Take Your Daughters and Sons to the NEA’s Big Read

By Amy Stolls

Next Thursday is Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day and it has us thinking about ways the NEA Big Read can engage children. I have a particular fondness for children’s picture books that often fall outside of the mainstream, so I looked over my shelves to see if I could pull out titles that match some of the themes and genres in our Big Read library. Below are a few of my favorites.

To pair with one of our books in translation (To Live; Ways of Going Home; and Sun, Stone, and Shadows), check out Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira, illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Knopf, 2013), and Du Iz Tak, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis (Candlewick, 2016). The concept of transforming one language into another can be difficult to grasp; these two titles are a good way to begin the conversation. Ribbit! Is a charming story of a pig trying to make friends with frogs; the frogs are wary of a pig saying “ribbit” until they discover his motives. Du Iz Tak is written in an entirely made-up language, but the illustrations help young readers try to translate the meaning of the words and ponder why the author took this approach.

To pair with one of our books of poetry (Book of Hours, How We Became Human, and Citizen), check out This Is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Simeon, illustrated by Joy Sorman (Enchanted Lion, 2007) and What Color Is the Wind by Anne Herbauts (Enchanted Lion, 2016). There are many fine books of poetry for children, but these two beautifully illustrated books take a creative approach to exploring what a poem is, or can be, and how even abstract ideas and wordplay and our senses can help enhance our understanding of the world around us.

To pair with one of our books about immigrants and refugees (Brother, I’m Dying; The Namesake; The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; When the Emperor Was Divine; In the Shadow of the Banyan; Into the Beautiful North; and The Latehomecomer), check out Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (Capstone Young Readers, 2013); My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo (Pajama Press, 2017); and Migrant: the Journey of a Mexican Worker by Jose Manuel Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martinez Pedro (Harry N. Abrams, 2014). Here I Am is a poignant, wordless story about a Korean boy new to America who learns to conquer his fears with the help of a new friend. Illustrated with masterful clay creations. My Beautiful Birds tells of a Syrian boy’s journey to escape the war that has destroyed his village. And designed as one long sheet in an accordion fold with intricate drawings harkening back to an ancient art form, Migrant is about a boy and girl and their mother who leave Mexico in search of a better life in the United States. It’s told in both English and Spanish.

To pair with Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters, check out Lost & Found (2011), Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009), and The Arrival (2007), all by Shaun Tan and published by Arthur A. Levine. Really, any book by Shaun Tan is worth checking out in my humble opinion if you and/or the children in your life like strange, often darker visions of the world. Tan contributed the drawings at the beginning of each story in Pretty Monsters. Lost & Found is a compilation of three picture books that may not be suited for young children, but are provocative for older ones and adults. Tales from Outer Suburbia is a wonderfully illustrated short story collection best suited for teens and adults, as is the wordless, immigrant story The Arrival, a powerful visual story that can also be paired with the other Big Read books about immigrants.

To pair with any one of our Big Read titles, check out these clever books that break down in a humorous way some of the elements that go into creating a good story: A Book, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook Press, 2009); and Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, 2012). A Book follows a young girl through a variety of genre types and tropes to discover her own story. In Chloe and the Lion, one of the funniest books in my collection, the author and illustrator of the book can’t agree on how to tell the story until the main character—a young girl—steps in and gets them back on track. Sometimes we all need a main character —a child, say—to get us back on track.