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Find more YA Talk
Picture books with sophisticated content, more complex text and/or art, and realistic themes of interest to teens are being published in increasing numbers. But will high-school students actually read and use them? The question has ignited some passionate dialogue.
Critics insist that YAs will be shortchanged by these books, arguing that the picture-book format is inappropriate for serious issues and that it fosters simplistic bibliotherapy.
But librarians, parents, and secondary teachers who have used picture books with young adults proclaim them as wonderful resources, with both appeal and usefulness. They maintain that the eye-catching artwork and approachable texts contribute naturally to comprehension and that the books can help foster art appreciation, inspire creativity, introduce new subjects, and open discussion of important issues. For example, a study of civil disobedience might include Allan Baillie’s Rebel , which is perfect to use with information about recent restrictions imposed by the Burmese government on the use of the Internet and fax machines. In it, a brave student, who throws his sandal at a totalitarian general, faces certain punishment when all the villagers are lined up to expose the shoeless person. Di Wu’s illustration of a row of feet, all bare, powerfully depicts the moment of rebellion and solidarity. Rebel can also serve as a springboard for a study of the Bill of Rights and civil liberties and as a tie-in to novels such as Avi’s Nothing but the Truth, about free speech.
The picture books below, under a sampling of curricular headings, are just a few of the many that can be used with YAs. They are an excellent beginning for a core collection; their rich, concise language and compelling visual appeal calls out for looking, reading, and discussing.
Students can benefit from the wealth of techniques and styles used in picture books and discover much about art history, design, perspective, mood, and the relationship between text and art.
de Maupassant, Guy. The Necklace. Illus. by Gary Kelly. 1993. Creative Editions, $17.95 (0-88682-489-3).
Irony, a concept frequently misunderstood by students, comes across clearly in this picture-book rendition of a classic. Lisbeth Zwenger’s illustrated version of O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” (Picture Book Studio, 1992) is another good choice.
Stanley, Diane . The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid. Illus. by Dennis Nolan. 1994. Dial, $14.99 (0-8037-1320-7).
In a clever celebration of art, a student unites the subjects of two portraits hanging near each other in a museum. Nolan’s pictures reflect the styles and elements commonly attributed to 19 master artists, from Rembrandt to Picasso.
Willard, Nancy. Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch. Illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon. 1991. Harcourt, $18.95 (0-15-262210-1).
Filled with imaginary creatures and bizarre details, the pictures here seem to rival the creations that sprang from the fifteenth-century painter’s own legendary imagination. They are bound to spark curiosity and inspire YAs to look at Bosch’s original artwork.
Language and Literature
English, writing, and literature teachers can turn to picture books to teach descriptive writing, provide examples of literary devices such as irony, explore poetry, or introduce the basics of story construction.
Angelou, Maya. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. Illus by Jean-Michel Basquiat. 1993. Stewart, Tabori & Chang; dist. by Workman, $14.95 (1-55670-288-4).
With handsome paintings, this is a fine picture-book introduction to Angelou’s poetry.
Loewen, Nancy. Walt Whitman. Illus. by Rob Day. 1994. Creative Editions, $16.95 (1-56846-096-1).
Terrific for beginning or complementing a study of Whitman and his dedication to nature, individualism, and democracy. The book can also serve as a preamble to Leaves of Grass.
Stanley, Diane and Vennema, Peter. Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations. Illus. by Diane Stanley. 1993. Morrow, $15 (0-688-09110-5).
Stanley and Vennema combine a view of Dickens’ literary world with a sense of the melodrama of the writer’s life. Just one of many picture books by this writer/artist team.
Many fine picture books address civil liberty, disobedience, and related issues or draw connections between current events and history.
Diaz, Jorge . The Rebellious Alphabet. Illus. by Oivind S. Jorfald. Tr. by Geoffrey Fox. 1993. Holt, $14.95 (0-8050-2765-3).
When reading and writing are banned by an illiterate dictator, an old man trains birds to print his liberty poems and leaflets. Pair this with picture-book cautionary tales such as Umberto Eco’s The Bomb and the General (Harcourt, 1989) and Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows: The Story of the Bloggs and the Bomb (Schocken, 1982) to inspire discussion and writing about war, peace, and nuclear destruction.
Swope, Sam. The Araboolies of Liberty Street. Illus. by Barry Root. 1989. Clarkson Potter, o.p.
Mean-spirited General Pinch, who likes to have everything orderly and looking the same, becomes overwrought when the nonconformist Araboolies move to his street. A modern fable addressing weighty issues such as individual rights and the role of the military in society.
History comes to life in a picture-book format.
Applebaum, Diana. Giants in the Land. Illus. by Michael McCurdy. 1993. Houghton, $14.95 (0-395-64720-7).
