Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 30, 2008

Reading Picture Books: At Home in the World

I’m catching up on class notes, looking back at favorite picture books which students wrote and spoke about last month. At the beginning of class, each wrote the title of their book, author, tone, and date on the whiteboard, then presented beginning with the classic Make Way for Ducklings to the most recent, And Tango Makes Three, which is about two penguin dads and their adoptive child, based on real penguins in Central Park.

Catherine spoke of the theme of Make Way for Ducklings (1941) as a search for a safe home, and Tango Makes Three, all those decades later, echoes that. One has a setting of a traditional duck family by the Boston Common, where policeman and pedestrians are most pleasant, the other set at a zoo where animals are adored and protected, but there are hints of danger implied by bars and the fact that this picture book leads as one of the most challenged books simply because of its acceptance of all varieties of families.

We looked at other great books, too. Fran could hardly stop reading James Marshall’s very short stories in the epic new George and Martha collection. And we could hardly stop laughing. Ann also used the word epic to describe Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke’s Caldecott winning picture book in 2004, emphasizing the heroic kitten’s quest for milk, the Rocky-like moment of triumph. Reesha held up Corduroy, and there was a soft wave of “Ooooohs.”

Yes, that is a cute bear, Reesha acknowledged, then took us from there through her analysis of the parallels between the toy bear and the girl who was determined to not simply own this toy, but have a friend. Both characters were proactive, Reesha said. When Lisa’s mom said he didn’t seem a bargain with a loose button, Corduroy didn’t weep, but that night left his shelf to search through the dark scary department store for a button. The little girl Lisa was equally determined, emptying her piggy bank. Corduroy met the night watchman, who was unable to see his power to walk, paralleling the inability of some adults to recognize a child’s power. At the end of the book, Corduroy finds both a friend and home, and many children, like my daughter often did years ago, say: Again.

In Debra Frasier’s On the Day You Were Born we saw the world from above and in Peter Sis’s Madlenka we watched a girl discover the world of her block in NYC, while showing off a wiggly tooth. And so we’ll move on to The Secret Garden, where we get Mrs. Sowerby speaking of the world as an orange that we must learn to share while knowing here, at last, now, we are safely at home.



  1. Thanks for sharing. Love those Corduroy observations :)!

  2. Okay, now I’m going to have to read Corduroy–so hard, I think, to make really young characters active enough to affect their own fate. Not because they don’t try, but because the adult world they live in makes it so hard. Which makes a good plot, but how do they win?
    I love Mrs. Sowerby!

  3. It really is great reading picture books with college students! In some ways, we all go back childhood — those –oooohhh moments — but there is still the analytical self that appreciates in another way, too.
    I am happy so many of these brilliant young women keep in touch with their younger selves. Last week one mentioned having the dvd set of Secret Garden and The Little Princess, and you could feel everyone being drawn in: just the thing to get a respite from prepping for finals!

  4. Yes, I always loved Cordury, but Reesha’s analysis brought me to a new level of appreciation.
    And yes, Mrs. Sowerby, when she gives Mary that jump rope! And waving goodbye to Dickon as he spends days on the moor.

    *fond memories, contented sighs*

  6. I must have read this book ten times, and it only gets better.

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