's always nice to see books from different traditions and with different settings. Bringing the Farmhouse Home, by Gloria Whelan, is a lovely book set in a country farmhouse. It tells of a large family coming together after the death of the grandmother. The house is to be sold, and they are dividing up all the items in the house, many of which carry sweet memories. People have to cooperate and share to feel good about what they are taking themselves and leaving for others.

Yoshiko Uchida's The Magic Purse is an ancient Japanese tale of a poor man who takes a detour from his journey to help a strange woman. She gives him a purse that never runs out of money, and he uses it well, helping people in many ways.

Lord of the Cranes, by Kerstin Chen, tells the story of a wise old man who lives in the country among cranes. In order to find out if people in the city are remembering to be kind and generous, he changes clothes with a beggar and sets out for town. There he finds only one man—the owner of a small inn—who invites him in and feeds him. He makes return visits to that inn over many months, always receiving the same hospitality, and eventually he repays the innkeeper by painting pictures of cranes on the walls of the inn. The cranes dance to music and make the innkeeper rich, but he still always remembers to share with those in need.

In The Three Visitors by Marjorie Hopkins, an Eskimo girl who lives with her great-grandmother and grumpy old aunt is left alone with the aunt for a day. Three visitors come—a pelican, a seal, and a young polar bear. Each one has a great need, and the girl finds ways to help, against old aunt's wishes. The visitors in turn each offer something to the girl, which she uses to help someone else. The final gift is a magic seed that lights up the igloo and helps the great-grandmother find her way back home.

Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice, by Sylvia Rosa-Casanova, is set in a multi-cultural New York apartment building. Mama Provi lives on the first floor, and her granddaughter on the eighth. When her granddaughter is sick and cannot come downstairs to visit, Mama Provi cooks a huge pot of arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) to take to her. Since she never uses the elevator, she stops to rest at each landing. She finds people on each floor preparing different foods, portions of which she exchanges for some of her own dish. By the time she reaches her granddaughter's floor, there is enough variety of food for a grand feast.

In Big Sarah's Little Boots, by Paulette Bourgeois, a girl discovers that her favorite rain boots, which make a perfect splash in puddles, no longer fit her. She tries to make them expand, but finally gives in and gets new boots, which she doesn't like as well. Then her little brother begins wearing her old boots, and she finds delight in both his and hers.

It's Mine! is a fable by Leo Lionni about three frogs who quarrel all the time. A large toad teaches them a lesson about sharing what they have.

The simple book The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins, shows a mom giving her two children a plate of cookies and reminding them to share. Then two more children arrive, and the number of cookies for each child goes down. More children continue to arrive, until they are down to one cookie each. What will happen when the doorbell rings again?

In Seven Loaves of Bread, by Ferida Wolff, there are two sisters—one who is very active and one who is lazy. The active one bakes seven loaves of bread each day, six of them for others. When she becomes ill, the lazy sister must bake the loaves, but starts making one less loaf each day. Then things begin to go very wrong, and eventually the lazy sister learns why it is so important to share.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray, by William Wondriska, is a fable-like story of two porcine characters who are approached by a king who wants to know what happiness is. The king agrees to give each pig his own island and all the money he wants, and with these things they are to try to make themselves happy. One pig builds a mansion, puts a TV set in every room, and buys huge cars, but he is soon bored. The other one builds a modest cottage and invites his younger relatives to share in the fun things available. The king then visits each pig and realizes that he is truly happy with the cottage dweller and his family.

Vegetable Soup, by Jeanne Modesitt, tells of a rabbit couple arriving in a new neighborhood. They are out of food and go around the area, asking if they can borrow some carrots. Instead, their neighbors offer them different kinds of vegetables, until they have a basketful. They decide to make a soup with all the vegetables, and then invite their new neighbors to share in it.

And finally, The Rag Coat, by Lauren Mills, tells of a poor girl who desperately needs a coat to wear to school in the winter. Members of her mother's quilting circle bring rags, and the mother makes her daughter a coat from them. After the other children make fun of the coat, the girl begins to show them which rags came from their own homes, and tells them the stories behind those rags.

These are all picture books and will probably be read out loud to younger children. I think that's perfect, as it is the young who take in what they hear in a very special way. If they learn at an early age to think about others rather than only themselves, they will be open to the Good News.  

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

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