With scratchboard artwork resembling woodcuts, this describes how giant pine trees in New England were cut down for use on the British Royal Navy’s massive wooden ships. Pique student interest in naval history with this and with Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections Man-of-War, by Richard Platt.
Garland, Sherry. The Lotus Seed. Illus. by Tatsuro Kiuchi. 1994. Harcourt, $15 (0-152-49465-0); Voyager, paper, $6 (0-15201-483-7).
Garland’s deceptively simple story tells of a Vietnamese family’s flight from its homeland to escape the civil war. This title can be used to launch discussions of subjects ranging from history to refugees. Pegi Deitz Shea’s Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story, about the Hmong may also be of interest.
Granfield, Linda. In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae. Illus. by Janet Wilson. 1996. Doubleday, $15.95 (0-385-32228-3).
This unique presentation combines biographical information with McCrae’s famous poem, juxtaposing them on a backdrop showing wartime conditions and artifacts. A rich book with a dual focus.
Hamanaka, Sheila. The Journey: Japanese Americans, Racism, and Renewal. 1990. illus. Watts/Orchard, $19.95 (0-531-05849-7); paper, $8.95 (0-531-07060-3).
Injustices endured by Japanese Americans during World War II and Hamanaka’s own family history are depicted through portions of the artist’s mural. Topics to introduce: history, racism, and art.
Lawrence, Jacob. The Great Migration: An American Story. 1993. illus. HarperCollins, $23.50 (0-06-023037-1).
Sixty narrative paintings recount the African American migration from the rural South to industrial cities in the North between 1916 and 1919. Also of value in art classes.
Polacco, Patricia. Pink and Say. 1994. illus. Philomel, $15.95 (0-399-22671-0).
Left for dead, white Say Curtis is rescued and befriended by Pinkus, who was separated from comrades in his black regiment. A story passed down through Polacco’s family, this will be an excellent accompaniment to Civil War studies.
Music, Speech, Drama
Use picture books to enhance or introduce music history and appreciation or as a source of material for theatrical adaptations and speech interpretations.
Claverie, Jean. Little Lou. 1990. illus. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $17.95 (1-55670-162-4).
Little Lou, a young jazz musician, has an exciting adventure and a brush with organized crime. Based on research Claverie did while visiting jazz clubs in Memphis and interviewing people about the 1920s. Other books of interest: Alan Schroeder’s Ragtime Tumpie and Chris Raschka’s Charlie Parker Played Be Bop .
Clément, Claude. The Voice of the Wood. Illus. by Frédéric Clément. Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-054594-8).
A magic cello can be played only after a famous young musician removes his mask and plays with honesty and feeling. Cornelia Cornelissen’s Music in the Wood is another good choice.
Raschka, Chris. Yo! Yes? 1993. illus. Watts/Orchard, $14.95 (0-531-05469-1).
A conversation between two shy boys blossoms into a jubilant friendship. Perfect for adaptation into a one-act play, with illustrations that emphasize body language and nonverbal communication.
A number of picture books introduce contemporary issues; some can help galvanize students into active participation in their communities and elsewhere.
Garland, Sherry. I Never Knew Your Name. Illus. by Sheldon Greenberg. 1994. Ticknor & Fields, $14.95 (0-395-69686-0)
A boy laments his failure to reach out and offer friendship to the troubled teen, who committed suicide. A sensitive way to introduce discussion of a tough topic.
Levine, Arthur A. Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand. Illus. by Robert Roth. 1993. Morrow/ Tambourine, $14 (0-668-10753-2).
Pearl, who has watched her neighborhood change many times during her lifetime, refuses to let the last ginkgo tree be destroyed in the name of progress. An accessible depiction of the power of an individual to effect change.
Loribecki, Marybeth. Just One Flick of a Finger. Illus. by David Diaz. 1996. Dial, $14.99 (0-8037-1948-5).
By taking a gun to school to scare a bully, Jack causes an unanticipated disaster.
Taylor, Clark. The House That Crack Built. Illus. by Jan Thompson Dicks. 1992. Chronicle, $11.95 (0-8118-0133-0); paper, $5.95 (0-8478-1369-X).
A hip-hop beat and the familiar cumulative-verse structure present a chilling look at crack cocaine and its impact on society.
Turney-Zagwòn, Deborah. Long Nellie. 1993. illus. Orca, $14.95 (0-920501-99-0).
Long Nellie lives by herself in a decrepit trailer and survives by searching through Dumpsters. Use this to discuss the community’s responsibility for those who live on the fringes of society. Other books with this theme: Kate Spohn’s Broken Umbrellas and Ethel Pochocki’s Mushroom Man .
Gale Sherman teaches children’s literature and is a librarian at Marshall Public Library in Pocatello, Idaho; Bette Ammon is director of the Missoula (Montana) Public Library. Excerpts from their latest book, Worth a Thousand Words: An Annotated Guide to Picture Books for Older Readers (Libraries Unlimited, 1996), have been used with permission.
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