In a perfect world, books dealing with stress and trauma for children would go unneeded. We are, however, reminded daily that is not the case. Whether it is anxiety at home or exposure to violence in our community and abroad, trauma affects young people from all walks of life. Picture books dealing with these difficult subjects provide solace to young children and remind them that they are not alone in their feelings of distress. Here are some book recommendations from Children's Librarian Leigh Urbschat of the Parkway Central Children's Department.
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting portrays the panic and confusion felt by a young child named Daniel during a neighborhood riot. David Diaz’s illustrations made of mixed-media collage reinforce the chaos of the scene. When fire spreads to Daniel’s apartment building, we share in his emotions as he and his neighbors are forced to flee their homes. Young readers will find relief from the initial fear and confusion as Daniel and his neighbors exit safely, and see that they are brought closer together through their shared grief. To see relatable characters survive traumatic experiences reassures us and inspires hope. Sometimes Bad Things Happen by Ellen Jackson provides advice for dealing with a range of distressing situations, while adding to the immediacy and realism by using photographs. The book's straight-forward narration and photographic illustrations recreate familiar, stressful situations that are then relieved with the help of caring individuals in the community. We learn that stress is not best resolved through violence and fighting in Is It Right to Fight? A First Look at Anger by Pat Thomas. The book reminds young readers that feeling angry is human and offers productive ways to handle upsetting emotions instead of acting out.
Just as children may relate to characters that overcome traumatic events, reading books on peace and forgiveness can help find a way to surmount anger and find resolution. The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson empowers young readers by demonstrating that children are often more willing than adults to forgive and set aside differences. After a young girl is injured in an attack from a neighboring village, she realizes that her desire for revenge has overtaken her identity. To help herself and her community heal, she builds a forgiveness garden that she first shares with her young attacker. The story shows that anger and frustration are natural feelings after trauma. We must, however, put those feelings aside in order to live productively. Children will notice the cooling change in color palette as the girl’s anger fades through her work in the garden and new feelings of forgiveness.
Picture books about peace remind us of the positive effect we can have on each other and the world. The Peace Book by Todd Parr shows how peace is found in everyday activities, from growing a garden to learning a new language. Parr’s trademark bright colors and friendly illustrations bring joy to the simple text. The message is clear that we find peace within ourselves when we think of others and the well-being of our planet. What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky uses responses from children around the world to convey the meaning of peace through the five senses. The reader can relate to the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touches of peace experienced by children from all over the world. Radunsky’s whimsical illustrations match perfectly with text of the young authors. And finally, Peace, Baby! by Linda Ashman reminds us all to take a moment to find peace and calm when feelings of distress arise. Children will recognize the expressions on the characters faces as they turn from angry to serene with the recurring “Peace, baby!” refrain. When we find peace within our own lives, we can influence our friends and neighbors in a positive way. We can make the world a better place by maintaining a more peaceful state of mind.