Bob Seeney on Books

A Double Treat

May, 2017

In this column, we again return to picture books. Regular readers of this column are well aware that I am a big fan of this genre and that I push the use of picture books with all ages of students — including high schoolers. The growing sophistication of text, art, and complexity of theme in current picture books makes them a most important genre that can be used in many ways, including citing them as great examples of writing and artistic styles, and addressing important and crucial issues.

Our double treat in this issue deals with self-esteem. We are all well aware of the importance of positive self-esteem. Indeed, my friend and colleague Dr. Sylvia Rimm has addressed this issue in many of her columns here in 2e Newsletter.

Teachers and parents of 2e children are perhaps even more aware of the role of positive self-esteem. For them, it is often a major focus in supporting these children, who are often well aware of their differences and the bullying that can result from them.

One way to respond to a child’s eroding self-esteem is with bibliotherapy, the use of literature to positively address an issue or concern that exists in the life of a child or classroom. Bibliotherapy is both an effective means to open up students to discussion and a first step in building self-esteem. Our focus books are two great resources for this use.

First is We’re All Wonders (2017, Alfred A. Knopf), written and illustrated by R. J. Palacio. In this book we come back to one of my favorite characters in fiction. Palacio introduced Augie to us in her amazing 2012 novel, Wonder (reviewed in the July, 2012, of 2e Newsletter). You might remember that Augie was born with a rare, genetic disease that resulted in extreme facial abnormalities. In Wonder, Augie who has been homeschooled and somewhat protected, is now entering the fifth grade at a private preparatory school. He tells the story of the challenges he faces in both adapting and being accepted. In We’re All Wonders, Palacio takes us back to a younger Augie who knows that he’s not an ordinary kid but is a kid who does ordinary things. He realizes that he is different; but the lesson he teaches us is that he can’t help the way he looks, but maybe he can change the way people see. He knows that he is a “wonder” and maybe he can help others see that they are “wonders” too.

Palacio’s last note to us in this book is: Look with kindness and you will always find wonder. She created her colorful artwork using iPencil in iPad’s Procreate and did the coloring with Photoshop. The simple but bold style of drawing readily lends itself to the text found on each page. In We’re All Wonders, we have both a visual delight and an extremely important theme.

In It’s Okay to Be Different (2001, Little, Brown, and Co.), written and illustrated by Todd Parr, we have a perfect companion to We’re All Wonders. The artistic style of this book may suggest use with a younger audience, but older students can certainly reap the significance and importance of each of Parr’s statements of how it’s okay to be different. The temptation here is to quote text from nearly every page, but here are just several of my favorites: It’s okay to be a different color. It’s okay to talk about your feelings. It’s okay to do something nice for yourself.

And finally, the author ends what turns out to be a love letter with: “It’s Okay to be different. You are special and Important just because of being who you are. Love Todd.”

Be sure to note the illustration that goes with the text on each page. The artwork is done in big, bold primary colors. Parr makes each page a different, bright color, which adds so much to the total effect of the book. He draws the figures in what we might call “the style of primary children,” a style that lends itself so well to the text. All in all, the total effect is fun, eye-catching, and amazing.

Both of these books are important resources for helping children to build self-esteem, vital for those who are aware of their differences and how those differences often separate them from their peers. Both books help affirm that it is not only okay but essential to be yourself and to celebrate both your own differences and the differences in others.

Bob Seney

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

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